Jun. 7, 2011 at 11:22am

Igniting Conversation: What would it take for Tacoma to adopt a strong mayor system?

Are we rea ready for a change?

The Background

Today, the city of Tacoma operates under a council-manager system of government. Under this arrangement, the city employs a non-elected city manager to effectively run the city's day-to-day operations under the direction of an elected part-time city council. It is my understanding that Tacoma has operated under this system for quite some time, and thus far it seems to work (though how well is a topic of debate).

The Alternative

In the wake of some unpopular (and in at least one case, arguably unethical) decisions made by the city manager, Eric Anderson, many have suggested that perhaps it is time to reexamine what our city government looks like. The most viable alternative to the council-manager system would be a strong mayor system. In this scenario, the city manager position would be eliminated, with the responsibilities shifted over to the elected mayor.

This would most likely require that the office of mayor be converted to a full-time commitment, with the option of also bringing the city council to full-time status as well.

The Question

That title isn't completely true, there are actually two questions:

  1. Which form of government makes the most sense for Tacoma now and going forward?
  2. If a change to a strong-mayor system is due, what would it take to make that happen?


comments [18]  |  posted under city council, city manager, government, mayor, tacoma


by NineInchNachos on 6/7/2011 @ 11:31am
Arab-spring-style citizens uprising! Direct democracy... end the Seattle occupation.

by NineInchNachos on 6/7/2011 @ 11:34am


by Nick on 6/7/2011 @ 11:56am
I get the impression that our current system is bass-ackwards. The position with all the power is too far removed from voting citizens. Every time Eric Anderson makes a blunder, I feel powerless. What recourse do I have?

1. Not reelect council members that support the city manager?
2. Elect any council candidates that happen to favor looking for a new city manager (and hope we might get lucky and have a council that takes action some day)?
3. Show up for public comment to try to sway the council to override every bad decision that comes out of the city manager's office?

What if 90% of Tacomans wanted Eric Anderson replaced? How long would it take to make it happen? Why is it that there is even a chance it could *never* happen, even with 90% voter support? That's not democracy, that's monarchy at best, tyranny at worst.

by NineInchNachos on 6/7/2011 @ 12:08pm
come be a gadfly. we're always looking for a few good men and or women.

by The Jinxmedic on 6/7/2011 @ 12:18pm
Dyslexics untie!

by Crenshaw Sepulveda on 6/7/2011 @ 1:03pm
How about just having a city manager that actually likes Tacoma? We need a strong city manager, not just one that smells strong.

by cisserosmiley on 6/7/2011 @ 1:04pm
what would it take for tacoma to replace eric anderson?

by Nick on 6/7/2011 @ 1:34pm
I'm all for replacing Eric Anderson with a city manager that better represents the general sentiments of the public. That being said, I still think we need to dig deeper and look at the structure of government that put us in this predicament in the first place.

Replacing Anderson plugs the leak in our Titanic, but unless we redesign our hull there's no reason to think we won't end up in a similar situation again later.

by inbloodyrise on 6/7/2011 @ 2:55pm
i agree that an elected fulltime mayor with power and the responsibility which goes hand in hand with political election sounds very good.
it will probably take a lot of signatures.

by Jesse on 6/7/2011 @ 4:10pm
There are pluses and minuses to both systems. The current form is almost dictator-like in that Anderson can pretty much do whatever he wants with no political (public) ramifications. That being said, he can get things done faster with less red tape though too.

I personally would like to see a candidate that is all for streetcars in Tacoma and eliminating the parking requirements for developers. I mention these two specific items just because I don't see any movement on them --- obviously it's more complicated than two issues...

So ya, I'd like to see a strong Mayor and full time City Council team instead of what's there now.

by Nick on 6/7/2011 @ 4:34pm
Jesse you're right, there's definitely a tradeoff between the two. It seems like there's almost an inverse relationship with speed/efficiency versus how democratic the system is.

Right now it seems like we're skewed too far towards efficiency, but I'm sure it could also go the other direction and be so bureaucratic that nothing ever gets done. So perhaps its just a matter of finding a happy medium?

I'd like to think that's what a strong mayor system would do - we wouldn't have someone with unchecked power, and we wouldn't all be voting on every city issue. Sure, that's probably less efficient than what we've got, but what's the point of quick action if it means quick settlements with ClearChannel, rapid construction of pointless parking lots, and super quick demolition of historic buildings? #oh_snap

by NineInchNachos on 6/7/2011 @ 4:46pm
zombie scarecrow robot does not endorse the City Manager form of government

by L.S.Erhardt on 6/7/2011 @ 11:23pm
Tacoma's government is structured like it is due to reactionary sentiment. Every time some bad sh*t hits the fan, the citizens of this city have changed the government to reflect the issue.

Metro Parks, the port and the utilities all exist as mostly separate legal entities because the voters in the early 20th century decided that the extra burden caused by redundant bureaucracy was well worth rooting out corruption that had grown into the young city's government.

There are term limits in place that the voters established in the mid twentieth century to help root out corruption of the government (which Uncle Sam really ought to do to). The installation of a city manager was related to this de-corrupting of the city.
Now, with the history lesson in mind it looks like we all are acting the same way. Downtown is riddled with surface-level parking lots. Not the amount that is healthy, but a quantity that data and experience from experts and other cities show is detrimental. Not to mention a LOT of the people in town aren't pleased with it either.

Anderson got his job when Corpuz basically got "ousted" for his complacency in the Brame case. Now some are calling for Anderson's job because of parking among other things.

Instead of reacting to a city manager who is very out of touch with the 200,000 people he works for by calling for his termination, I propose this:
The citizens of Tacoma ought to sit down and decide upon and design a system that is best for them.

I, for one propose these:
1) Revert the city to a strong mayor system while maintaining term limits
2) Instead of the 10 year limit, I propose that all elected officials be capped to two full terms with the following exception: anyone with one term in any position who becomes mayor may hold a second term as mayor (for a max of 3 terms total in an elected office).
3) Metro Parks, the Port of Tacoma and the Tacoma Public utilities become departments within the City of Tacoma and all redundant positions be eliminated, especially within the bureaucracy. This will make a strong dent into the budget problems by consolidating revenues and employees.
4) All zoning and building permitting be overhauled. In this overhaul there needs to be an "expedite" procedure. By this I mean that if a project meets certain pre-determined qualifications (design type, building height [higher is better in downtown], appearance, density requirements, etc) then the permit is issued within a week rather than months and at a very reduced cost. This will spur development.
5) Re-prioritizing the proper care and maintenance of vital infrastructure such as roads and bridges.
6) Revise policy to become more business-friendly. Drop the city B&O tax. Do a serious (not by Jay Ray) revamp of the meter system. Encourage and foster new businesses to start. Actively court and recruit so-called "green" industry companies.
7) Quality of life. The city needs to figure out that Tacoma is the hub of the south sound, the anchor of damn near 700,000 people. That being said, the city ought to make this city THE place to be. Enhanced recycling programs. Build a Tacoma-centric light rail that connects Lakewood, UP, Puyallup and Federal Way to the Tacoma hub. Have a network of free wifi in public spaces (like Ruston Way, etc). Focus on making this city more livable and aesthetic.
8) Remember what Tacoma is. A very conscious policy of remembering that Tacoma is the urban center in the south sound and should develop and adopt policies that reflect that. Leave suburbanism to Bonney Lake and UP.

And that's it for now. My brain is too tired for more at the moment.

by Jesse on 6/8/2011 @ 7:43am
"Metro Parks, the Port of Tacoma and the Tacoma Public utilities become departments within the City of Tacoma and all redundant positions be eliminated, especially within the bureaucracy" -- Thorax

I love this idea. Love it! I'd suggest Pierce Transit too. Are they already guided by the city of Tacoma?

"The city needs to figure out that Tacoma is the hub of the south sound, the anchor of damn near 700,000 people" --- Thorax

Perhaps it's the county and neighboring city governments that need to figure this out. Instead (especially the county) they concentrate on building out Puyallup, Bonney Lake, outlying communities. Even Gig Harbor and Graham have better traffic signals, sidewalks, streetscapes, etc. than DT Tacoma does --- the supposed heart of commerce... and how is this philosophy going to attract new (good) jobs to the area?? That's why DT Tacoma should be in the priorities of those living on the outskirts as well as it's own residents.

PS -- Liberate U.P.!!!

by Nick on 6/8/2011 @ 3:21pm
What if the city manager position had a term limit (or the equivalent)? What if the council was forced to appoint a new city manager every 4 years or something?

Then every 4 years we'd get the best option available, rather than being stuck with someone who's working just well enough to not get fired.

by L.S.Erhardt on 6/8/2011 @ 6:49pm
@ Nick: why have an electable city manager? We have a mayor for that purpose. No sense having redundancy at that level of government.

by Nick on 6/9/2011 @ 9:54am
@Thorax: Right, I'm absolutely in favor of going all the way and switching to a *real* mayor (not just a council member with a more or less symbolic title).

My thought was if that didn't succeed, forcing the council to pick a new city manager at regular intervals would at least keep things fresh (and likely result in a city manager that better reflects the goals of the current council).

Just some food for thought...

by jenyum on 7/12/2011 @ 8:04pm


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