Tacoma’s turn in the national spotlight a decade ago was painful, so it should be no surprise that there was a strong reaction to Tuesday’s story about the city’s charter review process.
The reaction had less to do with charter review than it did with what former mayor Bill Baarsma, chairman of the Charter Review Committee, said about why the city should change its form of government, from the council-manager system we have today to a mayor-administrator model.
After the story ran, I received many phone calls and emails saying Baarsma was trying to rewrite history.
To recap, Baarsma said the tragedy of former Tacoma Police Chief David Brame shooting wife Crystal Judson and then himself could have been avoided, if only the form of government were different:
“If Brame had been brought before the City Council for confirmation, it never would’ve happened,” said Bill Baarsma, former mayor and now the chairman of the city’s Charter Review Committee. “And we wouldn’t have had one of the worst scandals in the city’s history.”
Some told me that Baarsma is wrong — that he, like almost everyone else at the time, wanted Brame to be chief.
When abuse allegations arose from their divorce proceedings, at the time Baarsma would not comment on them, but added, "The professional end of Dave's relationship with the city has been absolutely stellar."
You can read more stories of the history on Brame here.
But many others told me the form of government had nothing to do with the tragedy that unfolded, and that government is only as good as the people who run it.
Kevin Phelps, Pierce County deputy administrator and a city councilman in 2003, said what matters in a government is accountability.
“It all has to do with the people” elected to those positions, Phelps said. “(Baarsma) was very supportive of David Brame. That’s a separate discussion. They are not connected.”
Ken Miller, who also serves on the Charter Review Committee, said rehashing the past does not motivate him. Tacoma’s future does.
“This is not a teardown,” Miller said of changing the form of government. “This is an add on. … I’m not interested in creating a system that protects us from problems. I’m more interested in creating a system that captures opportunities.”
Miller said a new form of government would allow Tacoma to build upon a “solid foundation.”
According to proposed revisions the committee has made to the city charter (see below), a new form of government would have an elected mayor with an appointed administrator who assists the mayor. The seven members of the Tacoma City Council would serve full-time. Baarsma has said both would have checks and balances to prevent one branch from becoming too powerful. The mayor could veto, but council could override the veto with a two-thirds majority vote.
There are a lot more proposed changes to the charter than I can list here. Those interested in commenting on the changes can attend two public meetings:
Opportunities for public comment:
Wednesday: Charter Review Committee will hold a 5:30 p.m. public hearing in the City Council Chambers on the first floor of the Tacoma Municipal Building, 747 Market St., Tacoma.
April 17 at 7 p.m.: Members of the charter committee will answer questions submitted in advance. Post questions to the city of Tacoma’s Facebook page at facebook.com/cityoftacoma, tweet @cityoftacoma on Twitter, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. The public can attend the meeting in the Council chambers or listen in by phone at 253-591-5505.
Both meetings also can be viewed live on TV Tacoma Channel 12 or tvtacoma.org.