Backers, foes of new Washougal government make cases

Campaigns vowed over changing from strong-mayor to council-manager system

By Tyler Graf, Columbian county government reporter

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photoJoyce Lindsay Washougal councilwoman

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Formal arguments for and against changing Washougal's form of government are in the hands of the Clark County Elections Office.

Last week, the two committees -- one for the change, the other against -- filed statements with the elections office and Wednesday they submitted their rebuttals. The statements will appear in the voters' pamphlet ahead of the Nov. 5 general election, in which voters will decide whether they approve the change.

Now, councilmembers who support a switch to a council-manager form of government are vowing to campaign for the proposition. Meanwhile, members of the opposition committee are fronting a counter-campaign in the hopes of convincing residents to keep the city's strong-mayor form of government.

Mayor Sean Guard said Wednesday he didn't plan to campaign against the proposition. He's currently running for re-election against Earl Scott, a fire captain for the city, and he wants to focus his attention on that campaign.

He said he'll continue to oppose the proposition, which he said was built on misinformation.

It may be too early to tell whether voters will support the proposition, said Councilwoman Jennifer McDaniel, a member of the pro-proposition committee. She said she will actively work to drum up support for what's known as Proposition 1.

Councilwoman Joyce Lindsay, chairwoman of the pro-proposition committee, said she plans to distribute 2,000 brochures. The committee is raising money through a new political action committee called Washougal First.

"It's going to be a very aggressive campaign," Lindsay said.

The proposal would change the city's top administrator from an elected mayor to an appointed city manager. Supporters say it would create more professional oversight of city business, while opponents argue it would create less accountability and dissolve checks and balances. Washougal has operated with a city administrator who reports to the mayor for a decade.

Motives questioned

Earlier in the month, the city convened a special meeting to form committees to write statements for and against the proposition. The pro-proposition committee is composed of city councilors Lindsay, Brent Boger and McDaniel. The anti-proposition committee is made up of Marilyn Tyrrell, Larry White and former mayor Jeff Guard.

Arguments in the statements provided to the elections office are similar to ones that have been made since the issue of changing the form of government arose in June.

The statement against Proposition 1 says the "timing of the issue is suspect" and that a city manager would not "be accountable to the voters."

"The Mayor is elected, accountable and accessible to the citizenry," the statement reads. "Having an elected mayor provides a check and balance to council. He or she is the leader of our community."

The statement in favor of Proposition 1 points out that Washougal's mayor is responsible for a $36 million budget and between 80 and 100 employees but there are "no educational or managerial experience requirements to be mayor."

"The mayor will be elected from the council to provide political leadership," the pro-proposition statement reads. "In case of misconduct, council can remove the city manager at any time."

Tyler Graf: 360-735-4517; http://twitter.com/col_smallcities; tyler.graf@columbian.com