College Place begins work to fill late mayor’s position

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COLLEGE PLACE — The City Council Monday decided to begin the search for applicants to fill the vacant mayor’s position.

Council members agreed to advertise for applicants to submit a resume and cover letter to City Hall by noon on May 5. After that, depending on how many applications are received, the Council will decide how to proceed with the selection process.

Options for city government

College Place, which operates under the mayor-council form of governing, has been discussing the option of a council-manager leadership.

Here’s how each works, according to a March 11 memo to the College Place City Council from City Attorney Charlie Phillips:

MAYOR-COUNCIL — A popularly elected mayor has general administrative authority and is vested with the appointment and removal of city employees and appointed officials. The council sets the city policies and the mayor carries out those policies. The mayor attends and presides over council meetings, but does not vote except in the case of a tie.

COUNCIL-MANAGER — Only city council members are elected by voters. Members select a city manager as the city’s chief executive and administrative officer. The city manager is hired for an indefinite term and is vested with the power of appointment and removal of city officials and employees.

The city manager carries out the policies adopted by the council. The council is, however, prohibited from interfering with the manager’s administration. The council selects a mayor from among its members or, in a code city, the mayor may be directly elected by the people.

The mayor retains all rights and duties of a council member, presides over council meetings and is the ceremonial head of the city. He or she, however, has no regular administrative duties.

The Council is facing a deadline in early June to replace former Mayor Rick Newby, who died unexpectedly on March 9. By law, the Council must appoint a replacement within 90 days or the responsibility shifts to the Walla Walla County commissioners.

Council members spent more than an hour debating the possibility of switching the city from its present mayor-council form of government to a council-manager model, similar to the city of Walla Walla’s. The change, which voters would have to approves, could be put up for election either by a resolution passed by the Council or by a petition signed by no less than 10 percent of the registered voters in the city who cast ballots in the last general election.

The proposal was put forward in a March 11 memo by City Attorney Charlie Phillips, who said he had been approached by Council members about the possibility of converting to a council-manager form. The city adopted its current mayor-council form in 1979.

Council members William Jenkins, Adam Keatts and Marge Nyhagen said Monday they raised the issue because they wanted the Council to discuss of the idea. Jenkins said the issue was something he had discussed with Newby several times before Newby’s re-election in 2013.

“We talked in terms of the forms of city government, what worked, what didn’t work, what we both thought about it. Eventually I thought we would get to this, but I wasn’t in any hurry ...” Jenkins said.

But with the vacancy in the mayor’s position, he added, now “seems like an opportunity to discuss it without unseating anybody.”

However Councilman Larry Dickerson said the proposal would complicate the replacement process and said he was opposed to the overall proposition.

Dickerson said a statement in Phillips’ memo that the city has outgrown its present system of government was inaccurate.

“It has nothing to do with the growth of city and how big it gets,” he said. Cities as large as Spokane, Renton and Wenatchee have changed back to a mayor-council form of government. “The trend is not to go to a manager-council form of government, and size has nothing to do with it.”

Councilman Loren Peterson noted two issues: how much time the person chosen as mayor would invest in the job and what knowledge they would bring to the task.

“If this is a person who has the ability to hire and fire all of our employees, they need to understand all aspects of city government,” he said. “We have no guarantee, when we bring in a mayor, that this is someone who is going to be able to commit the time as our past mayor (did) to this job.”

Peterson and Nyhagen also said the council-manager form would allow the Council to remove a manager who made bad decisions, something that couldn’t be done with an elected mayor except through a recall.

“We could get somebody elected that has strictly their own agenda that they want to follow,” Nyhagen said. “A city manager must follow the policies of the Council.”

But Dickerson asked if they know how much removing a city manager would cost: “I’ve seen cities pay out hundreds of thousands of dollars for the city manager’s remaining contract.”

Council members agreed to continue the discussion, but Dickerson warned that proposing a change of government to city voters would cause “a political upheaval.”

“There would be a divided community as to opinion, which way they would vote. It would be a big campaign issue,” he said. “And there would be people like myself out there in leadership community meetings, organizing people, educating them. Politics would all of a sudden raise it’s ugly horns, and we don’t have any in our city right now.”

Andy Porter can be reached at andyporter@wwub.com or 526-8318.

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