The Tacoma City Council would have the final say on the city manager’s picks for the top jobs in city government if voters pass Amendment 5 on the Nov. 4 ballot.
The amendment, one of a dozen proposed changes to the city charter, would require City Council confirmation of the city manager’s appointments of department directors such as the head of public works and the police chief.
It is similar to another ballot measure, Amendment 6, which would require the council’s confirmation of the director of Tacoma Public Utilities. But Amendment 5 has not attracted near as much opposition, partly because it doesn’t go as far as the TPU proposal, which also gives the council the power to reconfirm the utility director every two years.
Tom Pierson, head of the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber, which opposes the TPU proposal, said giving council the authority to confirm department directors would help check the city manager’s executive power.
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“It continues the dialogue between the city manager and the council,” Pierson said. “It puts the onus on the city manager to make sure he or she does their homework in terms of the directors he wants appointed.”
But Amendment 5 has attracted critics. They say the charter change would allow the council to “micromanage” the city manager.
Terri Baker, a member of the Charter Review Committee that drafted many of the amendments on this fall’s ballot, opposed the measure in committee and opposes it now. She wrote the opposition statement for the voters’ pamphlet.
She said the council needs to hire a good manager and then get out of the way. Good managers will make sure the council is not surprised by an appointment, she said.
“I hope they are discussing (department head appointments) anyway,” said Baker, was also a member of the Charter Review Committee. “I hope (the city manager) is telling them ‘This is who I hired and this is why.’ That’s not approving it. That’s keeping them informed of what’s going on.”
State Rep. Laurie Jinkins, a Tacoma Democrat who co-wrote the voters’ pamphlet statement supporting Amendment 5, said she favors the change because department heads will be more responsive to council members and council members will have a chance to research backgrounds of potential department heads.
“I think it’s important that elected officials won’t be able to say they didn’t have the chance to know things,” Jinkins said.