Sometimes change can be good. In the near future, we may see changes in government at the county level. In the recent past, Ridgefield and Battle Ground changed their city governments from a strong mayor to a council-manager form. Maybe now is the time for a similar change in Washougal.
At the June 10 Washougal city workshop, Councilwoman Joyce Lindsay requested time at the next workshop (June 24) to discuss putting forth to voters the option of changing Washougal’s form of city government from the strong mayor system we have now, to the council-manager form.
Previous Washougal mayors considered proposing such a move, but did not — perhaps because it would take away the concentration of power in a strong mayor’s hands.
You might be thinking: What is wrong with the strong mayor form of government Washougal has now?
Under strong mayor, the mayor holds all executive power. This is the case even though the mayor is only part time and may have little or no administrative experience. Washougal is a city with a $36 million budget; should a part-time politician mayor be in charge of managing this, or would it be more prudent to hire an experienced professional manager?
Washougal has recently had well-publicized experiences with mayors abusing their power. If a mayor violates the public trust or is not transparent in his or her administration, voters must wait four years for a replacement because, in our state, it is almost impossible to recall an elected official. Washougal has not had a great success with its mayors. Only one mayor in its 105-year history has served two full four-year terms. Most every mayor in Washougal has served only one term, or less. This shows a pattern in Washougal’s history that is not beneficial for the long-term stability of our rapidly growing city.
Long-term economic development also needs a stable government. The business community needs to be reassured that in four years the direction of the city will not, once again, change on the whim of a newly elected mayor.
Currently, the mayor hires a city administrator to assist him. The administrator serves at the pleasure of the mayor and is accountable only to him. For that matter, the entire city administration serves at the pleasure of the mayor, and can only be changed by the mayor. If the council-manager form of government is adopted, the administrator position will be converted to city manager at roughly the same cost. However, a city manager is accountable to the whole city council, and the council is accountable to the people.
What could happen if we vote for change? The mayor would still be the mayor, just with a more ceremonial role. The city council would hire a highly trained professional manager on the basis of his/her education, experience, skills and abilities. The city would be administered by a professional and not a politician. If at any time the city manager violates policy or the public trust, misuses public resources, or is not responsive to the governing body, he/she can be terminated with a majority vote of the city council. There would be much more accountability and less concentrated, unilateral power.
Our elected city council members represent our community. They are tasked with developing a long-range vision for our future, establishing policies that affect overall operations, and are responsive to resident’s needs and wishes. To ensure that policies are carried out and that the entire community is served, Washougal could choose a more stable, less political, and much more professional system of government: council-manager.
The choice is with the citizens. The City Council will be discussing the proposal at workshops and at the Town Hall meeting on June 29 at 9 a.m. The matter could come before Washougal voters as early as the Nov. 5 ballot. For more information about the council-manager form of government, here are several helpful websites:
Jennifer McDaniel and Joyce Lindsay are members of the Washougal City Council. Lindsay can be reached at 977-5409. McDaniel can be reached at 513-4559.