Charter Review Committee on track

City Council members were updated on the progress of the Charter Review Committee during Tuesday’s study session.

“The committee has been meeting weekly since Jan. 22,” said Laurie Jinkins, chair of the Charter Review Committee, which is charged with the task of inspecting and possibly overhauling the Tacoma City Charter.

Six regular sub-committees make up the Charter Review Committee, including human resources, ethics, expenditures, initiative/referenda, preamble and public utilities. In addition, there is an Agenda Sub-Committee that meets on an as-needed basis to address procedural concerns and miscellaneous items.

The Charter Review Committee has been busy.

There have been 27 sub-committee meetings in February and March, Jinkins reported, with 33 presentations made by 28 presenters. Some 40 e-mails and letters have been received from the public, with some of the ideas in that correspondence discussed in various sub-committee, she said. Members of the Charter Review Committee have met with representatives of six of the eight neighborhood councils, Jinkins said, and have communicated with the other two.

“Any form of government…has tendencies toward failure,” she said, noting that by recognizing such pitfalls, the committee hopes to address the City Charter proactively.

At the Charter Review Committee’s Feb. 26 meeting, the committee passed several recommendations, including the following that are related to city government’s current council-manager structure:

– term limits for the city manager;

– a review of the city manager’s performance by the City Council;

– reconfirmation of the appointment of the city manager at regular intervals, with a public vote;

– the right by the City Council to terminate the city manager at any time during the city manager’s term of office; and

– the right of the City Council to confirm or deny all department directors appointed by the city manager.

Items tabled at the meeting included the issue of full-time versus part-time council members, term limits for council members and authorization for the council to hire staff.

“I think some people might say you don’t have a manager-council form of government,” Jinkins said of some of the proposed changes.

Mayor Bill Baarsma agreed, saying he thought the recommendations amounted to a city council form of government where the city manager plays a secondary role.

“These changes are very dramatic,” he said.

Jinkins did not dispute that, saying the Charter Review Committee’s response was at least in part the result of many people being distrustful of city government, especially in light of the Brame scandal and the resulting fallout.

“It’s very clear people are struggling to find a middle ground,” she said.

Time for a Change, the sponsors of a petition to alter Tacoma’s form of government that turned out more than 12,000 signatures last year, filed a similar proposal earlier this year. A date error in last year’s petition prevented it from making the ballot.

Petition sponsors hope to gather enough signatures to put their strong mayor form of government plan on this November’s ballot, along with any recommendations made by the Charter Review Committee.

A public hearing on proposed amendments to the Tacoma City Charter is scheduled for April 29.

The Charter Review Committee’s recommendations are to be formally presented to the City Council on May 18.

The council would then submit the proposed changes to the Pierce County Auditor’s office for a special municipal election in November 2004.

City manager to establish corrective action plan for audit report
In other news, City Manager Jim Walton will create a plan for addressing and correcting the findings in the Washington State Auditor’s Office Accountability Audit Report for the 2002 calendar year.  Walton announced that the plan will outline corrective actions for each of the findings in the audit report that have not been addressed at this time. The plan will include a specific timeline for implementing remedies for the issues identified in the report.

The City Council will be kept informed of the progress on implementing corrections through its Government Performance Committee.

The audit report, issued Monday, included findings in the areas of travel reimbursement, use of procurement cards, control of budget expenditures, HUB Program eligibility, and internal controls within the Police Department.
State auditors questioned a variety of items, including travel trips, overtime and odd items like a $925 espresso machine purchased with taxpayer money. At a City Council meeting Tuesday, council members were disappointed to hear that the 2002 budget showed glitches in spending, including first-class trips to Australia and New Zealand and 1,200 weapons from the city’s firing range that are not being tracked.

The report showed the city overspent by about $400,000 that year and said much of the blame went to individual department managers responsible for oversight.

It should be noted that City staff began taking action to correct many of the conditions identified in the Audit Report’s findings even before the report was finalized. The city also appreciates the report’s attention to specific issues that were identified by city staff for review.

“Our first responsibility to the citizens of Tacoma is to ensure that city government is accountable and in full compliance with all applicable laws and policies,” Walton said.  “By this action, I aim to ensure citizens that the city will correct all of the shortcomings identified in our policies and internal controls.” 

Walton was also pleased that the audit report acknowledged that the City fully cooperated with the Auditor’s Office during the 2002 audit and has demonstrated its commitment to resolving the issues identified in the report.