Politics & Government

Change coming to DuPont?

DuPONT - The DuPont City Council will take its time as it weighs whether to ask voters to change the city's form of government.

The council agreed during a Tuesday night meeting to broach the issue and get public feedback at a workshop toward the end of the year, with any potential measure going to the ballot in 2012, at the earliest.

It was clear from the council discussion that opinion is divided on the idea.

Councilman Roger Westman said hiring a professional manager would give DuPont the administrative leadership it needs at a time of rapid growth and allow the mayor more time to work with the council on policy issues. Under the city’s strong mayor system, he said, the mayor’s attention is divided between working with the council to develop policy and working with staff to implement it.

“The complexities of managing city government are growing, and we are no longer a small city with 600 and some population,” Westman said. “We are now over 8,000 with the prospect of going much higher.”

DuPont was Pierce County’s fastest-growing city during the last decade, exploding from 2,452 in 2000 to 8,199 in 2010, a 234 percent increase, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Councilwoman Kathleen Trotter reminded the council the mayor appoints a city administrator – a position the council created in 1993 – to relieve the administrative workload. She’s not convinced there’s sufficient support to put the issue before voters. “I don’t want to rush and put it on the ballot” without further vetting and public education, she said.

Councilman Jim Wilcox agreed the council needs more time to delve into the issue.

“There’s some good points and bad points both ways,” he said.

The discussion comes as Mayor Tamara Jenkins announced she will not seek re-election and will leave office in December after four years. Last month, Councilman Michael Grayum, who is running for the seat, asked for council consideration of the issue.

The council discussion followed a presentation by Rich Yukubousky, executive director of the Municipal Research Service Center, a Seattle-based nonprofit organization that provides research and consulting services for Washington cities and counties.

Under the strong mayor system, the form of government preferred by more than three-quarters of Washington’s 281 cities, voters elect the mayor to serve as the city’s chief executive officer.

The council-manager form of government removes the administrative duties from the mayor and the council hires a professional manager to implement the policy it creates. Instead, the mayor is chosen among council members to presides over council meetings and serve as the city’s ceremonial head. Yukubousky said this model was developed with the intent of removing politics from city administration.

Since 1972, 17 cities, including Fircrest, have changed from a strong mayor to council-manager form of government, according to MRSC. Eight cities have gone the other way during that time, including Federal Way in 2009, its records show.

The council would need to approve a resolution to send the issue to voters. State law also allows registered voters to put the issue on the ballot by petition.

Christian Hill: 253-274-7390