Alex Hays worked for weeks to craft a ballot measure to give the Tacoma mayor and City Council more authority.
In doing so, however, the Pierce County Better Government League president said he accidentally deleted a section of the city charter called “Powers of the People.”
That error could mean that the City Council will have to step in and add another issue to what’s becoming a long November ballot.
Pierce County Auditor Julie Anderson verified this week that the strong-mayor issue had collected the 7,197 valid signatures required to qualify for the fall ballot.
Hays said he is in the process of contacting City Council members in hopes they would submit a corresponding question — either as a separate issue, or as the second part of a two-part ballot issue — that would restore the powers of the people section if voters choose to change the charter.
“We would want to put everything back,” Hays said. “We would want a complete fix for everything.”
The powers of the people section outlines how the citizens, like Hays, can collect signatures to amend the charter or change city law. If voters approve his proposal, that right would be removed.
Tacoma City Attorney Elizabeth Pauli said state law grants cities such as Tacoma the ability to adopt initiative powers, but cities must describe the initiative and referendum process.
“Regardless of what form of government you have, you would always want to have that as part of your charter,” said Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland.
Last year, the City Council voted 2-6 against adding a strong-mayor issue to the 2014 fall ballot. That and other recommendations were the result of months of work by a citizen Charter Review Commission — the creation of which is also authorized by the powers of the people section of the charter.
Hays’ measure builds largely on the commission’s strong-mayor proposal. His proposed charter change would remove the city manager, currently T.C. Broadnax, as the administrative head of city government and install a mayor in his place. Currently the mayor serves as a member of the City Council and does not oversee city departments.
The proposal would reduce the number of City Council members from eight to seven by eliminating one of the at-large positions, and preserve the council as an odd-numbered body after the mayor is no longer a member. It also grants the council more powers, among them the authority to remove the mayor and the ability to do investigations into the conduct of any city department.
If voters approve, the new form of government would take effect in January 2018.
Terms for the City Council and mayor would also change. Currently, someone can serve up to 10 consecutive years as mayor, council member or both. Voters would be asked to limit City Council terms to two four-year terms. The mayor would also be limited to two terms of four years each.
The changes should have stopped there, Hays said Thursday.
Anderson said people could challenge the ballot title in Superior Court under the state’s law regarding preventing and correcting election fraud and errors. But she hopes the City Council will somehow fix the errors before it comes to a legal challenge. Such a lawsuit could delay ballot printing.
To date the Pierce County Better Government League has raised $6,600 and received a $4,000 loan to support the strong-mayor effort, according to the state Public Disclosure Commission.
The proposed charter change will join an already crowded Tacoma ballot, which includes issues on minimum wage, road repairs and several City Council races.