Politics & Government

Tacoma Charter Review: Public money for campaigns, term-limit extensions suggested

Tacoma voters could decide this fall to more than double the term limits for people elected to both the City Council and mayor’s office under a proposal by Mayor Marilyn Strickland.

Another proposal from Strickland’s fellow council members would use public money to match campaign donations in certain situations.

The City Council will seek feedback during a public hearing Tuesday at its 5 p.m. meeting on these and other proposals to change the city charter, essentially the city constitution.

Last month, the council-appointed Charter Review Committee recommended several charter changes, among them moving from a council-city manager form of government to a strong mayor system that gives the mayor and council more power.

Voters could decide charter amendments this fall if the council decides to forward proposals to the ballot.

Under the charter, mayors and council members are term limited after a consecutive 10 years in office, either as council member or mayor. A resident could serve two, four-year terms as a council member but then could not run for mayor or another term on council. He or she could also run for mayor or another council position halfway through a second term to remain on the council for the full 10 years.

Strickland suggested separate term limits for the council and mayor positions. Her proposal would allow someone to serve three, consecutive four-year terms as a council member and another three consecutive terms as the mayor for a total of 24 years.

Strickland said her proposal answers concerns she’s heard that term limits do not allow for continuity of leadership.

“There are some people in the community who totally disagree with having term limits,” Strickland said.

In another proposal before the council, Councilmen David Boe and Marty Campbell are offering a charter amendment to finance the city’s council and mayoral campaigns with public dollars.

Campbell said publicly financed campaigns would level the playing field for people who have widespread community support but lack high-dollar campaign donations.

Candidates would have to get a minimum $10 donation from at least 200 Tacoma residents before qualifying for public money. That minimum $10 donation would qualify for $60 of public match money. The match caps at $300 in public money for a $50 campaign donation, Campbell said.

The move toward publicly financed campaigns is a way to fight corporate donations, such as those guaranteed free-speech rights by the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United, he said.

Limits would also be placed on how much money candidates could receive from the city: $15,000 for a districtwide council race, $30,000 for an at-large seat, and $50,000 or $60,000 for the mayor’s race. City property taxes would pay the expenses. While he is still working on numbers, Campbell said it might cost about $500,000 per election cycle.

If a candidate chooses public financing, Campbell said the candidate would be required to participate in at least three public debates, and might have to refund some of any leftover campaign funds to the city.

The City Council has not had an in-depth discussion of any proposed charter amendments. Such a discussion could happen a week after the public hearing at special meeting June 17.

In addition to considering their own proposals, council members will be sifting through the recommendations of the Charter Review Committee. City attorneys have consolidated the committee’s more than 30 suggestions into 19 different ballot items.

Council members said it’s unlikely all 19 amendments would appear on the same ballot.

“We always have power to decide when something goes on the ballot,” Strickland said.