Change in city government structure talks moving forward
Last updated 4/24/2019 at Noon
Mukilteo has had a mayor-council form of government since the city’s incorporation in the 1940s, but that may be changing soon.
At the Mukilteo City Council’s worksession on Monday, April 22, the council continued its discussion on potentially shifting the form of government from the one residents are accustomed to to a city manager-council form of government.
To make that happen, the council must take some steps to start the process, and then pass a motion that would send the decision to Mukilteo voters. It would appear on the Nov. 5 general election ballot.
Councilmember Scott Whelpley started the discussion at the council’s Feb. 18 meeting during a discussion on the future of the management services director position. He argued that cities with a larger budget and fewer employees run arguably better than Mukilteo does, and suggested the possibility of changing Mukilteo’s government structure.
In a city manager-council government, there are still seven elected councilmembers, but instead of a mayor running the day-to-day operations of the city, an unelected city manager would do so.
The council would choose one of the seven councilmembers to serve as mayor, which is often described as a “soft mayor,” and essentially has the same role as the council president in the current form of government.
Whelpley was not present at the worksession, but called in and told the mayor and council that he had discussed the matter with the city’s attorney and that the process isn’t as difficult as it may seem.
The first step, Whelpley said, was the council would need to pass an ordinance or motion directing city staff to contact Snohomish County’s elections office to obtain materials regarding changing the form of government. The staff would then come back to the council with the information, and the council would vote on whether to send the option of changing the government to Mukilteo voters.
Whelpley said after that motion passes, the proper paperwork would need to be sent to the county’s election office and approved before the end of the day on Aug. 6 the day of the primary election.
“It’s better it’s done now,” he said. “At the next meeting, I’m going to make the motion to direct staff to get this rolling.”
Due to the current mayor term, which expires Dec. 31, 2021, the council may end up with eight councilmembers for a time. Mayor Jennifer Gregerson is only in the second year of her four-year term, and if the new change in government is implemented immediately, the mayor position would effectively become a councilmember position.
A lot of that would likely depend on how Gregerson does in her race for Snohomish County Council. If she wins that race, her County Council term would start Jan. 1, 2020.
Whelpley also said that the attorney told him the council wouldn’t need to have a public hearing on this since the election would act as resident input, but that he would like to have it discussed at future council meetings so residents can give public comment.
The Beacon reached out to Snohomish County Elections Manager Garth Fell, who said that there is no real set process the city needs to take before submitting paperwork to place the proposed measure on the ballot. The only requirements, Fell said, is that the details of the ballot measure, including a pros and cons list and an explanatory statement of what the measure consists of, must be submitted to the county by Aug. 6.
“I’m glad to see they’re giving themselves time with this to get public (input),” Fell said.
Gregerson noted that if the change went through, a lot would be have to done regarding the city’s code. One area she said would need to be altered is the appointment of citizens to boards and committees, which typically falls on the mayor.
Councilmember Richard Emery has said he is in favor of keeping the government as is, and questioned whether this was what the city should be focusing on.
“With all the issues, are we talking about the most important thing for the city right now?” he said. “This drives a lot off the agenda.”
Gregerson and the council agreed to put the issue on the May 20 meeting agenda, but Whelpley said both during the meeting and in a follow-up call with The Beacon that he will be making a motion on May 6 to direct city staff to start the process. This would likely mean that the decision of whether to put the measure on the ballot would take place at the May 20 meeting.
Additionally, Councilmember Steve Schmalz said earlier this month that he would be making a motion at the May 6 meeting to reduce the mayor position to part time and reduce the position’s salary to $30,000.
If that passes, it would not go into effect until the next mayoral term in 2022, which may be unecessary if the form of government changes its structure.