--Editor's note: This is the second in a two-day series on two propositions facing Pasco voters Nov. 5. The first story on Proposition 1 was published Wednesday.
Almost 50 years ago, Pasco residents changed their form of government because they wanted to elect a city council and hire a professional city manager.
Pasco voters must now decide if they want to switch back.
If Pasco's Proposition 2 passes on Tuesday it would mean that an elected mayor would manage the city and an elected city council would set the policies. And the "strong mayor" could veto council decisions unless the council had enough votes for an override.
To pass, the proposition needs 50 percent plus one vote.
The ballot measure was organized by members of Citizens for Lifestyle Preservation, a group co-founded by Roger Lenk, a county "doughnut hole" resident who has long fought efforts by the city to annex the area surrounded by west Pasco.
When Pasco went ahead last year and annexed 608 acres of the doughnut hole, the citizen group gathered signatures to get all of Pasco to vote on changing the form of government for the community of about 66,000.
They also collected enough signatures to ask voters to overturn the annexation.
Lenk and other supporters contend that they want the person who is directly in charge of managing the city to be in an elected position, believing that would make him more directly accountable to the public.
Frank Votaw, a member of Citizens for Propositions 1 and 2, said the city is run by an "unelected, unaccountable city manager."
"I've been a resident for a lot of years," he said. "I am pleased with a lot of the growth. I am not pleased with a lot of the response we get when we try to discuss issues or bring them before council."
Pasco Mayor Matt Watkins, a leader of Preserve Pasco which opposes the propositions, contended the current form of government has been a success.
"By about every measure the city of Pasco has improved over the last several decades," said Watkins. "Most all that success is because we have run the city more like a business than like a government."
He said he'd be concerned that under the proposal, anyone with any kind of background would be running the city and end up having to hire additional staff, costing the city more money.
"Cost savings is a very questionable motivation to change," he said.
Opponents to Proposition 2 also contend the city manager can be fired at any time if a majority of the council doesn't feel the manager is being accountable or responsive.
The city manager is hired by the council under the current form of government. The city manager proposes a budget, recommends city ordinance changes and hires the department heads. However, the manager cannot vote.
The seven-member council chooses each year one council member to be the mayor and run the meetings.
Under the "strong mayor" form of government proposed in Proposition 2, the mayor is elected by voters but is not a voting member of the seven-member council except in cases of a tie.
The mayor, acting as the city's executive, proposes legislation, runs meetings and has veto power over council decisions, which could be overridden with a vote by five of seven council members.
The mayor could have a deputy -- either existing staff or hire someone new -- to oversee some duties.
But Lenk has argued that Pasco already has good department heads in place. They would report to the elected mayor and the city could save money by eliminating the city manager position altogether.
"I think with Pasco you're in a perfect situation with established managers, established department heads," Lenk said. "The chief executive (mayor) could come in and have the structure in place."
Critics of the proposition say they're concerned that the "strong mayor" form of government increases the likelihood of politics playing a greater role in city government.
"They want a system that's subject to special interest influence," said Crutchfield. "The mayor has to run for re-election, so the mayor is going to be more subject to special-interest influence. I'm not subject to that. I'm subject to the recommendation of the majority of city council as a whole."
Crutchfield also questioned the assertions that switching to a strong-mayor government would save money.
He noted that Franklin County has three full-time commissioners and a hired county administrator.
"I'm not suggesting that something is wrong, but why are they suggesting that the city is so costly when the county is more than double (the city cost) and you have a smaller business to run?" he said.
Eight of the 14 cities in Washington with 50,000 to 100,000 people use the council-manager system, including Kennewick, Richland, Yakima and Spokane Valley.
Municipal Research and Services Center of Washington reports that all the cities in that size range that use the mayor-council system are west of the Cascades.
Some smaller cities in Eastern Washington with the mayor-council form are West Richland, Wenatchee and Pullman.
Spokane switched to the strong mayor government in 2001.
The last mayor of Spokane under the council-manager system is now a Pasco resident who is among Crutchfield's harshest critics. John Talbott said he sees a similarity between the situations in the two cities because of "power politics."
Talbott ruffled feathers in Spokane by opposing the use of public money to help redevelop a mall in downtown Spokane.
"I was told I could not talk to any of the department heads unless the city manager was with me," Talbott said. "And so the fight began."
Talbott isn't convinced that changing Pasco's government would stop political problems.
"The concern is that the people who have the inside track now will have the money to buy any mayoral election in the city of Pasco," said Talbott.
Since 1970, eight Washington cities have switched to strong mayor-council government -- most recently Federal Way in 2009, according to the research center.
During the same period, 18 cities switched to council-manager governments.
If Proposition 2 is approved, the Pasco council would call a special election within 90 days to choose a mayor.
If more than two candidates apply to be mayor, a primary election would be needed, with the two top candidates facing off later next year.
-- Geoff Folsom: 509-582-1543; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @GeoffFolsom