Council discusses change for city

Discussions on changing Port Orchard’s form of government and city classification continued at the Feb. 19 City Council study session with a representative from the Municipal Research and Service Center at the meeting.

Since January, Council has been gathering information and data to change the city’s mayor-council form of government to a council-manager, and changing the city from a second-class incorporated city to a non-charter code city.

Pat Mason, a senior legal consultant with the MRSC, provided the Council advantages and disadvantages of changing city status and the form of government.

“Both forms of government have been proven to work,” Mason said.

Mason said under the council-manager form of government, the council is elected by the voter and the council would appoints a city manager who would appoint and direct the department heads.

But Mason noted there was a third form of government the Council could consider — mayor-council with a city administrator. The voters would elect the mayor and council, but the mayor would appoint the city administrator.

“It gives you that professional administration without changing your form of government,” Mason said.

Mason said there are many cities who have a mayor-council with a city administrator. He said the council would have to decide to create a city administrator’s position and to fund it.

Statewide, Mason said, the mayor-council is the most popular form of government among the 281 incorporated cities. He said 53 cities use the council-manager form.

Mason noted that cities who change its form of government is “triggered by some event that happens in the city that is controversial.”

“You can change the form of government without changing the city’s classification, or you can change the city’s classification without changing the form of government, or you could do both,” Mason said.

He said, in the state with cities between 10,000 and 25,000, of the 35 cities, 20 are mayor-council.

There are 191 code cities in the state.

“A code city is not dependent on size,” Mason said.

City Attorney Greg Jacoby told the Council there are three ways for the City to move from a mayor-council to a council-manager.

Jacoby said the first option involves not changing from a second-class city. Under state law, second class cities can change their form of government to a council-manager through a resolution that is subject to a referendum, or council can pass a resolution to put it on a ballot.

“That can happen without changing into a code city,” Jacoby said. “If it passes, all council members have to stand for re-election.”

Under the second option, Jacoby said, if the city changes to a cody city and change form of government to a council-manager, it can be done in one step. He said it can be done by a council resolution which is subject to a referendum by the voters.

“If there is no referendum, it becomes law,” Jacoby added.

Jacoby said 10 percent of the voters from the last municipal election would have to request a referendum.

According to Jacoby, the ballot measure would come from a Council resolution.

Jacoby said the ballot measure would state if the City wants to be classified as a code city and change the form of government to a council-manager. All council members would be up for re-election.

Jacoby said the final option involves two steps to change the form of government and city’s classification. He said in the first step, the Council would pass a resolution for a ballot measure to change the city’s classification to a code city. If the voters approve it, the City would have to wait one year to pass a second resolution for a ballot measure to change to a council-manager form.

“If the voters approve the council-manager form, the mayor becomes a council member and there would be no new council elections until the terms are up,” Jacoby said.

He added the mayor would be the eighth council member until his term ends, then the Council would drop back to the original seven-member council.

Jacoby said in the first two options, the mayor’s position is eliminated.

Election cost could range for $1,000 to $30,000, depending on when an election would held.

Councilman Rob Putaansuu, who’s spearheading efforts to change the form of government, said he spoke with a Bainbridge Island Councilwoman Anne Blair concerning the city’s change from mayor-council to council-manager form of government in 2009.

“She said the biggest positive is the professional management,” Putaansuu said.

He said Blair also noted another positive was the years of experience a city manager can bring to a city.

“Under our current form of government, we can have a new mayor every four years,” Putaansuu said. “Sometimes it takes six months to a year to feel their way into things and how to do things.”

He said a city manager would run the staff and the Council’s role wouldn’t change.

“It’s important to hire a city manager with experience,” Putaansuu said regarding his conversation with Blair. “She said the first city manager they hired had the skills, but not the experience and the council started to ‘micro-manage’ the staff.”

According to data from the International City Managers Association, Putaansuu said 57 percent of cities of a population of 10,000 or more operate under the council-manager form in the U.S. From 1984 to 2012, cities wwho operate under the council-manager has increased from 35 to 49 percent, overall.

In response to Putaansuu’s data, Mayor Tim Matthes presented information his staff obtained from the MRSC website.

“Truly, I think you’re better off staying in our own state because our state is unique rather than going nationally,” Matthes said.

Matthes noted Seattle and Spokane have a mayor-council form, but Federal Way went from a council-manager to a mayor-council.

“Cities between 10,000 and 15,000, 12 cities are mayor-council and three are council-manager,” Matthes added. “I have to refute, they are not the same. Statewide is much different, than national.”


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