Washougal eyes changing govt. style

Council-manager system shifts mayor's power to oversee, govern to manager

By Tyler Graf, Columbian county government reporter

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The Washougal City Council will decide later this month whether to pursue changes to the city's form of government.

On June 24, the council will hold a hearing to discuss whether to move ahead with an initiative that would weaken the power of the mayor and boost the influence of the city's top bureaucrat. Currently, the city has a strong mayor, with a city administrator providing oversight and guidance on public policy decisions.

The Washougal City Council will decide whether to give a nod of approval to pursuing the change by July 8, in time to place a resolution on the Nov. 5 general election ballot.

Under Washougal's current system, known as the mayor-council form of government, the mayor is the head of the city. In that position, the mayor has administrative power and can veto council decisions. In Washougal, he's also the highest paid elected official, receiving an annual salary of $24,000.

A council-manager form of government weakens the mayor's power. The mayor is selected by other councilors and serves in a mainly ceremonial capacity. More power is extended to the city manager, the head of the administrative branch.

The idea of changing the form of government has generated mixed reviews from council.

"The council-manager system, as far as my notes, and the little bit of research I've done, seems to provide a more stable, less political, much more professional system of government," Councilwoman Jennifer McDaniel said.

Mayor Sean Guard has voiced opposition to the idea, saying high-level decisions should be left to elected officials. He told councilors last week that changing the form of government would be "a big deal," adding it wasn't a "light issue."

He said he preferred having elected officials in charge of making decisions, with a public administrator overseeing operations.

In Clark County, the cities of Washougal, Camas, La Center and the town of Yacolt use a mayor-council form of government. Ridgefield, Vancouver and Battle Ground use the council-manager form of government.

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