City Council Votes 4-3 Not To Fast Track Strong Mayor Vote
The Yakima City Council voted 4 to 3 last night (2/4/20) not to put the public vote on the November ballot for a charter change from a Council/Manager form to a Council/Elected Mayor form of government.
Voting No were Council members Kay Funk, Eliana Macias, Brad Hill and Soneya Lund.
Last year's Council had earlier voted to put the measure on this February's ballot but a couple of lawsuit challenges forced the council to backdown.
Proponents of the change -Bruce Smith, Mike Leita & Dave Edler- returned to council seeking a reschedule of the vote for the November general election but with three new Council members on board, the request came up a vote short.
Those seeking the change can still get the measure on the ballot through a citizen initiative process but as Mr. Smith pointed out, that comes at a cost of time, effort and money to gather the necessary signatures and pay for a place on the ballot. Proponents indicated there may not be the will to endure that.
Bottom line for me- Council member Funk presents a fear of being sued and doesn't seem to share the vision that an independent Mayor has value to city residents.
Council member Macias picks up where former council member Dulce Guiterrez left off with claims that somehow an elected mayor would dilute the Latinx vote. (Could somebody please explain to me how that works?) But those are powerful and magical legal words used to sharpen the battleaxe of the ACLU so they carry weight, even if those using them can't or don't explain them.
Council member Hill systematically dismantled almost all of the opponents arguments but then turned his back on his earlier position that voters deserved to have an expedited say on their form of government.
In his presentation Strong Mayor proponent and former County Commissioner Mike Leita stressed the difference between management and leadership and said the city was not meeting its potential due to a lack of leadership. In my opinion Mr. Hill seemed to take that admonition personally and he said the council didn't need a lecture on leadership. (some of us may beg to differ--just watch the meeting!)
Under the plan the Council would still set policy and have plenty of opportunity to display leadership while the publicly elected mayor would execute those plans but would be freed up to offer vision and leadership as well. In the end, councilman Hill suggested the pro-Strong Mayor group get about the business of signature gathering and fundraising if they wanted a vote. I was disappointed because hanging over all of this is the question of hiring a permanent city manager. A November vote would have provided a clearer picture of next steps and timelines. Something feels off here.
Councilwoman Lund had said repeatedly during her campaign that she was agreeable to a public vote on the Strong Mayor but she came out fast as a "hard NO" on putting it on the November ballot. What changed? Fear of lawsuits? Change of heart? Perhaps she's explained to her constituents? What she did say at the meeting is that she wants to get on with other issues like gangs and homelessness. Perhaps a community voted Mayor with fresh ideas and energy could help her in those pursuits? But if that is to happen it will have to come about as a result of a more complicated citizen driven process.
It remains to be seen what happens next. The proponents are reassessing. In the meantime I encourage you to watch the meeting. See if you don't think some additional leadership isn't a pretty good idea.