Special Reports

Drive for civic makeover launched

A new petition drive to change Tacoma's form of government - throwing out the city manager and installing the mayor as chief executive - begins today with collection of signatures across town, sponsors said.

The petition, called Time For A Change, was filed Tuesday with City Clerk Doris Sorum. A similar drive failed in 2002 for lack of enough signatures to put it on the ballot.

But sponsor Sherry Bockwinkel believes events surrounding the April 26 killing of Crystal Brame by her estranged husband, Tacoma Police Chief David Brame, and Brame's subsequent suicide, point up the need for a change in how the city conducts its business.

"Given the systematic breakdown in city government, shown by evidence of what's happened with the Brame case, I think it's time for a change," said Bockwinkel, owner of Ex-Press Printing on Tacoma Avenue South.

An investigation into Brame's hiring, promotions and conduct during his 22-year career with the Tacoma Police Department is under way. It includes how he was promoted to chief by City Manager Ray Corpuz in 2001, despite a rape allegation in his past, and Corpuz's handling of Crystal Brame's accusations of domestic violence in divorce papers.

Corpuz, who runs the daily business of the city, went on paid administrative leave Tuesday until the investigation is concluded.

If the city charter amendments proposed by the Time For A Change campaign were approved by voters, the city manager's position would cease to exist and Baarsma, the current mayor, would become the city's chief executive officer. His term as mayor expires in 2005.

Council At-Large Position 7, currently held by Sharon McGavick, would cease to exist Jan. 1, so the council would be reduced to seven members. McGavick is prevented from seeking re-election this year due to term limits.

Several council members said they believe it's good to rethink the city's form of government from time to time, but it's work best not done in the midst of a civic crisis.

"I think we all need to collectively take a pause and let the investigation ... take place before we jump to conclusions," Councilman Rick Talbert said.

Mayor Bill Baarsma, who has supported a strong mayor form of government, called the petition drive "a diversion."

"I'm not involved in the effort, nor do I have a desire to get involved in that activity," he said.

Councilman Kevin Phelps said he believes the city manager form of government, in which Tacoma's mayor and eight council members hire the city's chief executive, works well for the city.

"In a Northwest economy that's in the doldrums, I think the investment that's coming into town is quite remarkable," Phelps said. "In the course of two days, we've had an announcement of a $70-plus-million development with a hotel on the Foss Waterway and we've had a groundbreaking on another hotel."

Assistant city attorney Steve Victor was still researching late Thursday how many signatures would be required to put the issue on the November ballot.

The figure will be 15 percent of the number of registered Tacoma voters who cast ballots in the general election of either 2001 or 2002, Sorum said.

If the yardstick is the 2001 general election, the petitioners would need 6,072 valid signatures to put the issue on the November ballot, she said.

Bockwinkel lists five other business owners and residents as sponsors of the petition drive.

Watching Corpuz's handling of questions about the Brame case convinced co-petitioner Staci Hager that Tacoma needs an elected mayor running the city. The Gig Harbor resident, who owns property in downtown Tacoma, said she never has been politically active.

She said that this effort to get the question on the ballot should fare better than last year's attempt.

"The city of Tacoma is in a complete uproar right now," she said. "I think the community now is more involved. I think people want a change. ... I think that people will think about it this time."

News Tribune staff writer John Henrikson contributed to this report.

Kris Sherman: 253-597-8659

kris.sherman@mail.tribnet.com

Information: To reach the Time For A Change petition drive, call 253- 272-6785 or e-mail sherry@ ex-pressprinting.com.

On the Net: Coverage of the deaths of David and Crystal Brame and the political aftermath is available on our Web site: www.tribnet.com/news/ projects/david_brame

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