Op-Ed

Time has come for Tacoma to have a strong mayor

Connie Ladenburg is a member of the Pierce County Council.
Connie Ladenburg is a member of the Pierce County Council.

The strong mayor question is simple: Should we the people choose the most powerful person in city government? We elect the president; we elect the governor; we elect the county executive. So why can’t we elect the person who runs the city?

Why do 75 percent of all Americans and 80 percent of Washington cities and towns have strong mayors, and not Tacoma?

All across America and here in Washington, voters are saying it’s time to elect their city’s leadership, rather than have an unelected bureaucrat run the government. This is why a bipartisan group of civic leaders have put a new city charter on Tacomans’ ballot. We urge you to vote “Yes on 2” to finally give Tacoma a modern form of government. A strong mayor, a strong council and limits on both offices to two terms.

Accountability. That’s why we need a strong mayor.

Over the last 20 years, a series of failed city managers have gone from scandal to scandal, failed to maintain the city’s roads, failed to protect public safety and failed to bring jobs to our city. But when these managers fail, they simply move on to another job in another city. There is too little accountability and too little commitment to the welfare of our city.

Trust. That’s why we believe voters should elect their leaders.

We believe that Tacoma can be a better city if our leaders are held accountable to the voters. We trust the voters to choose the people who lead our city. The opponents of a strong mayor have actually said they oppose allowing voters to choose because the voters are stupid. One former mayor said, “Tacoma’s not ready to put on its big-boy pants.”

The alleged drafting issues in the petition? If a court decides they matter, it’s an easy fix. Lots of legislation has to be fine-tuned later, starting with the Constitution. When the framers realized they forget items like free speech and the right to assemble, they added them later, in the Bill of Rights.

Appointed bureaucrats have run Tacoma for 60 years. Things haven’t gone so well. For 20 years we’ve been the violent crime capital of the Northwest. And what does city government do? Cut the number of cops to the lowest level in 20 years and reduced overall public safety spending from 60 percent of the budget to barely 40 percent.

The business environment? It’s terrible. We have the highest combined tax burden of any city in Washington, the rules keep changing, our infrastructure is a wreck. And when the city decides to fix a street, the prolonged construction kills businesses.

The percent of families in poverty keeps going up, and the per capita value of property keeps sinking. Is it any wonder Tacoma doesn’t grow?

When the manager system started, Tacoma was the 65th biggest city in the country. We had half the people in Pierce County and five percent of Washington. But while the county has grown 147 percent and the state has grown 140 percent, Tacoma has grown 35 percent –or about a half percent a year.

Essentially we’re standing still.

Under city managers, we’ve become a high-tax, high-poverty city, a city where government has failed because it’s not accountable to voters. Real leadership can only come from a single, elected, accountable person – a strong mayor.

The time has come. Let’s get Tacoma moving again.

Connie Ladenburg, a Democrat, serves on the Pierce County Council and previously was a member of the Tacoma City Council and the state House of Representatives. Alex Hays, a "Dan Evans Republican," is a political consultant and president of the Pierce County Better Government League.

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