LETTER: ‘Can Burien Afford to Change Its Form of Government?’

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Burien has an elitist form of government that allows the least amount of citizen participation as possible-the council/manager form. Less than 10% of the cities and towns in the U.S.A. have this form of government.

At the November 20, 2012 City Council meeting, Jack Block proposed that Burien allow its citizens an advisory vote on whether they wanted to change their form of government. Currently Burien has a council/manager form of government. The mayor is elected by the council members and not the citizens. This kind of mayor is titular and does jobs like ribbon cutting but does not lead the government of the city. The city is run by the city manager. Citizens have no voice in the hiring or firing of this person who is running their city. There are no checks and balances with this form of government; one branch runs the whole show.

The other form of government that Burien could adopt is the elected (strong) mayor where the mayor is the executive leader of the city and is elected by the people. In this form of government, checks and balances do exist (read this PDF on forms of government). Council Person Clark who was running the November 20, 2012 Council meeting refused to allow Council Person Block’s measure to be voted on and walked out of that meeting. One of her major complaints was that it might be too expensive and would affect the new budget the Council had just passed. It is important to note that the Council passed the city’s budget much earlier than needed mainly for their own administrative convenience rather than because it was due. They wanted to start their holiday vacations early.

So how much does it cost to change the form of government? Federal Way changed to the strong (elected) mayor form of government in 2010. Federal Way is a city of 89,300 people, has its own police department and court system. They eliminated the city manager position and the elected mayor is paid $112,800 per year. The mayor has a full time management assistant just as the city manager previously had. The council has a part-time management assistant. The mayor selected not to fill the position of a chief administrator for the city and the city staff was re-configured. As a result, Federal Way has not experienced a significant change in staff costs in the budget related to this change in form of government.

Contrary to what Clark and several other council members have stated about costs, Burien could change its form of government without it having a significant impact on Burien’s budget. The budget is just a red herring issue that has been repeatedly put out by the city manager as well as some council members to maintain their status quo power hold on Burien city politics.

The majority of the council have deliberately put this issue aside, away from the vote or advice of the citizens. Reasons given are costs to the city and the need to study the issue. There was no significant change in costs to the city of Federal Way and no better recent history example to cite than what has happened there in the last couple of years. So these two reasons now appear to be nothing more than flimsy excuses and a delay tactic.

A change in form of government does not have to cost Burien’s citizens a great deal more money. Currently, Burien pays its city manager more than Federal Way’s elected mayor is paid. Burien citizens should have the opportunity to decide on what form of government they want. In an informal media poll, 74% of the respondents have indicated that they want a change in Burien’s government. Money is not really the issue here. Burien could afford to change its form of government and maybe it should.

– R.M. Delorm

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15 Responses to “LETTER: ‘Can Burien Afford to Change Its Form of Government?’”
  1. Coverofnight says:

    With this incompetent city manager (along with 3/4 of the council), I’d be willing to pay MORE to get rid of da bums…….so yes, cost is not an issue; time for the taxpayers to take back their representative form of government from these snake-oil salesmen.

  2. Vicki Hurley says:

    What a good letter! Thank you, R.M. Delorm, I strongly agree with you.

  3. VERY TIRED says:

    Time to reassert a republican form of government in our city.

  4. Fred says:

    Thank you RD for the letter. It appears that cost is not the issue in why this Council is not willing to let citizens have a say in what kind of government we have. I am up for a vote of the citizens on changing the form of government in this city. The current Council Group of 4 and the City Manager have ignored the citizen opinions and wishes long enough.
    And Cover of Night, I agree with you on the incompentent city manager comment.

  5. Bill says:

    I think we should have an elected mayor. We should vote and participate in our city government.

    • Pam F. says:

      I agree you guys. I am pro elected mayor. We’ve tried it twice in SeaTac recently and have come up short both times.

      I’d be glad to share some lessons learned from our failed process if you are interested.

  6. John Poitras says:

    I suspect the only way the citizens of Burien will have a chance to vote on whether to change to a mayoral style of government is if we vote out Clark, McGilton or Bennett in November. They are all up for re-election and they are all of are big fans of Mike Martin. They refuse to hold him accountable for anything.
    They hold the current majority on the council and along with Mike Martin and Jerry Robison were behind the big push to annex Area Y which wasted hundreds of thousands of Burien tax dollars. They need to be replaced.

  7. Shari says:

    The city’s website provides a document outlining the city’s goals and objectives. They appear to have been approved in 2008 if the age of the file is a correct indication (the document itself does not indicate when these were adopted). Is the city’s scorecard also available? I would be interested to find out what the milestones and metrics/indicators are for each goal and objective to know how progress is theoretically being tracked and would be very interested to see the actual progress on each one. I’m not sure where we’re at as a city relative to the goals and objectives that were mapped out and that woudl be important to know before we decide if the current system is or isn’t working. Is anything even being tracked and documented for each goal and objective?

  8. Joe Wills says:

    Its time to get rid of Mike Martins mafia style of running our city and have a real government that is for the people! cost is not an issue, and should not be if it means the city will listen more to its people and make change.

  9. Othersideofthetracks says:

    How much could it really cost?
    I really can`t imagine it costing that much.

  10. Fred says:

    Citizens really need more information on how this change in government can be done. Recently I heard that the City Council could vote to change the form of government without even a vote of the people. Is that true? Also I heard that if the citizens decide to collect signature to bring it to a vote, the citizens have to word the initative for the petiton and signatues so that the City Council agrees to allow the initative. Isn’t that like the fox guarding the hen house? Can’t the City Council keep refusing to allow the citizens to have an initative? We need more information here about how we can do this change and Mike Martin is not about ready to provide it. I believe KC charges $20,000 to run it as a election ballot measure?

    As to the goals for the city being tracked, the City Manager has not even been giving the quarterly budget reports to the Council that are required by State Law for the last 6 years. The citizen surveys show that citizen satisfaction with the city has been steadly declining since 2007. No one on staff is been reporting on the goals really and most of the Council has been to lazy to ask the hard questions. Watch the last meeting. It was clear some of the Council had not even read their packet again.

  11. wheels says:

    Mike Martin can run for Mayor if he wants, and if people really think he is doing such a great job they will elect him. What is he afraid of?

  12. Flashdog says:

    Knowledge is power. People who care about what is happening to our community need to find out the facts about how to put an initiative on the ballot. If it is feasible, perhaps the information could be shared on a special facebook page so others could easily join the movement. If it required a certain number of signatures on a petition to put this issue to a vote, I (for one) would be happy to help gather them. The answers to Shari’s very intelligent questions would make great talking points when gathering signatures and presenting the issue to the public in newspapers, etc. What is needed is a person or persons who are willing to step up and organize the effort. Me? It’s appealing, but I have two jobs and a list of other responsibilities. I love Burien and I would be happy to help with this effort, but I am not the leader that is needed.

  13. Fred says:

    So how many signatures and how long do we have to collect them? Who writes the initative?

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