Plunkett will ask council to consider switch to city manager-run government

Edmonds City Council member Michael Plunkett confirmed Wednesday that he will ask the council to consider placing a measure before Edmonds voters to change the city’s governance structure from a mayor-council to city manager-council form of government.

Plunkett said that he believes the timing is right to introduce such a measure, since Edmonds Mayor Gary Haakenson is nearing the end of his third term and has already stated he doesn’t plan to run again. (Haakenson’s term expires at the end of 2011.) If approved by the council, the measure is likely to appear on the November 2010 ballot.

Plunkett’s reason for suggesting a change? ” I think it will make the council closer to the people of Edmonds and more responsive,” he said, adding there was no specific incident or concern that prompted his decision. Plunkett also said he has no idea whether the majority of the council will support placing the idea on the ballot.

“It’s something that I’ve had on my mind for several years,” Plunkett said. “Since Gary is in his last term, it seemed like the most appropriate time.”

Under state law, if the measure were approved in November, the new form of government would take over once all votes were certified, Plunkett said. But the law also states that the current mayor will serve the remainder of his term as a councilmember (meaning the Edmonds Council would temporarily increase in size from seven members to eight). In that case, Plunkett said that he would support electing Haakenson to serve as mayor of the council for the remainder of his term, “although the role would be much different since the city manager runs the city,” he added.

According to the Seattle-based Municipal Research and Services Center of Washington, Washington state cities and towns are organized under three principal forms of government: the mayor-council form, the council-manager form and the commission form. Of Washington’s 281 cities and towns, 227 (81 percent) operate under the mayor-council form, 53 (18 percent) have adopted the council-manager form, and 1 (less than 1 percent) operates under the commission form.

The council-manager form consists of an elected city council that is responsible for making policy, plus a professional city manager — essentially the CEO of the city — who is appointed by the council and is responsible for administration. “The city manager provides policy advice, directs the daily operations of city government, handles personnel functions (including the power to appoint and remove employees) and is responsible for preparing the city budget. Under the council-manager statutes, the city council is prohibited from interfering with the manager’s administration. The city manager, however, is directly accountable to and can be removed by a majority vote of the council at any time,” the MSRC said.

The mayor in council-manager cities is generally selected by the city council, and the person selected must also be a councilmember.

  1. Exploration of management organization is obviously a benefit, as considering the pros and cons of our City’s organization will make us stronger. I eagerly await the presentations showing the strengths and weaknesses of these different approaches.

    A point of fact, though. This isn’t exactly a new idea – this has been a buzz ever since Gary announced it was his last term. But, as a wise man once said, no need to question the source of a good idea.

  2. I agree that there are many valid arguments for a council-manager form of government, especially for a city the size of Edmonds. There are valid arguments for many forms of government. However, we do not elect city council members to sit on their thumbs and write political science textbooks.

    In this crucial time, when the city faces a major budget crisis, we don’t need council members who are going to sit around in their parlors philosophizing – we need council members who are going to act. In a time when city services are at risk, we need assurance that our city government can continue providing basic services while not taxing us out of the city – regardless of whether we have a mayor or a city manager.

    Mr. Plunkett, instead of writing 500 words on the application of formal theory, why don’t you write 500 words on how to keep the lights on and doors open at city hall? Why don’t you write 500 words on how to increase revenue, or how to fix the budget hole, or how to complete existing transportation priorities, or how to keep Yost Pool open?

    Discussions of forms of government have been taking place since the earliest times of civilization – but none of these discussions can fix our immediate problem.

  3. Thank you to Stohn Nishino for your comments. I agree with you 100%. The good ship Edmonds is sinking financially and the council majority seemingly wants to either sink it faster (Skippers purchase) or rearrange the deck chairs (Mayor vs City Manager discussion).

    I also agree with Ray Martin that the issue of mayor versus city manager system of government is something the voters need to decide not the city council and not until the end of mayor Haakenson’s term. I would also suggest that no sitting council member can be voted in as city manager.

    Thanks also to Teresa Whipple for creating this wonderful forum for the community to discuss the issues.

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