Politics & Government

Advocacy group proposes second ballot measure to fix bungled Tacoma charter change

Early next year, Tacoma voters may have a case of déjà vu.

By then, they will have voted on a proposed amendment to the city’s charter to change Tacoma’s form of government from council-manager to what is called strong mayor. So when they receive another ballot asking them to weigh in on a charter revision, it could look strangely familiar.

Members of the Pierce County Better Government League are pursuing the second ballot measure after realizing last month that they had mistakenly omitted the “powers of the people” section from the strong-mayor issue that qualified for the fall ballot.

That first charter change would remove the position of city manager, currently held by T.C. Broadnax, as the administrative head of city government. A mayor would be installed in his place. The issue would also reduce the number of City Council members from eight to seven by eliminating an at-large position, preserving the council as an odd-numbered body.

The new form of government would take effect in January 2018 if voters approve the changes.

President Alex Hays said the League never intended to remove the powers of the people section. The group will start collecting signatures later this month or in September for the second issue aimed at the February or April ballot.

That ballot measure would reinstate the powers of the people section, which includes references to the city Charter Review Commission, Planning Commission, Library Board and outlines how citizens can collect signatures to amend the charter or change city law.

But it would do more than restore the section. It also would tweak the powers of the people to lower the number of signatures required to place a city initiative on the ballot, Hays said.

League member John Ladenburg, a former Pierce County executive, said the group is still working out how many signatures should be required of initiatives.

The current charter says petitioners must collect signatures from registered Tacoma voters equal to 10 percent of the votes cast in the last mayoral election. This year, that figure was 3,160 signatures, the bar that was set for the $15 minimum hourly wage issue that made the November ballot.

“What’s too few and what’s too many?” Ladenburg asked. Lowering the signature threshold will give volunteer signature-gathering efforts a better chance. “After a big election it gets so hard to do.”

City charter changes are governed by state law, which requires 15 percent of the total votes in the last general state election. To meet this threshold, the League collected 7,197 signatures for the charter change proposal that has already qualified.

The League’s second ballot measure also would offer a second run at creating a strong-mayor form of government if the November attempt fails.

Hays said the League intends to turn in signatures for next year’s ballot issue before the November election takes place. The goal is to give voters reassurance that they can vote to change the charter in the fall, he said, with the knowledge that a fix for powers of the people section is on the way.