Snohomish switch to strong mayor on ballot; language challenged

SNOHOMISH — The man behind the drive to change the city’s government is asking a Superior Court judge to change how the matter is summarized on the November general election ballot.

The question voters will decide is whether to approve a strong-mayor government. If so, it would replace the current council-manager form of government.

Bill Betten circulated petitions on the issue, the first step in getting the proposed change on the ballot. The City Council unanimously approved a resolution putting the question on the fall ballot.

Betten now is asking a Snohomish County Superior Court judge to change the way the matter is summarized on the ballot. A hearing on the matter is scheduled for Tuesday. Snohomish Mayor Karen Guzak said the city attorney would be present.

In his request for a judicial review of the matter, Betten said he was asking “for more clarity in plain English so the average voter can reasonably understand the question on the ballot.”

He is questioning the proposed ballot language. It asks if the city should adopt the mayor-council government and abandon the current council-manager government.

Betten is asking for that language to be replaced or to have additional language added. He suggests the summary statement ask: “Shall the current non-elected city manager and the council-appointed mayor positions be eliminated and replaced by a single, voter-elected mayor position?”

Under state law, the summary ballot statements for city matters are developed by the city attorney. “So it’s really their call on how it gets developed and whether they fulfilled the requirements under state law,” said Garth Fell, the county elections manager.

There also will be pro and con statements on the issue included in the general election voters’ pamphlets, written by committees.

Betten is chairman of the pro-change group and is expected to participate in the writing of the statement.

The con statement will be written by former Mayor Ann Averill and two other residents, Guzak said.

The deadline for the pro and con statements is Tuesday. Each side can submit rebuttal statements. Those must be submitted to the auditor’s office by Friday.

The City Council has seven elected officials. The mayor is selected by the council. City Manager Larry Bauman oversees day-to-day operations. Bauman’s annual salary is $142,853. Guzak’s pay is $725 a month.

Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486; salyer@heraldnet.com.

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