Washougal voters will have an opportunity during the Nov. 5 General Election to decide whether they want the city to continue its current mayor-council with a city administrator form of government or change to a council-manager form.
Committees were recently appointed by the City Council, to write statements for and against Proposition 1. The proposition would change the form of government.
With a council-manager plan, council members appoint a city manager, and that person appoints and directs the department heads. A city manager can be removed by a majority vote of the council.
With a council-manager system, a mayor is selected from among the city council members. That person presides at council meetings and is head of the city for ceremonial purposes, but has no regular administrative duties.
City Council members Joyce Lindsay, Jennifer McDaniel and Brent Boger wrote the statement in favor of the proposition, while Marilyn Tyrrell, Washougal Planning Commissioner Larry White and former Mayor Jeff Guard wrote the statement against the proposal.
Tyrell said she greatly respects the current City Administrator David Scott and staff members.
“To suggest that some new unknown persons would do a better job would make sense to me only if we had reason to be displeased with their performance,” she said. “These people have undergone and passed with perfect marks, three state audits in a row.
“An audit is not just the counting of the dollars, but is an examination of all aspects of the systems and methods of the operation,” Tyrrell added.
When the issue of a potential change in the form of government was mentioned during a City Council meeting, Tyrrell said she thought the suggestion was some sort of gag.
She does not think Proposition 1 will save money.
“I do not believe in a ribbon-cutting mayor and especially I do not believe that this or any other city council would do better with one of themselves as mayor,” Tyrrell said.
Lindsay said there are no qualifications required to be mayor, and the city has a $36 million annual budget.
“With a manager of the city, you hire a professional who is trained and educated in the field,” she said. “A professional manager is trained to run a city. We have not had a mayor who is trained to run the city. Probably, most cities don’t.”
Lindsay said she felt it was a good time to bring forward the issue of a potential change of government.
Incumbent Mayor Sean Guard will face Earl Scott in the General Election mayoral race.
“Sean might not get re-elected,” Lindsay said. “If we waited to 2014, then it’s personal.
“It’s up for grabs now,” she added. “This is the time to do it. It’s not a personal issue.”
White said when he has a concern, he calls the mayor at City Hall and often times, Guard will answer the phone.
“I think that’s a really important thing,” he said. “There is a person who is accountable, and I can ask him what is going on.
“You don’t have to wait for a council meeting,” White added.
His main objection to Proposition 1 is he would not be able to elect a mayor, and he won’t be able to vote one out.
“If the proposition passes, it does not matter which mayor you want out of the two candidates,” White said. “If you want the mayor of your choice to take office, then you need to vote ‘no’ on Proposition 1.
“I just don’t want my right to vote for leadership in this town to be taken away from me,” he added.
White said he would have a mayor serve for the love of the community rather than have a manager running the city as part of a professional career.
“A lot of times they’d be coming from another city or state and be recruited to Washougal,” he said. “As soon as they get their feet on the ground, they could look for somewhere else to improve their wage.
“They’re doing it for the money and to build their career,” White added. “The citizens would be secondary.”
Overall, he said Washougal is going to prosper, regardless of the type of government the citizens choose.
McDaniel said changing to a council-manager form would lead toward a more stable vision for the community.
“Putting a professional manager in charge of our budget is the best option for our city,” she said. “We are a full-service city with police and fire departments, a utility department, parks and public works. There’s a lot of details that go along with that and state and federal agencies we have to deal with. Things are not as simple as they used to be.”
McDaniel said the city seems to change directions every few years.
“I’d really like to see a more longtime stable commitment to the future, as far as planning, compared to seat-of-your-pants governance,” she said. “The voters are ready to move beyond scandals and put forward a more professional face to the county, state and to the country.”
Jeff Guard said he does not agree with the concept of the council-manager form of government. He studied it in 2000 or 2001 when Charles Crumpacker was the mayor.
Guard, a brother of Sean Guard, said the timing of the Proposition 1 supporters to put the measure on the General Election ballot is “suspect at best.”
“It was done after filing [for city offices],” he said. “It’s created a ton of confusion for city voters.”
Jeff Guard said big businesses do not have seven chief executive officers.
“You need a point person for accountability to the voters,” he said. “They have recourse if they want to get rid of that person.”
Jeff Guard said the composition of the city council could be less consistent and accountable than a mayor.
“Some councilors are up for re-election, while others are up for re-election later,” he said. “They turn over faster than the mayor. You get a whole new crew.”
Boger said with a mayor-council form, the mayor fills the role of the president or governor, and the city council is similar to Congress or the legislature.
“The mayor controls all of the staff, and the council has no staff to assist them with oversight of the executive,” he said.
In July, Boger wrote a draft resolution for the city council to consider, regarding whether to put the council-manager issue on the ballot. He sent the resolution to Washougal City Attorney Don English to review.
Sean Guard requested Boger refrain from directing staff on particular items. Guard said direction to staff goes through the city administrator or himself and is “wholly inappropriate to come from council to staff.”
Boger told Guard his position that asking for review of a resolution is interfering in city administration is similar to saying to a state legislator he or she has to go to the governor to get a bill drafted.
“I don’t think that would be workable,” Boger said. “It’s also pretty well settled, according to the Municipal Research and Services Center, that the city attorney represents the city as a corporate entity and not the mayor or council particularly.”
Information, provided by the MRSC, is available at www.cityofwashougal.us.
The potential transition to a council-manager form of government is expected to be a discussion topic during the city council workshop, Monday, Oct. 14, at 5 p.m.
The committees’ statements for and against Proposition 1 are in the voters’ pamphlets, which are scheduled to be mailed that week, according to Clark County Auditor Greg Kimsey.
“We hope to have it online by Sept. 12,” he said.