Fed up, group wants to reinvent Lynnwood government

  • Fri Oct 1st, 2010 10:38pm
  • News

By Oscar Halpert Herald Writer

LYNNWOOD — Elected mayors have overseen this city since its founding 50 years ago.

Now, a group of current and former city employees — and a former city councilman — say it’s time for the city to change from an elected mayor to a form of government in which the council hires a city manager.

That group, going by the name “People for a Better Lynnwood,” say they’re fed up with Mayor Don Gough and want to remove him from office.

They first considered circulating a recall petition but this week opted instead to push for a change in the form of government.

“The whole situation is incredibly dysfunctional and I see the mayor as the principal culprit, but that does not mean there isn’t City Council responsibility as well,” said Ron Siddell, a retired city employee and chairman of “People for a Better Lynnwood.”

The group’s been meeting in a Lynnwood subdivision since August.

They say the reasons to change include the city’s ongoing budget turmoil, the council’s call last August for Gough to resign and a five-month investigation into Gough’s dealings with his former executive assistant.

That investigation, a report of which the city made public Aug. 12, was inconclusive that Gough harbored a gender bias against his former assistant. But it did conclude that Gough repeatedly interfered with the investigation and used his job to pressure and intimidate potential witnesses against him.

“I’ve been in this city for 23 years,” assistant Police Chief Karen Manser, who is part of the group, told a steering committee this past week. “This city has had so much potential, but it’s never had a strong leader to take it there.”

Gough has maintained, through his attorney, that he has broken no laws and has no reason to resign. His lawyer contends the investigation was a facade intended to embarrass the mayor.

As an elected official, Gough can only be removed from office by losing an election, through a successful recall campaign or by a change in the city’s form of government.

A petition seeking to force a recall election could prove too expensive, challenging and potentially destructive to the city, Siddell said.

The state’s constitution allows for recall of elected officials other than judges. But the bar to remove the elected official is set high.

A recall starts when a voter files a specific, written complaint with the county auditor’s office. A hearing is held with the petitioner and the accused. A judge rules on whether the petition passes legal muster.

If the judge OKs the petition, the petitioner must collect signatures representing at least 35 percent of people who voted in the most recent election. Assuming enough signatures are gathered, a public vote would be held, with a simple majority needed to approve the measure.

Changing the form of government is a little less involved.

It starts when petitioners collect signatures equal to at least 10 percent of the votes cast in the most recent general election, said Pat Mason, legal consultant for the Municipal Research and Services Center of Washington.

Next, an election would be held. A simple majority would be needed to approve it.

Under a council-manager form of government, the city manager oversees day-to-day city operations. Council members elect one of their own to serve as mayor, a mainly ceremonial position that many cities rotate among council members each year.

If the city changes its form of government, Gough would serve what remains of his four-year term as the eighth council member, and the council would hire a city manager, Mason said.

“The change in a form of government is a positive and the recall is a negative,” steering committee member Becky Janecke said. “Most people who are on the fence would go for a positive.

Several county cities have city managers, including Marysville, Mountlake Terrace, Mill Creek and Snohomish. Voters in Federal Way, in King County, will decide Nov. 2 whether to change their city’s form of government from an elected mayor to a council-manager, spokeswoman Linda Farmer said.

“We’re actually bucking a country trend,” she said. “The trend across the country is to go from (elected) mayor to city manager.”

Lynnwood Councilman Jim Smith has repeatedly called for changing to a city manager. He said Friday he’d like the council to pass a resolution calling for a public vote on the issue.

“The problems we’ve had with Don Gough, with the budget, with finances, with personnel, this just proves my point,” he said.

Other members of the nine-person steering committee include Janecke’s husband, former councilman George Janecke; co-chairman and Lynnwood Police Department Sgt. T.J. Brooks; Lynnwood Municipal Court administrator Jill O’Cain; former city employee Linda Albar; and Douglas Kerley, a Republican who lost a council primary election bid last year.

Manser and O’Cain were two of five top-level woman employees who signed a letter critical of Gough. O’Cain presented that letter to the council in August.

Siddell, a former city management analyst who left at the end of 2009, has been an outspoken critic of Gough at council meetings and has called publicly for the mayor’s resignation.

Mayor vs. City Manager

A group in Lynnwood is seeking to change the city’s form of government from an elected mayor to one where a city manager hired by the council runs the day-to-day operations of the city. Here are some differences:

Selection: Mayor is popularly elected; city manager hired by council.

Removal: Recall election for mayor; majority vote of council for city manager.

Tenure: Four years for mayor; indefinite for city manager, who is a city employee.

Underlying principles: Mayor gains separation of powers, provides political leadership; city manager removes politics from administration and provides professional management.

Information courtesy of Municipal Research and Services Center of Washington