More than 30 people attended the first of two public hearings scheduled this month for citizens comments on changing the current form of government and city classification.
Over the past few months, the City Council has been discussing changing the current mayor-council form of government to a council-city manager, along with changing the city’s status from a second-class city to a code city.
During the June 11 meeting, the Council heard from 13 people concerning the changes.
Dick Davis said people should look at having city manager as an investment, not a cost.
“Hiring a city manager is going to be more costly than what we experience,” Davis said. “What we need to hear is what are the attributes that a city manager brings to our city.”
He said if a city manager can help create revenue without raising taxes, attract new businesses and help raise staff’s performance — it would be a good investment.
Davis said that school districts, colleges, hospitals and other corporations have board of directors that interview and select their chief executive officer or superintendent.
“They do this because they want the best possible for their organization,” Davis said. “We should want the same professional leadership for our city.”
He said under a council-manager, four council seats would be up for election every two years.
“This gives us a good chance to change direction, if that is what the voters decide,” Davis said. “This hardly disenfranchises anyone.”
Kim Punt, a Council candidate, compared the City to a $30-million municipal corporation and said the mayor’s position should be “a management job, not a political.”
She said the elected mayor acts as the CEO, the Council as the board of directors and citizens as the stakeholders.
“The problem with an elected mayor as a CEO is that the citizens run the risk of choosing someone who is a better politician than administrator and has absolutely no training or experience in running any kind of business operations, much less one funded by $30 million of our tax dollars,” she explained.
She said a business corporation would not hire a CEO that has no training.
“Why should our city be any different,” Punt said.
One argument against the council-manage form, Punt said, is that a city manager is not directly accountable to the voters and can’t be fired by the voters.
“That’s true, however under the current system, the mayor who is the city manager, can’t be fired either, except every four years,” Punt said. “If he or she is a good politician, that may not happen even then — no matter how bad a job they did.”
Punt said the city manager would be accountable to the Council and the Council would be accountable to the voters.
“If the elected mayor is doing a bad job, the Council can’t fire him or her,” she said. “If the city manager is doing a bad job, the Council can fire them at any time.”
Punt said the cost for a city manager is another argument among the public, but a trained, professional city manager would be cheaper over the long term.
“The city manager would be specifically trained in city management and they the elected mayor has at least a year or more of on-the-job training,” Punt said. “The mayor can easily cost the city much more than the difference in the two salaries.”
Punt said changing to a code city wouldn’t change the way the City operates or interacts with citizens, but would allow the City more freedoms in its relationship with the state. Port Orchard is one of 11 second-class cities in the state and also is the largest, she noted.
“Except for charter cities like Seattle, Tacoma and Spokane, every city except the 11 have become code cities,” she said. “It makes sense to — just as it does for Port Orchard.”
She said a majority of code cities have adopted the council-manager system.
Former Council member Fred Olin said he favors the changes because it gives citizens more power with the rights of referendums and initiatives.
“By having that power of referendums and initiatives, we probably wouldn’t have to work as hard as we did on the annexation and make you (Council) do your job,” Olin said.
He said it gives citizens a chance to get the votes for something they may feel is important.
Resident Gil Michael said one provision of the code city that gives the citizens the right to petitions and initiatives, but enacting as a code city by itself does not automatically give citizens the right to petition and initiative.
“That is a separate decision that is made by the Council after the code city passes the ballot,” he said.
Michael said he also feels doing away with the mayor eliminates the city executive branch of government. He said the city manager would be selected by the city’s legislative branch — the Council — and that person would serve at the pleasure of the Council.
“Four of the seven council members can pick or fire the city manager,” he said. “Four of seven is a majority. There is no way the members of the public or other three council members can question the decision of the four council members.”
Business owner and citizen Loretta Jacobs said she is against changing to a council-manager form because they would not be accountable to citizens.
Resident Dick Brown said he feels the city is dying and changing the form of government and city status would help the city.
Resident Jerry Harmon said there is nothing that proves a city manager is a good investment, but she would like to see the changes on separate ballots and not together on one.
“I want the right to vote for my mayor,” she said.
Jeff Braden, a Council candidate, said he is trying the understand the problem the Council is trying to resolve.
“What is the problem,” Braden said. “If there is a problem, let’s let it be known and see if the council-manager can solve the problem.”
Resident Cathy Michael said she was looking for interaction from the Council during the hearing because she thought the meeting would be similar to a Town Hall meeting.
According to the Municipal Research and Service Center (MSRC), Port Orchard is one of 20 cities with a population between 10,000 and 25,000 that has a mayor-council form of government and 15 cities are under a council-manager rule.
Of cities with populations more than 10,000, 37 of the 75 have a council-manager form of government. Nine of the state’s largest cities operate under council-manager.
The MSRC also reported that of the 281cities and towns in the state, there are 187 code cities.