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Port Orchard City Council feels voters need say in changes

Council members will look next month at a resolution to ask voters if they want to change the city’s status and form of government. They will look at the issue at the July 9 meeting.

During the past few months, the Council has been discussing whether to let voters decide on changing the city’s status from a second-class city to a code city and changing the mayor-council form to a city manager-council.

City Attorney Greg Jacoby said in order to have it placed on the November ballot, the Council needs to decide on the issue at its July 23 meeting. Deadline for ballot measure is Aug. 6.

Councilman Rob Putaansuu, who supports the measures being placed on the November ballot, said both the school board and fire commissioners search for the best qualified people to head their districts.

“For me, it’s about professional management,” Putaansuu said. “It would be a much more efficient way to operate the city. It’s about bringing in the best possible management we can.”

He said placing both measures into one ballot measure is efficient and would bring the issue to closure.

Councilman Jerry Childs said he feels a consistency of governments from election to election and a certified professional city manager would help the city move forward into the future.

“I feel we are at a crossroads where we’re handing a lot of projects recently which demonstrates on where we’re going to go and what’s going to happen,” Childs said. “We’re a community that has a lot of potential.”

He added a city manager could provide funding and project ideas, but the “council would have control of the city manager and the citizens would still have control of the council.”

Councilman John Clauson said the issue will be decided by council, but gives voters the opportunity to decide.

“If we put this on the general election ballot it would cost the city $1,000,” Clauson said. “It’s worth giving the voters the opportunity to express their opinion.”

During the public hearings, Clauson said he found a few comments “fascinating.”

Under a city manager-council, decisions for the city would be made by a majority of four council members.

“Two of the four members would be up for election every two years. If citizens didn’t like their direction, it can be changed,” Clauson said. “Now we have one member — a mayor — who makes the decisions whether to hire or fire department heads. You only get an opportunity to change the mayor once every four years.”

He said he feels that with the new form of government, voters could be more involved in the city’s future direction.

During the public hearing, Clauson said some people have mentioned Bainbridge Island going through three city managers since changing to a city manager-council.

“I’ve had the opportunity to work under five mayors,” Clauson said. “Every mayor that has come into office, there has been department head changes — some voluntary and some not.”

Clauson said it costs the city money to change department heads.

“Unfortunately, in the past, we’ve had people that cost the city a lot of money due to their actions that were not managed properly,” he noted.

Clauson, citing Gil Michael’s reference to the three branches of government during the public hearing, said the state has given voters the option to hire a professional manager.

“To specifically look at a city of 10,000 and make a judgment based on how many has changed or not, we need to look at the broader range of cities,” he said. “There is a point in the evolution of a city that they have elected to move to this form of government.”

He said it’s not his decision, but it’s his decision to give voters a chance to voice their opinion.

Concerning speculation of the wide range city manager’s salaries discussed, Clauson also said the city can hire for a $300,000 or $120,000 position.

“I guess you get what you paid for,” he said.

Councilman Fred Chang said during his two terms, he’s worked with three mayors.

“Under two of the mayors, the experience was positive, and the other was a little different,” said Chang. “It has not occurred to me that the solution is to eliminate the position of mayor.”

He said he’s intrigued by a professional city manager in charge of the department head, unlike a mayor who has to attend regional meetings and ribbon cuttings.

Chang noted Tacoma has an elected mayor and city administrator.

“I’ve raised the idea of getting a city administrator and keep our mayor,” he said. “But I was told it’s to expensive. So it sound like it depends what you want.”

He said that he prefers both measures being separated and not on the same ballot.

“There are better options we could offer the citizens,” Chang said. “I support going to voters and for their input. I think the option, which is currently only one measure, is actually flawed.”

Councilwoman Carolyn Powers agrees with separating both issues on the ballot.

Mayor Tim Matthes, who has kept quiet on the issue concerning changing the form of government, said that the voters “hired him on a four-year contract.”

“Only you — the voters — can cancel that contract,” Matthes said.

He said he would have rather seen the voters start the process of changing the city’s status and form of government, rather than the Council.

Matthes said there is “very little broken” in the current city government.

“If it was broken, this great staff would be working hard to fix it,” he said. “They’re working hard, but there’s nothing broken.”

The mayor credits the staff for keeping the city is good financial shape.

“Just having a city manager is not the end all, be all,” Matthes said. “The people (city staff) that really run the city are sitting at that desk.”

Matthes noted that cities with population between 5,000 and 10,000, seven out of 10 are under a mayor-council and having a city manager is expensive.

He said his total salary, including benefits, is about $74,000 a year.

Citizens comment during public hearing

Bek Ashby, City Council candidate, said she was undecided about changing to a council-manager government, but would like more information before making her decision.

“It’s important the public knows why the change,” she stated. “What is the desired results from the change? What the public has been given to comment and to review is the concept. The end result has not been defined.”

She asked the Council to prepare a job description for a city manager,

“Overseeing the daily function of the city is not a job description,” Ashby said. “Ask yourself is this the role of a city manager or better served with an economic development leader. Defining the roles with assistance of the public in making the decision. What leadership role are you trying to fill? What will the job description of the mayor be? If you separate those two roles, it will be easier for the public to make the decision? What authority will the city manager be given and how will it be measured? How will we know if they are being successful? Will all the department heads report to the city manager? Will the manager effect policies in any manner that they to be appropriate, or will there be interaction with the council?

She said the Council has expressed concerns that decisions are being made without input from them and that the professionals in that certain field are expectation confirmation for their decisions from the Council without the Council actively participating in the decision-making process.

“These are items that need to be addressed up front if you’re going to have a city manager,” Ashby said. “What will be your (Council) interaction in the decision-making process?”

Ashby said the city manager’s payroll will be more than the mayor’s current salary, but she feels a proposed budget with the city manager’s salary should be provided to the public.

“What is the job they’re going to do, what is their role and how does the mayor and council fix into that role?” Ashby asked. “Do they report to one member of the council or to all seven?”

She asked if the Council was going to require the city manager to reside in the city.

“Most of our department heads don’t live in the city,” she said.

Port Orchard attorney Greg Wall said he feels citizens should be able to vote on the issues separately, instead having both on one ballot measure. He said he supports the city changing their status to a code city, but Wall is undecided about the city changing from a mayor-council to council-manager.

Kathy Michael asked the Council, “What it is that you are trying to fix? What specifically is not working and what is broken? And what is it going to cost?

She said citizens need to know how much the change would cost and where the money is coming from?

Jerry Harman echoed Michael’s question about where money would come from to pay a city manager.

“I want to know where that money is coming from before I do any voting,” she said.

Ron Johnson said the city — as a second-class city — has an ordinance that the mayor may appoint or remove city clerk, city treasure, city engineer, city planner and the police chief subject to a conformation vote by a majority vote not less than four members of the council.

“However, under state law, a mayor shall appoint, or at his or her pleasure may remove all appointed offices,” he said.

Johnson cited recent troubles with the mayor in the Town of Pacific, where Mayor Cy Sun fired several department heads and tried to hire less-qualified people who the council could not approved.

“The city could not fill those positions and now is facing lawsuits, can’t repay grants they have fulfilled and could be disenfranchised,” he said.

He said in the city, the mayor as a executive officer has tremendous authority.

“In a city our size, it’s not uncommon to get someone who may have not held an elective office in the past,” he said. “The mayor of Pacific was known in the community, but never held an elected office.”

Johnson said he was unsure if whether Port Orchard as a code city would change the balance of power and allow the city ordinance to take precedence over the state.

 

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