Granite Falls city-manager ballot measure passing

GRANITE FALLS — Voters are leaning toward getting rid of a strong mayor and hiring a city manager.

Initial election results, with 235 ballots counted in Granite Falls, show 54 percent approval of Proposition 1, a proposal to change the form of government in this community of 3,500. Instead of a mayor-council, or strong-mayor, style of management, the city would be led by a council-manager administration starting in 2016.

The difference between the two forms of government is in who oversees the day-to-day work of the city, which has eight employees and an $8.2 million operating budget. A strong mayor government has an elected mayor in charge of running the city with guidance from the City Council. In a council-manager government, an employee hired by the council manages the city’s staff and projects. A mayor is designated from among the council members to lead meetings but has no more authority than anyone else on the council.

Granite Falls is on track to be the fifth city in Snohomish County with a city manager and the first in more than 13 years to win voter approval for a change of government. Snohomish, Mill Creek, Bothell and Mountlake Terrace also have council-manager governments. Lynnwood voters in November 2010 rejected a measure that would have changed their style of government, as did Marysville voters in 2002 and Sultan voters in 2003.

About 80 percent of Washington cities and towns have a mayor-council government, according to the nonprofit Municipal Research and Service Center. Once voters decide to change the type of government, the new system cannot be changed or abandoned for at least six years.

Switching from a strong mayor to a council-manager government was one of the key pieces of former Granite Falls mayor Josh Golston’s 2013 campaign. Golston stepped down Oct. 31, days before the vote, to move to Oregon, where he is vice president of a company owned by his father-in-law.

“I made it clear that my No. 1 goal as mayor was to work my way out of a job,” Golston said in an interview last month. “Having a strong mayor government has been a problem in Granite Falls in the past. We’ve been fortunate the past few years, but it could happen again where someone comes in with their personal agenda or not being ready to lead a city.”

Councilman Matt Hartman began serving as interim mayor for the city on Nov. 1 with the hope that he would be the city’s last strong mayor. He was one of the council members who in March voted to put this measure on the ballot.

The way he sees it, he’s just keeping the mayor’s seat warm until the City Council can hire a manager to take over the day-to-day operations, he said.

“I’m absolutely proud that citizens of Granite Falls are supporting this proposition,” he said Tuesday evening. “It shows that they’re aware and they understand the importance of having a professional running our city.”

In a statement against the measure, Councilman Tom FitzGerald noted that a city manager’s salary is going to cost more than the $12,000 a year the city has been paying the mayor and that it could be costly to recruit new managers to the rural community.

Brent Kirk, the city administrator and public works director, is in line to be Granite Falls’ first city manager.

There also were two City Council seats up for election Tuesday but both were uncontested. Hartman was re-elected for his fifth term on the council and Erin Hogan is replacing Councilwoman Tess Greene.

Kari Bray: 425-339-3439; kbray@heraldnet.com

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