Tacoma’s Charter & City Governance: Passionate Discourse at UWT

As the date approaches when the Charter Review Committee makes its formal recommendations on revisions to the city's Charter, UW Tacoma will be hosting what promises to be a very interesting and lively discussion on Tacoma's Charter.

This decade, discussion is emerging around whether the City should move to a so-called “strong mayor” system of governance. The conversation has recently gotten somewhat heated, with participants arguing passionately for one form of governance or another. 

The event, hosted by UWT's Director of Urban Studies, Ali Modarres, will feature speakers with differing opinions on some of the central issues in Charter Review discussions. Panelists include:

  • Bill Baarsma, former mayor of Tacoma
  • Michael Sullivan, UW Tacoma history instructor
  • Lyle Quasim, co-chair, Tacoma Pierce County Black Collective
  • Lyz Kurnitz-Thurlow, Tacoma-Pierce County League of Women Voters 1st Vice-President
  • John Ladenburg, former Tacoma city council member and former Pierce County Executive

There are some pretty strong characters here, with pretty strong opinions. Baarsma, of course, is the chair of the Charter Review Committee. Representative of the League of Women Voters, the Black Collective, and Historic Tacoma appeared at the April 9 public hearing to offer their comments - and criticisms - of the Committee's ideas to that point.

In recent weeks we've heard challenges to the direction the Committee is leaning, as well as challenges to the actions and validity of the committee itself, from former mayor Harold Moss, among others. Concerns found a bit of a focal point in the committee's discussion of what value to place on public comment following the April 9 public hearing.

Peter Callaghan makes his feelings on the subject pretty clear here. His summary of the meeting sounds pretty close to what we heard, as does the TNT's Kate Martin's summary here, but if you have a little time and want to decide for yourself, it might be worth listening to the post-public meeting conversation from April 9. About 10 minutes in the relevant discussion starts with committee member Mabel Edmonds asking for clarification on what she should do in regard to comments from the public, particularly when those comments differ in opinion from the direction the committee is moving. The responses from some of her fellow committee members raised a few eyebrows around town. Dan Rahe over at Post Defiance voiced his own concerns over the process more than a month ago, taking a deeper look, including some historical perspective, at the why and how of the process.

The Charter Review Committee may be wrapping up its work, but the public debate is just getting warmed up. Whatever the recommendations of the committee, they will go to the City Council, and many of them will come to you as a voter. Before we get there, though, Modarres invites you to join the public discussion:

... we hope to have residents, students, and faculty members at this event, engaging in a fruitful conversation about what city charters are, why cities frequently revisit them, and what these revisions might mean to all of us.

This could turn into a pretty intense panel discussion, and could be one of the best opportunities we'll get to hear the varying viewpoints in conversation in a neutral setting. We're looking forward to it. We hope to see you all there.

What: "Reforming Tacoma's City Charter: A Panel Discussion"
When: Thursday, April 24, 2015, 6:30 p.m.
Where: William W. Philip Hall, UW Tacoma campus, 1918 Pacific Ave., Tacoma, Wash.
Cost: FREE

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