One of the more intriguing aspects of my job is covering the governments and communities of five cities.
That means city council meetings, public hearings, community events and more than a few political food fights.
I know more than a few would say I have a very dull life, including my daughter, but why else do we have children.
What is entertaining to me is watching the various government bodies work together… or sometimes not.
Since we are all basically using the same system of government, one might think each city is pretty much the same. It’s not, and that has been the most interesting find for me over the past few months.
First is the form of government, two of the cities use a council-manager form of government, and three, including Tukwila, have the strong mayor system.
The general theory I often hear is the council-manger is more efficient. That may be true, but I haven’t seen much direct evidence. My sense in general is the strong mayor is more representative. The residents can vote on the executive or mayor in the strong mayor form. In the council-manager, the city manager is the executive of the administration and is hired by the council.
Imagine if President Obama was a hired gun.
City managers have about as much job security as a baseball manager. When a council starts saying what a great job a manger is doing, it’s time to start look for job openings.
I prefer clear separations, where one side of the fence doesn’t get to fire the other side. They can hate each other all they want, but they still have to live together.
Our Constitution outlines a government, not a happy marriage.
A common element among all the cities I observe is every council, mayor and community is struggling to figuring out who they are in this brave new world of shrinking budgets and higher demands.
Every city council sweats over budget line items and defining essential services. The more the money shrinks the less essential some services suddenly become.
In Tukwila, a ballot measure for the pool is driven by the budget. The closing of the casinos and loss of that revenue has been an ongoing debate since I came to the paper.
My interest was piqued a few weeks ago when I learned at a budget update the city is struggling with the funds for Foster Golf Links, the city-owned golf course.
The Lake Wilderness Golf Course was financial albatross in Maple Valley, until the City Council and city manger decided enough was enough.
They worked out a deal where the course looks like it will break even. Enumclaw and Sumner have had similar issues.
A golf course is a community asset, but I think it would be hard to argue it is an essential service.
That’s what is fun about city government, issues that touch peoples lives on a daily basis. The debates in council chambers on Monday in Tukwila matter. The council, mayor, and the public speakers are wrestling with services, money and ideas that affect the door-to-door life of the community.
Sometimes the talk in some of the council chambers I am at gets pretty hot, both in the council seats and in the audience.
Dialogue is the key. Even if it is goofy or downright wrong, it helps each side define positions and think through the issues.
Government bodies are just groups of people coming together for complex reasons. The inside game is always intriguing and it keeps me coming back.