Confused? Wait until ’09

There’s a good chance the Bainbridge City Council will decide in three weeks to place a measure before city voters sometime next year to ask them if they prefer a council-manager form of government over the current mayor-council system.

A validated petition ensures that action, and the council has scheduled a special two-hour meeting on Nov. 18 for public comment, after which members probably will decide the biggest question – when? February or November? Or maybe even May?

Since a mayoral election is scheduled for November 2009, it doesn’t make sense to hold the change-of-government vote at the same time. And while the state Attorney General’s office has offered an informal opinion that says any such event should be held in November during an odd year, it isn’t worth much. Unless, of course, somebody gets litigious about it. The fear is that a challenge would be filed if the measure is held before November.

Still, it’s the City Council’s decision, and it definitely would be best for the issue to be resolved as early as possible next year. It appears that most council members prefer an early council-manager election, and you would think that most most members of the public would agree.

Confusion would surely reign, however, if the council decides for legal reasons not to buck the AG’s opinion. Voters would probably question the feasibility of the acton, and there’s no doubt that the field of potential mayoral candidates would be affected by the fact that the position could be obliterated at the same time the new mayor were elected. In that case, the mayor would become an eighth council member – but not an actual voting member of the council. What a ridiculously awkward situation.

Imagine if Mayor Darlene Kordonowy decided to seek a third term and were re-elected to a position that ended up being nonexistent. Maybe it would work out just fine, but she definitely is accustomed to being in control of the city’s agenda, which would no longer be the case with that scenario. She’d be just another council member. Another possibility would be having a current member of the council, let’s say Debbie Vancil or Barry Peters, being elected mayor only to return to the council.

Realistically, however, the field would probably be very, very small since it’s doubtful more than one or two people would seek such a lame-duck position. What if only one person filed for the mayor’s position? Or no one, for that matter? Only on Bainbridge.

And what chance does the measure have of passing? Voters shot down the council-manager position in the early ’90s, but times have changed – not only here, but statewide. There is a gradual trend toward the council-manager, with 52 of the state’s 281 municipalities now ruled by that form of government (Shelton has a commission at the top).

The worth of either form will always depend on the capabilities of the people sitting in the seats, but one could argue that islanders are itching for a change. Why? Who knows? But having a professional manager – hired by seven elected officials – would seem to be a good fit for a knowledgeable, involved citizenry. Let’s just make sure voters aren’t asked to walk through a labyrinth just to decide which form of government they want.

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