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Charter Review Committee Recommendations: A Closer Look at Form of Government
On Tuesday the citizen volunteers of Tacoma's Charter Review Committee handed over the recommendations that came out of more than four months, and dozens of meetings to the City Council. The Council accepted the recommendations, including both majority and minority reports. It is now the Council's job to consider everything they've been handed, and make a decision on which of the recommendations to move forward.
Some of the issues, particularly more minor adjustments, can be approved by the Council. For other recommendations the Council will need to decide whether or not to forward them to the voters for a final decision. Of the issues that could be sent to the voters, it's likely that the most discussion will be around the question of whether or not Tacoma should change its form of government.
The Charter Review Committee majority recommendation is to move Tacoma from its current council/manager form of government to a mayor/council/Chief Administrative Officer form, which puts the mayor in the CEO position for the City government. This isn't a traditional "strong mayor" form of government, but it gives the mayor stronger powers over and a more active role in the business of running the City. The strong(er) mayor would have veto power over a council, which the CRC recommends be reduced by one at-large position. The mayor, with the assistance of the CAO would manage administrative offices and departments and prepare and present a budget, budget message, and economic development plans for the City.
In considering a change in Tacoma's form of government - a question that was on the table from day one - the CRC considered 86 other cities around the country, looking for any correlation between form of government and measurable criteria. It found none, as stated in the Majority Recommendations report.
The form of government does not correlate to municipal bond rating, to corruption among elected or appointed officials, to crime, poverty, education attainment, ethnic mix, prevalent political party, or size of city. There simply is no correlation. None. The subcommittee found no data to suggest the form of government causes or is caused by these factors.
This left one of two conclusions; either the form of government is simply a historic accident; or it is an expression of political values. The subcommittee chose to believe the latter, and so evaluated the forms of government in light of a set of values likely to be important to most Tacomans.
Of those values, the CRC majority lists the right of the people to elect those who govern, accountability, and strategic leadership. The rationale here is that by putting a directly elected mayor in the CEO position, accountability is strengthened, giving the voters a clearer idea of who is responsible for decisions and direction at the City.
Among the dissenting minority of the CRC on the issue of form of government change were the four women on the committee. Minority opinions delivered to Council along with the majority recommendation make several arguments against a change in Tacoma's form of government. One objection from the Minority Report written by Theresa S Baker and Catherine Ushka points to flaws in the process, specifically in which community stakeholder voices were included in the conversation.
The vote for a change in FOG by the majority was no surprise after Chair Baarsma continued endlessly about his problems with his City Manager and gave reason after reason why the Council did not act.
The majority of the scheduled testimony was from elected or appointed officials versus testimony from all echelons of our community i.e., community activists, neighborhood council members, students, voters without a conflict or political interest, or business leaders. This glaring omission assumes that only elected or appointed officials benefit from the framework of the charter which is simply not true.
When we finally received input from these groups via town meetings it was quickly marginalized by several committee members.
Questions of process aside, dissenting members of the CRC also challenged the assertions of greater accountability and stronger leadership offered by the majority opinion. Baker and Ushka warn that the change could have the oposite intended impact, disenfranchising some voices, and privileging others.
The Tacoma City Club report recommended changes to the charter which would achieve the ends envisioned by the majority of the CRC without changing the basic structure of the current FOG. The ICMA states “Under the strong mayor form, political power is concentrated in the mayor, which means that other members of the elected body relinquish at least some of their policy‐making power and influence. This loss of decision‐making power among council members can have a chilling effect on the voices of neighborhoods and city residents.” We believe it is absolutely crucial to the political health of the city that all neighborhoods and city residents have a strong voice in both the day to day operations of the city and the plans for the future.
Their opinion goes on to further cite the City Club report, saying that any shortcomings in the current system could be remedied by the Council and Mayor taking a more assertive leadership within the current system
Even if you don't have time to slog through the many-colored track-changes document that is the recommended revised charter, we highly recommend reading both the majority recommendations (pdf) and minority reports (pdf) as posted on the Charter Review webpage. They give some good insight into the process and proposed changes, and reference more specific influencing factors than we have space for here.
So, at the end of the day, has any particular side won you over? Do you have a position?
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