No strong mayor for Tacoma, voters say

Tacoma voters soundly defeated a measure to change Tacoma’s form of government in Tuesday’s election.

Proposition 2 sought to amend the charter — essentially the city constitution — to install a strong mayor to manage the city’s day-to-day business. The issue was advanced by a group called the Pierce County Better Government League, led by its president, Alex Hays.

Due to what supporters called drafting errors, Prop. 2 also would have left the city without a city manager or mayor for a couple of months until voters could elect a new mayor in February.

What’s more, it would have removed an entire section of the charter, called Powers of the People. That section includes a mandatory review of the charter every 10 years and details how voters can pass laws through initiative.

If Prop. 2 had passed, voters in Tacoma would not have a way to change city law through the initiative process. The ability to change the charter is ensconced in state law and would have been unaffected.

Some who have in the past supported changing Tacoma’s form of government lined up to speak against this proposal because of the mistakes.

Sherry Bockwinkel, who co-authored the opposition statement for the voters’ pamphlet, cheered the measure’s defeat.

“We kept our initiative and referendum rights, which is the thing I was most worried about,” she said. “And term limits, you can’t mess with term limits.”

The measure sought to separate the term limits for mayor and council members. Currently, someone can serve up to 10 consecutive years as either a council member, mayor or both. Hays intended to allow council members to serve two four-year terms, with the mayor also limited to two four-year terms.

But yet another drafting oversight removed references to the lengths of council and mayoral terms of office, effectively creating terms of indefinite length.

Hays said Tuesday that the group will continue to advocate for a form of government change and will return to voters with a cleaner proposal.

“We are going to keep our promise and offer a charter amendment that is exactly what voters want,” he said.

Supporters of the issue had said voters should be able to elect a mayor who has direct power to change city government. Opponents said getting rid of a strong mayor would require an expensive and time-consuming recall process while canning a bad city manager requires only five votes of the City Council.

Tacoma voters installed the current form of government, called council-manager, more than 60 years ago. Back then, voters wanted to oust corrupt commissioners and have a professional city manager run day-to-day operations, with elected council members providing policy direction.

Kate Martin: 253-597-8542