Reminder: Should a mayor or city manager run a city? Edmonds Civic Roundtable panel to explore June 27

From left, Mountlake Terrace Mayor Kyoko Matsumoto Wright and former Lynnwood Mayor Nicola Smith

The Edmonds Civic Roundtable is hosting a panel discussion Monday, June 27 to explore the pros and cons of a strong mayor vs. city manager form of municipal government.

The panelists include:

  • Mayor Kyoto Matsumoto Wright from Mountlake Terrace, which has a city manager.
  • Former Mayor Nicola Smith from Lynnwood, which has a strong mayor.
  • A representative from the Association of Washington Cities.

The meeting is available to attend in person and via Zoom. Attendees will have an opportunity to ask questions following the panelist discussion.

The Edmonds Civic Roundtable notes it has no position or recommendation regarding one form over the other, but believes it is healthy for Edmonds residents to understand and discuss the strengths and weaknesses of these two governmental structures.

The meeting will run from 4-5:30 p.m. June 27 at the Edmonds Waterfront Center, 220 Railroad Ave., 2nd floor, Community Room .

The Edmonds Waterfront Center recommends that people attending in person wear masks.

Register here to participate in person or by Zoom

Learn more about the Edmonds Civic Roundtable at www.edmondscivicroundtable.org.

  1. The third option is the city council run the city with the support of the mayor. Council members are by far more accessible and in the case of Edmonds, more engaged, with the public, whom they are there to represent and serve.

  2. Our current system is called the Strong Mayor/Weak Council system where all parties are elected at large and are supposedly representing the will and well being of all their constituents (town residents) equally and without favor. There is a reason it’s called Strong Mayor and Weak Council. The Mayor’s position is the power position and he/she in fact and by law presides over the Council meetings unless he/she is unavailable. He/she can vote along with council to break tie votes in all but limited circumstances – another reason it is referred to as “Strong Mayor” system. The Mayor’s job is supposed to be to efficiently run the city and enforce the laws and policies that the legislative branch, the Council, make based on what the citizens need and want for our city. I guess the question is, is this current system working as supposedly designed for the greater good of all the citizens of Edmonds? All city positions are supposed to be non-partisan and unaffected by political party influence. Is that working here? I’m looking forward to this public discussion.

  3. For over 45 years as a private contractor, I worked extensively with both Strong Mayors, City Managers and City Councils in over 100 cities in Washington . Some had elected strong Mayors and others had appointed City Managers. Both forms of city goverment have virtues and vices.

    City Managers are the CEO’s of cities and are responsible for all hiring and firing decisions of all employees and the day to day management of the City They are appointed by and serve at the pleasure and (sometimes whims) of the City Council. (Note: Sammamish has had three City Managers in three years.)
    The Mayor is mostly ceremonial and is elected by the City Council from one of it’s members.

    Strong Mayor form of city government has a Mayor elected by the public and accountable to the public. He or she is the CEO of the City responsible for day to day operations of the city and is the Chief Law Enforcement officer of the city. The Mayor may veto legislation passed by the City Council. City Council controls budget and the passage of laws. The Mayor is the hire/fire final authority in the City for all employees subject to some citties having requirements for confirmation by Council of certain Department Head hires such as Chief of Police.

    My view, successful city government depends far less on the form of government than it does on the quality and reasonableness of the persons elected as either Council Members or Mayors. Either form will only work well if dedicated reasonable people are elected as City Council members or strong Mayors. I good strong Mayor can moderate the excesses of a rogue City Council. A competent City Manager supported by a reasonable City Council can sometimes avoid the excesses of a reckless strong Mayor.

    1. Thank you Mr. Bucklin for laying this issue out so clearly. I’d like to add a few thoughts to the discussion. A simple online search using the words, “city manager sues…” brings up an endless list of city manager hirings gone wrong. Costing cities millions of dollars. While it sounds appealing to have someone run the departments who is a “professional,” the reality is “politics” still interferes with how the city actually functions. Here is a short list of reasons why I believe a strong mayor is still the best choice.

      1. Only 4 council member votes are needed to hire or fire a city manager.
      2. In reality, that city manager works for the council majority not the citizens.
      3. It’s very difficult to fire a city manager – see “searches” above.
      4. A poor mayor can be voted out at no cost to the city.

      Just because the manager has a degree in public administration or business doesn’t mean they know how to run a city well. There are qualified ones but also not qualified ones. Same goes with elected mayors. Bottom line, voters need to do their homework and vote based on qualifications not party.

  4. There is no question that electing the right people with the right motives is paramount regardless of what you call them. The questions are, which type system is more apt to accomplish this goal and which system is better at producing ideas and policies that all the citizens want vs. Ideas and policies various special interests want for the town? Those questions are worth asking based on our recent experience of the last three strong executives with weak Councils. Are we attracting the right people to run our town and is there a possible better approach to get both better Chief Executives and Councils in the future? In my view a system where (by law) the executive branch dominates the meetings of the legislative branch is an invitation for executive overreach and abuse of power. There is no legal way to change that dynamic except by going to Council/Manager. This approach won’t guarantee better government, but it might just promote better government.

    1. You are correct, the mayor is directed by Washington State law to run the meetings. It could & should be changed by the Legislature for exactly the reason you stated. It would also help city staff. Instead of potentially contentious questioning by council members, the questions would be directed to the mayor who would then invite his staff, if necessary to respond. Lastly, as members of the Association of Cities, the Council could lobby them to get this potential change in the law on their priority list for 2023.

      1. Maggie, there you go, together we have solved the problem so no need for this discussion tonight. Seriously I’m trying to keep an open mind about all this and plan to attend the discussion. I’m really more interested in listening to what the panel has to say about it all than trying to lobby for any sort of action to be taken. I’ve done some reading on the pros and cons of the two systems and why they tend to succeed or fail but I haven’t seen much convincing agreement on which works best. From what I can tell, Shoreline and Mountlake Terrace work pretty good, with generally happy residents, and Mill Creek and Samammish have been a disaster. Other than a costly recall election you have a Mayor for a minimum of four years, while you have a City Manager only as long as the majority of the Council think he/she is doing a good job. Older cities seem to favor Strong Mayor and younger cities seem to go more toward Council/Manager.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Real first and last names — as well as city of residence — are required for all commenters.
This is so we can verify your identity before approving your comment.

By commenting here you agree to abide by our Code of Conduct. Please read our code at the bottom of this page before commenting.