New May date to vote for swapping the mayor for a manager

Bainbridge Islanders have set a new date to vote on ballot measure that would dramatically change their city government.

Now they just need to change state law to make the vote legal.

The City Council on Tuesday approved a resolution marking May 19 as the day voters may chose to eliminate the elected mayor position and replace it with a hired city manager. But moving the vote almost six months prior to the November 2009 general election runs counter to state law. That’s why the city aims to lobby Olympia to soften voting date rules.

“You’ve made your statement, and we’re going to take care of it,” council chair Bill Knobloch said to the crowd filling much of the council chamber. The council unanimously approved the request for emergency state legislation, the May 19 special election date and a plan to hire a lobbyist to bend the ears of legislators during the 2009 session, which starts in January.

State rules requiring a November general election for ballot measures aimed at changing city governments would force the next mayoral race to share a ballot with a measure to eliminate the mayor’s office.

“It’s a bad law,” said Dennis Vogt, who led efforts to gather the 1,000 signatures to put the measure on the ballot. “It’s unfair to mayoral candidates and their supporters. It’s unfair and confusing for voters.”

The shared ballot may dissuade good candidates from investing time and money to run for mayor. It could also make the city vulnerable to lawsuits from a candidate who wins the election but finds that his or her new office is simultaneously dissolved, Vogt said.

“We’re stuck with a very ludicrous situation,” said former councilman Andy Maron before joining others in urging the council and mayor to lobby hard in Olympia.

“We need to make sure (state legislators) don’t dally long,” added Vogt.

Changing the state law in time for a May vote would require that legislators grant the proposal “emergency” status, said Rep. Christine Rolfes, a Bainbridge Democrat and former Bainbridge councilwoman.

But Rolfes, who said she’s willing to sponsor a related bill, doubts the proposal will gain much traction in the capitol.

“I don’t think that the situation on Bainbridge would constitute ‘an emergency’ for the state,” she wrote in a letter to Knobloch. “I can not guarantee that the bill will get a hearing this year, given the current economic situation and other issues that we will be facing in Olympia.”

The measure will go on the November ballot if the city’s lobbying efforts fail.

Despite the challenges, petition supporter Sally Adams said Bainbridge should push forward with the law change for the benefit of Bainbridge and other cities.

“We can do it right and set the way,” she said. “We have to stand up and be the test case.”

Former councilman Norm Wooldridge doubts the measure would pass if it has to share a ballot with a mayoral election.

“If we have to do it in November ’09, it’s a sure loser,” he said, noting that simultaneous mayoral campaigns would likely rally enough support to block the elimination of the office. “We can’t get a 50 percent majority when people are running for mayor,”

Petitioners had initially targeted this month’s ballot for the measure – which would have met state requirements – but lower-than-expected support convinced them that a later date, possibly in February, would give them more time to gather signatures. The city attorney informed them last month that the vote would have to wait until November 2009 to meet state requirements.

Supporters of a manager-led government say giving the council the power to hire the city’s head will lead to more efficient and effective government.

Backers of a mayor-led government say voters should retain their right to directly decide on the city’s leader.

One thought on “New May date to vote for swapping the mayor for a manager

  1. Rather than alter the form of government, Mayor K need to be recalled along with the Council members who have led us down to rose path of fiscal troubles. Once again COBI tries to swing the big club saying just because we have our problems, the Washington legislature must pass legislation giving BI a “mother-may-I” pass on obeying the lawy.

    The vote on change of government should be in November. We should also see qualified candidates step forward to run against Mayor K. Her time has come and gone by years. Throw her out but not necessarily the office of the Mayor.


    Why would we thing the Council with their continued failure to curtail the Mayor’s excesses should be in the position of selecting a manager. Oy Vey !! Recall the Mayor now.

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