Washougal’s ‘strong mayor’ headed to November ballot

General election ballots mailed Oct. 19

Should Washougal keep its “strong mayor” form of government or switch to a “strong council”? That’s the question Washougal voters will decide in the upcoming Nov. 6 general election.

Proposition 8 (Prop 8), which will be on the Tuesday, Nov. 6 general election ballot, needs a simple majority of at least 50 percent plus one vote to pass.

If approved, Prop 8 would change Washougal’s form of government from mayor-council, or “strong mayor,” to council-manager or “strong council.”

Under a “strong mayor” system, an elected mayor has veto power and oversees the city’s employees and daily business. Under a “strong council” form of government, the council-appointed mayor is a city council member and ceremonial figurehead, and a city manager, also selected by the council members, oversees the city’s day-to-day business.

A Washougal Citizens Government Advisory Committee, made up of several involved Washougal city, community and school district volunteers, recommended earlier this year that city councilors pose the question to voters in the November election.

Three members of that committee — Chuck Carpenter, Donna Sinclair and Wayne Pattison — wrote a statement in favor of Prop 8 that appears in the Clark County Voters’ Pamphlet. No statements against Prop 8 were submitted for the voters pamphlet.

If the proposition passes, it would go into effect after the election results are certified Nov. 27. Washougal Mayor Molly Coston would become an eighth council member, and the Washougal City Council would continue with eight members until the expiration of Coston’s current mayor’s term of office in December 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.

After Coston’s term expires, the council would revert to seven members. The 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.

Carpenter said the most overwhelming reason the Washougal Citizens Government Advisory Committee recommended the change in the form of government from mayor-council, or “strong mayor,” to council-manager or “strong council,” is because currently the mayor needs to work close to full time.

“It’s difficult to find a person who has the time and personal resources to devote themselves to the needs of the city on close to a full time basis,” he said.

Sinclair said in order to be mayor, you have to be a person who is retired, because of the time commitment that it requires, and the fact that the pay is too low to sustain a household.

The Washougal mayoral salary is $2,350 per month.

Sinclair added that not everyone is qualified to manage the city; so it makes sense to her to have a professional administrator who is hired and supervised by the council.

Former Camas City Administrator Lloyd Halverson, a Camas resident, said changing from mayor-council to council-manager “increases the long term likelihood of effective local government.”

“The council-manager form puts a premium on selecting professional managers with skills, ethics and experiences to be especially effective and provides a greater likelihood of stability in administrative leadership,” he said.

A Washougal Proposition 8 Fact Sheet can be found online at cityofwashougal.us.

Meanwhile, the Camas City Council has tabled the issue of looking into having voters decide on a potential change from the current “strong mayor” form of government to a “strong council.”

Council members indicated they would like to discuss it at the city’s annual planning conference, Jan. 25-26, 2019.

“If they decide to pursue it, they want to have more dialogue with residents and businesses,” Camas City Administrator Pete Capell said.

Ballots are scheduled to be mailed Friday, Oct. 19. Voters drop ballots at an official ballot-drop location by 8 p.m., Nov. 6, or mail their ballot with a postmark of Nov. 6, in order for their vote to count.