Charter Review Public Comment, Round 1 Sets the Stage

Last night's Charter Review public hearing went pretty quickly, but based on the comments, it's probably safe to bet that this process won't be without debate. Eight commenters shared their thoughts, among them were some names you might recognize, and some familiar topics, as well.

We heard three speakers including former County Executive John Ladenburg come out in favor of recommending a switch to a strong mayor system of government. A representative from the League of Women Voters voiced the group's strong opposition to such a move.

On the issue of the public utility, Ladenburg spoke in favor of eliminating TPU's separate governing board.

Tom Hilyard, a former Tacoma Public Utility board and charter review committee member, spoke in support of retaining the current structure.

State Representative Steve Kirby spoke in support of maintaining the City's Civil Service Board. 

There were also comments in favor of stopping coal trains, and supporting a $15 minimum wage and paid sick leave.

And then there was a comment from Denis Duggan Sr., a recent applicant for the interim Council District 1 seat and a retired engineer. We're not sure we got it exactly clear, but the gist seems to be that he's unhappy with the way the City has treated him in regard to a property he owns and his belief that certain departments won't let him use the Charter as an argument. He has deemed his experience "Chartergate" and is hoping that new language will resolve his concerns.

Possibly the most sweeping recommendation from the commenters came from Ladenburg, who suggested that the committee consider a vote in favor of a whole new charter - one, of course, that adopts the strong mayor form of government and eliminates the TPU board ideas he supports. 

What bold new ideas do you have? Do you like any of these?

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NameSusanne Marten

Chairman Baarsma’s introductory questions regarding the purpose of the Charter Review process are most important. He asked: “Is this government accountable?” and “Is it suitable?” I think a strong Mayor form of government could add accountability. Specifically, I would like to see an independent policy analysis unit.  The question of suitability is the tough one to answer and unfortunately may get lost in the dialogue over conquering TPU. Tacoma Public Utilities is governed by separate State and Federal laws accompanied by routine oversight from the State Auditor. And as this Mayor and Council know it is most difficult to claim/separate regional customer and rate payer contributions let alone sustain the intricate operations of a public power generator. However, studying how other municipal jurisdictions link with regional players such as TPU and the Port could contribute to the question of “suitability”.

February 12, 2014 at 8:19 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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I would like to see TPU under city management and given authority to stop subsidizing utilities to neighboring communities.  Raise their rates and use the money for roads, burying power lines, and fixing roads inside Tacoma.  Also put them in with the roads department so that when a road is dug up, the power lines are more easily buried or upgraded.
Give the new TPU/infrastructure department the authority to invest in transit infrastructure as well… Not daily operations revenue… Like a bond system and a levy for operations through current transit authorities.
I would like to see a strong mayor system with a smart transition process.  That is, each council member and the mayor will be full time and transition to these roles in the next re-election or election as not to appear that the transition to strong mayor is a power grab and therefore shot down.
I would like to see the city with the ability to be more nimble with taxation and built environment developments both new and historic.
I would like to see the loopholes closed that allowed Wal-Mart to sneak in and the downtown to continue to be a dead retail graveyard as the mall just gets bigger and bigger.
I would like to see road and road reconstruction projects to be easier to pass, fund, and realize.

February 12, 2014 at 11:24 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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If we want policies that are best for political campaigns, then we should adopt a strong mayor.  If we want a professional utility, with independent oversight, we should keep the current model.  I would only support a strong mayor if TPU became a Public Utility District, such as Snohomish County PUD.  This would make sense anyway since many of the customers are outside the city limits.

Remember, when politics get involved in operations, you get what NJ experienced with the Port Authority and bridgegate.  Originally, the Port authority was independent, but over time, politics got more and more involved with legislative changes that allowed political appointments within the NY-NJ PA. Once you let that genie out of the bottle, it can be very difficult to get it back in; the interests of the politicians and their ability to appoint political allies to well paid executive positions within the utility, the only answer in the long run is an increase in rates we all pay.

My 2 cents.

February 12, 2014 at 3:44 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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