"Yes" side wants strong-Mayor governmentPosted: Updated:
Q: What is the proposed city charter change?
A: The City Council recently decided to put before voters a proposal to change Yakima's form of government. The plan would eliminate the city manager position and replace Yakima's appointed mayor with one elected by citizens. Under the proposal, a part-time City Council would continue to determine the city's budget and establish policy, but a full-time elected mayor would run Yakima's day-to-day operations.
Q: Doesn't Yakima already have a mayor?
A: Under the current system, the City Council chooses one of its members to serve as a ceremonial mayor for two years. The mayor presides over council meetings and represents the city, but he or she has no extra authority.
Q: Then who runs the city?
A: Yakima is run by a city manager appointed by the City Council. He or she sets the agenda and proposes the budget. Every City of Yakima employee, including the police chief and fire chief, works for the city manager. Only the city manager — not the City Council or the mayor — has the authority to negotiate union contracts or discipline or fire a city employee. Yakima has had the same city manager for more than 30 years.
Q: Why do we need to change?
A: The reality is the person who runs City Hall runs the city. He or she charts the course for Yakima's future. Under the current system, an unelected city manager plays that role. If the charter change is approved, an elected mayor — who is answerable to voters — would run the city.
Q: Would the City Council change?
A: No, the City Council would remain the same. It would still consist of seven part-time members, four representing districts and three elected citywide. The council would be the city's legislative body, setting policy and determining how the city's funds are spent. It would elect a council president to preside over its meetings.
Q: How would an elected-mayor system work?
A: The elected mayor would hire a city administrator, subject to approval by the City Council. The mayor would provide leadership and direction; the city administrator would provide technical expertise. Together they would run City Hall. In addition, the mayor would propose the city's budget and would work with the City Council to set policy.
Q: Won't that cost more?
A: No, in fact the switch to an elected-mayor form of government would probably save money. Currently, the city is run by a city manager and an assistant city manager. After the change, the city would be run by an elected mayor and a city administrator. The payroll costs would be roughly the same. In addition, cities with elected mayors tend to run better than cities run by city managers so taxpayers would likely see even more savings.
Q: Is this an unusual system?
A: No. Eighty percent of the cities in Washington state operate under an elected-mayor form of government. Only one in five have city managers.
Q: Why vote in February?
A: Yakima's city manager is retiring in July, which creates an opportunity for citizens to make this change in an orderly manner. By placing the measure on the February ballot, the City Council has made it possible for voters to change the city's form of government in time for an elected mayor to take office in about a year. If the council had waited for a later election, a mayor would not be sworn in until 2014.
Q: Is now the right time for change?
A: Yakima is in a tough spot. We face serious budget challenges at a time when the city's needs are greater than ever. It seems that hardly a week goes by that a gang member does not shoot someone in our community. The streets are full of potholes. Revenue continues to drop in spite of the fact that taxes continue to rise. Now is the time for an elected representative of the people to be running City Hall. Now is the time for an elected mayor.