Politics & Government

Edgewood voters will elect strong mayor after change-of-government measure passes

The City of Edgewood will go through a major transition in the next several months as it prepares to change its form of government and hold its first election for a strong mayor.

Voters in the East Pierce County suburb narrowly approved a measure last month to ditch the council-manager system that’s been in place since Edgewood became a city in 1995. The measure passed in the Nov. 4 general election by a margin of 31 votes – 1,892 supported it while 1,861 were opposed.

City Manager Mark Bauer said there are many unknowns moving forward, including what will happen to his job now that the city of 9,400 residents will have an elected mayor in charge of hiring and firing staff and running day-to-day operations.

“Cities have a way of sorting things out and continuing on with the job that the citizens have elected them to do,” Bauer said. “It will all work out.”

A primary election for the new position will be held April 28 with the final mayoral election scheduled for Aug. 4. The mayor will fill a four-year term.

Bauer said any changes at the city will depend on who is elected mayor. Business-as-usual could continue, he said, with some restructuring.

Neighboring cities that have strong mayors – including nearby Milton and Sumner – operate with city administrators who carry out duties similar to that of a city manager. Bauer said his job could be converted to a similar role, but that would be up to the new mayor.

Bauer said there’s been some talk of people interested in running for mayor, but he wouldn’t divulge names.

“I’m sure the group who ran the initiative has people in mind,” he said.

The change-of-government measure was spurred by a citizen-led petition that circulated last spring.

One of its organizers was Eric Docken, a resident who filed a lawsuit in January that ultimately led the city to overturn its contentious and short-lived utility tax.

A letter that circulated along with the petition referred to the defeated tax and suggested that the proposed change in Edgewood's form of government was 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.

Docken said Wednesday that the change is a step in the right direction for Edgewood.

“It will be very beneficial to the citizens,” he said.

Docken said it’s too soon to tell whether someone from his group will run for mayor.

“There’s a possibility that somebody might step up to the plate,” he said.

Under the current form of government, the Edgewood City Council elects the mayor — a mostly ceremonial position —from its ranks every two years, while a professional city manager runs the city.

Current Mayor Daryl Eidinger told The News Tribune he plans to file as a candidate in hopes of continuing to serve Edgewood.

“I think I have a vision for what the city needs to do,” he said Wednesday.

Eidinger said the transition poses several challenges, especially related to the cost and timeline.

“It could cost upward of $100,000 since it isn’t falling at regular election time,” he said.

Staff at City Hall have been tense given the transition, he added.

“Nobody really knows how it will affect us fully,” Eidinger said. “There’s uneasiness and uncertainty.”

In the South Sound region, cities rarely change their form of government. Federal Way was the last to switch to a strong-mayor system five years ago.