Washougal eyes change to form of government

Council to decide if council-manager issue will be on ballot in November

The Washougal City Council is leaning toward having voters determine whether the city should change its form of government from mayor-council to council-manager.

The council is expected, during its next meeting, at 7 p.m., Tuesday, May 29, to place on the Nov. 6, 2018 ballot a measure to adopt the council-manager form.

A citizens government advisory committee — comprised of Chuck Carpenter, Donna Sinclair, Julie Russell, Blaine Peterson, Dave Shoemaker, Rod Morris and Wayne Pattison — made the recommendation to place the measure on the ballot.

Carpenter, the committee chair, told councilmembers during a workshop Monday, that with the current mayor-council form of government, mayors need to be independently wealthy, retired or have a job with a flexible schedule and strong management experience.

“That’s a small pool to draw from,” Carpenter said.

Molly Coston, a retired senior project manager with Nortel Networks, earns $2,350 per month as the mayor of Washougal.

Peterson said he agreed, in general, with the recommendation of his fellow committee members, but he has two reservations about the council-manager form of government.

“There may be too much power and authority vested with an individual city manager,” he said. “The council-manager form more closely compares to a corporate governance model, and eliminates the separation between executive and legislative branches.”

If the measure is placed before voters in November and passes with a simple majority of at least 50 percent plus one vote, it would go into effect after the election results are certified later that month.

Coston would become an eighth council member, and the council would continue with eight members until the expiration of the current mayor’s term of office in December of 2021.

Washougal City Administrator David Scott would become an interim city manager until the city hires a new city manager or appoints the interim city manager on a permanent basis.

The eight member council would designate one of its members to hold the position of mayor, and that person would chair council meetings and represent the city at ceremonial occasions. After Coston’s term expires, the council would revert to seven members.

The citizens government advisory committee’s report mentions that with the current mayor-council form of government, the mayor holds executive power for appointments, budget development and shaping city initiatives. In a council-manager form of government, power is shared by the full council. The mayor serves as a council member and a community representative, and he or she chairs council meetings, but has no executive power.

During workshop discussions Monday, Councilman Paul Greenlee said he was not in a hurry to get the issue on the ballot, since the city has until Aug. 7, to do so, for the Nov. 6 election.

Councilwoman Michelle Wagner said the citizens government advisory committee studied the issues and provided expertise, and Councilman Brent Boger wanted to “start the community conversation now.”

Councilman Ray Kutch agreed.

“I don’t see any reason to wait,” he said.

Councilwoman Joyce Lindsay wanted the ballot placement issue to be put on the council agenda for the May 29 meeting to, as she said, “start the education process.”