Change in government form will be on the ballot

By Kate Agbayani | May 22, 2019

Mukilteo residents will get to vote on the city’s future this November, as the Mukilteo City Council voted to add a proposition on this year’s ballot to potentially adopt a city manager-council form of government.

Councilmember Scott Whelpley floated the idea of changing the government earlier this year, and made a motion at the council’s May 20 meeting to put the measure on the ballot this November. This would be the first time that the city would change from its “strong mayor” form of government. The city was incorporated 72 years ago, and has always had the current form of government.

If the format changes, the mayor position would no longer be elected by the voters. Instead, the City Council would be select one of their members to serve as “mayor” or “mayor pro tem” on a yearly basis. The city manager would be the highest ranking city official, and would run the city’s day-to-day operations. They would be hired by the council, while city staff would be hired and report to the city manager. If voters approve the change in form of government, it would take effect the day the election is certified – Nov. 26.

“We’re doing this because it’s time we stop this and start caring about our staff and our citizens,” Whelpley said.

Whelpley argued that roughly 20 percent of Washington state cities use the city manager-council form of government, and Mill Creek should not be the only example when it comes to that form. Mill Creek had issues with its last city manager, who was accused of running a hostile work environment, and improperly using city-issued credit cards on food and alcohol.

Council Vice President Anna Rohrbough sided with Whelpley, saying her year-and-a-half on the City Council has shown her it’s time for change.

“My entire professional experience as elected have been under this system,” said Rohrbough. “I’ve only experienced how it can go wrong.”

Rohrbough was for putting the proposition in the upcoming ballot, so the public can vote on the issue themselves. She personally believes that the lack of recourse within the current council needs to be fixed, and with a council-manager form of government it may be solved.

“I think we need voter input on this because this is too big of a thing for seven councilmembers,” she said. “Our input matters, but there could be personal and professional experiences we’ve had that could sway us.”

During public comment at the start of the meeting, former Mayor Don Doran said he felt changing to a council-manager form would weaken the public’s access to municipal government. He urged the council to not put personalities or faces in place of the title of mayor or the title of council president.

“I don’t believe that we should be deciding these things on personalities,” said Doran. “It sounds like, right now, that some of these decisions should be based on the fact that we don’t like certain people or certain persons’ politics.”

Former councilmember Kevin Stoltz also spoke, but he wanted to let residents have the opportunity to vote on the potential change.

Glen Pickus, a former Mukilteo city planner, supported the decision to send the vote to the public.

“This should be the number one priority for the council to get this right. Now is the perfect time for the public to be voting on this (in) November,” said Pickus.

“It’s much better than waiting and holding this during a special election when voter turnout would be much lower. I think it’s absolutely perfect to put it on the ballot now.”

Whelpley’s motion passed 4-2, with he, Rohrbough, Council President Christine Cook, and Councilmember Steve Schmalz voting for it.

Councilmembers Richard Emery and Bob Champion voted against putting the proposition on the ballot. They both wanted to move the vote for the change in government in a later ballot. Councilmember Sarah Kneller was not present at the meeting.

Mayor Jennifer Gregerson remains confident in her leadership, despite apparent claims she lacks the ability to manage the city.

“There were a number of allegations made tonight about my ethics,” said Gregerson. “A big part of my job is management and that doesn’t happen in the public sphere. I’m proud of the advice that I give to our directors, at times when I have engaged in discipline and when I’ve helped our employees to do better, to have the tools to do their jobs and find successes.”

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