Elected mayor? City council to let voters decide

Washougal voters will see issue on November ballot

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Washougal Mayor Molly Coston (left) and City Councilman Ray Kucth attend a Washougal City Council meeting in 2019. (Contributed photo courtesy of the city of Washougal)

The city of Washougal will ask residents if they would like to elect their mayor once again.

During their July 13 virtual meeting, Washougal City Council members approved a resolution to call for a special election to be held in conjunction with the Nov. 3 general election for the purpose of submitting to voters the proposition of whether the city should designate its No. 1 council position as mayor.

Currently, Washougal’s mayor is chosen from the councilors, by the councilors, every two years, a process resulting from a 2018 proposition that changed the city’s form of government from a “strong mayor” system to a “council-manager” format.

City councilors discussed the issue earlier this summer, at their June 8 virtual workshop meeting.

“If there’s one comment that I get regarding this particular topic, it’s almost 100 percent that people feel like they should elect the mayor,” Washougal Mayor Molly Coston said in June.

In the city’s current form of government, the mayor has no administrative responsibilities, but does serve as a prominent political figure.

“In the council-manager form of government, the mayor, whether (they are) selected by the council or whether (they are) generally elected, is a voting member of the council and serves as the chair of the council,” Washougal City Manager David Scott said. “In this ‘optional’ process, Position 1 would be designated as the mayoral position, and it would be elected at-large, and positions two through seven would just continue with the way that they are. In this case, the mayor would serve for four years, and the election cycle repeats.”

Councilman Brent Boger, the current occupier of the No. 1 position, indicated he has no interest in becoming mayor. His spot is up for re-election in 2021.

“No, I’d rather be lieutenant governor, or ambassador to Belgium,” Boger said during the June 8 meeting. “But no, I don’t want to be mayor. … I would do whatever it takes to make sure that I’m not mayor for even one day.”

The resolution that placed the change-of-government option on the ballot in 2018 contained a provision stating that it was the Council’s intention to bring the mayoral vote issue to voters in the future if they approved the council-manager form of government.

“We did tell the voters that we were going to place this on the ballot,” Coston said, “and I believe that probably tipped some voters into voting for this change in the form of government — that they would still have an opportunity to elect a mayor.”

“The (resolution said), ‘Our council remains committed to having an elected mayor to represent our city.’ That person would be the public voice of the city and preside over the city council, but would not be the chief executive,'” Boger added. “That’s what we told the voters back in 2017 that we were going to do, and I see no reason why we shouldn’t proceed down that course. I think it would be really unfortunate if we didn’t.”

Scott described Washougal’s current format “by far the most common option for ‘code’ cities that are council-manager form of government.”

“From my experience on the citizen advisory committee before this was put on the ballot, the data was really all across the board in terms of who is doing what. There was no real clear snapshot based on demographics in our area as to what the quote-unquote ‘right’ way to do it in terms of who was going to the council-manager or who was staying with the strong mayor,” Councilwoman Alex Yost said. “The No. 1 topic at all of those advisory committee meetings was the concern that the people would feel that they’re losing their right to have a directly elected mayor.”

Councilmembers Michelle Wagner and Paul Greenlee voted against the resolution.

“I’ll just be voting for the default way that we’re currently under, and to keep us aligned with the majority of the other (code) cities in the state,” Wagner said.