Don’t feel alone if you’re confused by the ramifications surrounding the City Council’s unanimous decision last month to ask the state Legislature to amend a state law that currently restricts having municipal initiatives held only during odd-year general elections.
In case you missed it, a petition collected enough signatures to call for a vote on whether islanders want to replace the city’s current form of government with a council-manager version, That led to the council passing a resolution for a May 19 election if the state changes the current law to allow it. The council passed another resolution to have a professional lobby legislators. – preferably a high-powered lobbyist with lots of experience and influence in Olympia.
Mayor Darlene Kordonowy, who hasn’t spoken publicly on whether she will seek a third term at the same time the council-manager petition would be on the ballot, turned instead to the Association of Washington Cities and its lobbyists. She said the AWC would be more cost-effective than paying an estimated $10,000 to $20,000 for a lobbyist firm. Since then, proponents of the petition have accused the city administration of playing politics by decreasing the chances of the Legislature changing the law – with the ulterior motive of nefariously serving the status quo.
Ah, could this be? The mayor has been very careful publicly, other than to shake her head up and down a couple of times when a former mayor urged during the public hearing on the matter that the council chair and the mayor should go down to Olympia and lobby hard for the proposed amendment. Later, she told a reporter that she hadn’t decided yet whether “it is appropriate to lobby as an emergency matter.” She also said “of course” islanders should vote on the issue and suggested the council should host a workshop on the change-of-government issue.
Depending on which side of this issue you lie, it’s certainly arguable whether it would be best to have a private firm or the AWC lobbying for it. But since it was the City Council and Bainbridge citizens who pressed for the May 19 special election, it would be best that they be the lead force to get the bill passed. In fact, the administration and the mayor should not be involved in the special election in any way other than to make sure the city pays for it (an estimated $70,000).
Proponents of the council-manager form of government will undoubtedly offer information on how it works, as presumably will those who favor the current system. But the city should not be involved other than to offer a public facilitity if asked to provide it. Politics need to stay out of this issue as much as possible, especially since there’s a distinct possibility that the petition seeking the end of the mayoral position and the choosing of the next mayor may end up on the same November 2009 ballot.
This issue should be about the voting citizens of the island deciding what type of government they want, not individuals campaigning for their own motives. True, the mayor hasn’t said she will run, but she hasn’t said she won’t run either. The administration shouldn’t be involved in this issue going forward. Period. And the City Council should ensure that there is not even a hint of a conflict of interest surrounding it.