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Scales mayor bid could affect change-of-government vote

Bob Scales, 2009 - Bob Scales
Bob Scales, 2009
— image credit: Bob Scales

The November 2009 mayoral election is still a long way away – if Bainbridge even has a mayor’s position to fill in November.

With a change-of-government referendum likely to come before voters this May, islanders will have to decide if they want a mayor or a council–manager combination overseeing city operations.

Bob Scales wants to put a face to that decision.

Announcing his candidacy for mayor this week, the former Bainbridge City Council member said that he is letting islanders know they have another option.

“I want people to know, if they want to keep a mayor, there will be at least one well-qualified candidate in the running as part of the debate,” Scales said. “I’m not campaigning against (the council–manager form of government). People are upset with the current administration. They want things to improve.

“Changing our form of government is an option, but I think a better option with the current situation is to elect a qualified mayor.”

While Scales’ interest in the position may not have been surprising because of his criticism of city government in recent months, some council members and backers of the change-of-government said his announcement is exactly the kind of situation they would like to avoid.

The current bill going through the Senate (HB 1066), is being considered an emergency at the state level to avoid the conflict inherent in deciding on a mayor and whether to abolish the strong-mayor position on the same ballot.

“Well over 1,000 citizens signed a petition to have an opportunity to vote on a change of government and the city council has been working very hard to work on historical emergency legislation to allow for a spring vote to avoid conflict with mayoral campaigns,” said council member Debbie Vancil.

There has been speculation that Scales’ announcement would kick off the mayor’s race early, so far no other candidates have come forward.

“I’m surprised that a candidate would declare at this time since there is such a high likelihood that we will be asking the community in May to decide our form of government,” said council member Barry Peters.

Scales, who is running as a one-term mayor, said he wanted to make sure he could speak to the issues and didn’t want to compress his campaign into the three-month period between a May change-in-government vote and the November 2009 election.

“If we get the legislation and if we do get that on the May ballot, there would be plenty of time to listen to the community’s choice and still have time to declare for mayor,” Peters said.

The filing deadline for mayoral candidates is June 5.

Scales’ has added a new twist to the change-of-government debate, in essence touting a third option. He believes that that both the mayor/council and council/manager governments would “preserve the status quo” of island government.

“There hasn’t been any indication that the council and mayor are willing to change what is wrong with city hall,” Scales said. “The best way to bring change or reform is to get the right person for the job, to make the difficult decisions. Change is what’s needed. That’s not going to happen with a council-appointed city manager.”

Scales served as a north-ward council member from 2004 through 2007. He works as a senior policy analyst at the City of Seattle.

If voters chose to abolish the strong-mayor form of government in May, the current mayor would become an eighth council member until the end of her term.

The following year, the council would choose one of its own to be a ceremonial mayor. That person would preside over the council, vote on issues and represent the city. The new “mayor,” however, would have no administrative role.

In November, voters will vote on council positions currently held by Vancil, Chris Snow and Kjell Stoknes.

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