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Port Orchard mulling the idea of a city manager

The city of Port Orchard could outgrow Mayor Lary Coppola’s managerial abilities within the next five to 10 years.

Coppola, in fact, is counting on it.

“We are going to grow to the point that professional management is a much more stable situation for the city than electing whoever and hoping that they are a good administrator,” Coppola said.

“The way it is now,” he said, “we could elect Bozo the Clown and be stuck with him for four years.”

Coppola has 32 years of business experience, but he thinks the city will eventually need more than he — or any mayor — can provide.

“If we annex the entire Urban Growth Area, we’re going to be the largest city in the county, both population-wise and area-wise,” he said. “At that point, I think we need to be looking at professional management.”

And he’s willing to forfeit his own job to make it happen.

“I realize that this could mean that my job goes away,” Coppola said, “but I really believe that, going forward, we are going to need professional city management.”

If Port Orchard goes in that direction the city council would likely elect one of its own to represent the city as a ceremonial mayor, while most of the mayor’s administrative responsibilities will be turned over to a manager, hired by the city.

The city of Port Townsend went that route in 1999.

“There’s not a one-size-fits all solution for anybody,” said Mark Welch, who was on the Port Townsend City Council before and after it made the switch.

Port Orchard’s city government would become more professional but less responsive if it hires a city manager, Welch said.

“The political culture will change somewhat,” he said. “It tends to not be the same folksy atmosphere where you can get a stop sign put in or a pothole filled because you know someone on the city council.”

It was the right decision for Port Townsend, though, Welsh said.

“I was initially not in favor,” he said. “In retrospect, I’m glad we did.”

And Port Townsend still technically has a mayor.

The council chose one of its members, Michelle Sandoval, to perform many of the ceremonial duties a mayor would, although she has, individually, no administrative authority.

She, too, likes her city’s form of government.

It’s professional and democratic, she said.

“I think you need both,” she said. “People who are the communicators out in the community and also somebody that’s in the office running the city full-time.”

City managers typically have more “tools in their belt” to assist the city, said Sandoval, which is particularly useful in “tough economic times.”

But support for Port Townsend’s city manager hasn’t been unanimous.

“When people don’t like the answers that they get from the council,” Sandoval said, “they think the city council is being manipulated by the manager. They feel frustrated because they can’t vote out the manager.”

But usually, she said, it’s not the manager’s fault, and those who complain are just “people who disagree with the majority of those on the council.”

Coppola said he strongly supports the idea for Port Orchard, both during a work-study session for the city council on Tuesday, and in an interview afterwards.

“I’d like to think that I’ve done a good job so far,” he said, “but every election cycle is a crap shoot. We don’t know who might run who might get elected, and we’ve already experienced having bad administrators.”

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