Mayor Or Manager? Seatac To Decide Next Week

SEATAC - A mayor could be the answer to all that troubles this young city, where city managers seem to pass through on their way to greener pastures.

A mayor also could bring the worst of cronyism and an end to a responsible, professionally managed city.

Voters will decide next week which scenario seems more likely.

Proposition 1 asks residents if they want to abandon SeaTac's current form of government, where a city manager serves as chief executive and the mayor is largely a figurehead.

"No one is minding the store. The lack of leadership is glaring," said Frank Hughes, a member of the city's senior-citizen commission and spokesman for the group trying to change the government. He said SeaTac would get better oversight and continuity from a mayor.

"I think the city is running fine, and I don't think we can afford to change (the system)," said Marylyn Lemoine, a member of the city's human-services commission and spokeswoman for a group fighting the proposition.

State law allows cities to choose from two basic government structures. In the council-manager system, residents elect a city council, which hires a city manager to run the government. The city manager follows policies set by the council and can be fired by the council. The council also chooses a chairman who serves as mayor, but it's primarily a ceremonial position.

That's the current form in SeaTac, and most U.S. cities, including Federal Way and Tacoma. Des Moines residents voted last spring to keep a city-manager system.

In a mayor-council system, sometimes called a strong mayor system, residents elect a mayor separately from the city council. The mayor runs the government, appointing deputies to run various departments. The council sets policy.

Several South King County cities have elected mayors, including Tukwila, Kent and Auburn.

Indirectly, the election is becoming a referendum on how well residents think the city is operating.

Opponents say the unnecessary change would add another layer of government, with more salaries and overhead. "I think you need a professional manager," said City Councilman Frank Hansen. He served as the city's first mayor, when it incorporated in 1990.

"Running a city is a complicated business. An elected mayor might be someone completely unqualified," he said.

Those for the change, who began by collecting about 800 signatures this summer to force the election, say the City Council has been inefficient and indecisive, and that city managers haven't stayed long enough to provide direction. In just under seven years, the city has hired three city managers. The first two departed for other jobs. In between, SeaTac went through three interim managers.

"They're all out-of-towners, and it takes them a long time to get to know the community's needs," Hughes said. An elected mayor would serve a four-year term.

If voters approve the change, the city will hold a special election next March for mayor and for a new City Council.