The city of Poulsbo may change its executive structure.
During a Nov. 7 meeting, members of Poulsbo City Council heard testimony about possibly creating a city administrator position. Presenting was Tracy Burrows from the Municipal Research and Services Center. Also with Burrows were Ben Yazici, a retired city manager from Sammamish, and Rob Karlinsey, city manager for Kenmore and former city administrator for Gig Harbor.
According to Burrows, approximately 75 percent of Washington’s cities have the mayor-council form of government wherein voters elect a mayor and council members. Under this system, the mayor appoints and directs the city’s department heads.
About 25 percent of the state’s cities use the council-manager form of government wherein voters elect council members who then appoint a city manager. The manager is then responsible for appointing and directing department heads.
Burrows compared Poulsbo to 14 cities of about the same size. Liberty Lake, for instance, has a population of 10,390 and also maintains a mayor-council structure but also staffs a city administrator. The city of Shelton, which has a population of 10,140, maintains a council-manager structure. Average annual salary for a city administrator in western Washington with a population fewer than 30,000, Burrows said, was $144,400.
Councilors first brought up changing the executive structure in April, during conversations surrounding Mayor Becky Erickson’s request for a salary increase. At the time, Erickson stated she wished to see a qualified replacement for mayor at the end of her term in 2020, and cited three possibilities for doing so:
• Paying the mayor more in order to attract more qualified candidates.
• Making the position of mayor part-time (with a proportional salary reduction) and hiring a city administrator.
• Putting to a vote the city’s switch to a city manager structure.
“Such large changes take time within city government,” the mayor said in an April interview. “The changes need to be well thought-out and clearly understood by the citizens. I was very clear about my intensions of not running for a fourth term during the election. Now is the time to begin the process of what will occur after I leave.”
With the presence of two veteran city managers at the meeting, councilors had their questions.
“Why?” asked council member David Musgrove. “We’re doing well with this council. We’re doing well with this mayor … things are great, why change?”
“You cannot assure that guarantee of success going forward,” Yazici responded. “There is no guarantee that another like Mayor Erickson is going to be running to become the mayor and have the same skill sets to do it.”
A city administrator, Yazici said, would provide an assurance of the continuation of the professional skills necessary to ensure adequate succession of the mayor at the end of her term.
“In terms of the choices that the community makes — one form versus the other form [of government] — that really is up to you and the community to make that decision.” Yazici said. “It seems like the mayor-form of government has been working for you. Maybe start with a city administrator to see how things are going to go with that.”
Musgrove said that concerned citizens should not fear that their government will be changing overnight.
“We’re not doing anything; we’re just checking it out,” Musgrove said. “We’re just stepping back to take another look. Are we doing the right thing? Are there better choices now that we’ve changed as a city?”
— Nick Twietmeyer is a reporter with Kitsap News Group. Nick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.