Proposition 1 pitches served at luncheon

Washougal 'stability' goal of both sides of debate

By Tyler Graf, Columbian county government reporter



What is Proposition 1?

• If approved by Washougal voters, Proposition 1 would change the form of Washougal’s government. Currently, the city operates under what’s known as a mayor-council format, in which the mayor is the top administrator, akin to a corporate CEO. The city also has a city administrator who provides full-time professional management at the mayor’s direction.

• Proposition 1 would turn the city into a council-manager form. Under that system, a city manager would occupy the city’s top administrative position and receive direction from the seven city councilors. From within its ranks, city council would appoint a mayor, whose role would require him or her to run meetings and perform other ceremonial duties.

CAMAS — Opposing sides in the debate over whether to change Washougal's form of government made their pitch Thursday at a Camas-Washougal Chamber of Commerce luncheon.

Proposition 1 would change Washougal's government from a mayor-council to a council-manager form, weakening the position of the mayor and installing a city manager to oversee day-to-day operations of departments. Washougal residents will vote on the proposition during the Nov. 5 general election.

If there was one word du jour Thursday for both sides it would be "stability," with opponents and proponents alike saying their favored form of government would provide it.

Opposing Proposition 1 at the luncheon was former mayor Jeff Guard, who was joined at Fairgate Inn by residents Larry White and Marilyn Tyrell, all members of an ad hoc committee against the proposition. Supporting arguments came from city council members Dave Shoemaker and Jennifer McDaniel.

Opponents of Proposition 1 said it would take away residents' ability to directly

vote for the mayor and lead to an unstable government under a city manager. They cited data showing that, on average, city managers last four years in their positions.

Supporters, meanwhile, said a city manager would bolster professional management, excise needless political infighting, and improve stability.

The city regularly changes mayors, who come with shifting visions, said McDaniel, who noted "that is not stability."

Among the arguments proffered by members of the ad hoc committee against Proposition 1 was that leadership for the city would be lost among seven city council members, who wouldn't operate with a clear vision.

"I don't feel the city council can run the city without a lot of bullying and pushing," Tyrell said.

In July, the city council unanimously voted to place the proposition on the ballot. It will appear on the same ballot as a mayoral election pitting Mayor Sean Guard, Jeff's brother, against fire Capt. Earl Scott.

Jeff Guard also questioned the timing of the proposition and said the mayoral election would be for naught if it passed.

"If Proposition 1 passes, they get nothing," Jeff Guard said, referring to the mayoral candidates. "They only get bragging rights and their name in the paper."

But Shoemaker said the city is growing too fast and too big to place it in the hands of an untrained mayor. Over the past decade, it's expanded in size and complexity, making it necessary for a professional manager, he said.

Since 2000, Washougal jumped from a city of 8,595 residents to one of 14,585, according to U.S. Census figures.

"Every four years we face the possibility of having someone who's not qualified" as mayor, Shoemaker said.

While the debate over Proposition 1 continues, Washougal City Administrator David Scott is investigating whether it would also be possible for residents to vote for the mayor under the council-manager form, instead of having the mayor appointed by city council.

That setup would be similar to Vancouver's, which also has a council-manager form but with a voter-elected mayor. It would require Washougal to pass a separate proposition and might not be in place until 2017.

While Jeff Guard referred to the proposition as little more "than a power grab on the part of city council," Shoemaker countered by saying the city would provide more accountability and continuity under the new form of government, in the form of a city manager.