Politics & Government

Edgewood voters to decide whether strong mayor should lead city

Edgewood voters will decide in November if they want to change the city’s form of government — a move apparently precipitated by residents who want to oust the current city manager.

The city of more than 9,300 people north of Puyallup has a council-manager leadership structure, in which the city manager runs daily operations under the watch of the City Council and a mayor appointed from council ranks.

A citizen-led petition requested that voters weigh in on changing to a strong-mayor system, in which a popularly elected mayor is more firmly in charge of running the city on a full-time, day-to-day basis.

The petition circulated in the spring, prompting a 5-0 City Council vote last week to put Proposition 1 on the general election ballot. The council will take final action Tuesday.

State law requires cities to prepare a ballot proposition when a petition gets signatures from 10 percent of registered voters. The Pierce County Auditor’s Office has certified that threshold was met for the effort in Edgewood.

City Manager Mark Bauer said the petition was started by Eric Docken, a resident who filed a lawsuit in January that ultimately led the city to overturn its short-lived utility tax. Docken said Friday that he wouldn’t comment on the issue.

A letter that circulated along with the recent petition references the defeated tax and suggests that the proposed change in Edgewood’s form of government is meant to take power away from Bauer.

“Our city manager knows we as citizens can’t vote him out; only the City Council has that power,” according to the letter from the group No Utility Tax in Edgewood, of which Docken is a member. It adds that citizens can work to change the system to replace an “unaccountable” city manager with an elected mayor.

If voters approve the change, Bauer said he would continue in his role until a mayor is elected in 2015.

“It would be up to that mayor to determine what they want to do” with his position, he told The News Tribune.

Cities with strong-mayor systems typically have a city administrator who helps run day-to-day operations.

Before Tuesday’s vote, Mayor Daryl Eidinger said that the council-manager form of government works in Edgewood and is an increasingly common leadership structure in the region.

Pierce County’s largest cities — Tacoma, Lakewood and Puyallup — all have city managers. Federal Way is the largest city in the region with a strong mayor.

Edgewood council members were hesitant to act on the matter Tuesday. City Attorney Zach Lell stressed that state law requires some action on the issue.

The unanimous vote — minus two absent council members — followed a brief closed-door meeting with Lell to discuss risks associated with refusing to take action.

“We are obligated to move forward on this,” Councilman Steve Cope said following the recess. “This is something we need to do.”

Bauer estimated it will cost the city $5,000 to $10,000 to put Proposition 1 on the ballot.

Docken and his supporters have a documented dislike of Bauer. Docken and others are part of an ongoing dispute over how the city financed its sewer system.

The most recent lawsuit — following a state Court of Appeals ruling in March that annulled property assessments for eight landowners — accused Bauer and the city of acting with “reckless or callous indifference to a federal right,” among other allegations.

In response to the remarks, Bauer has said he is merely doing his job and following the letter of the law.

Edgewood’s possible organizational change isn’t the first of its kind proposed this year.

Tacoma recently explored changing to a strong-mayor form of government after the city’s Charter Review Committee proposed it. But the Tacoma City Council voted last month to not put it on the ballot, citing concerns with the process.