Washougal residents will decide later this year if they will once again be able to elect the city’s mayor. The option had been anticipated since voters restructured the government in 2018.
The Washougal City Council, in a 6-2 vote Monday, approved placing a proposition on the ballot for the Nov. 3 election. The proposition will ask voters whether, for the purposes of future elections, to designate city councilors elected to Position 1 as mayor.
If approved, it would take effect during a 2021 mayoral election for a four-year term.
In 2018, Washougal voters approved a change from a mayor-council form of government to a council-manager arrangement.
The change transformed the mayor’s position to legislative role, rather than an administrative one. State law requires that the council appoint a mayor every two years, but it also provides an elected option if the council puts a proposition before voters.
In a 2018 resolution, the council expressed an intention to designate council Position 1 as mayor after the restructuring proposition passed. After the proposition passed, the council appointed current Mayor Molly Coston, who was elected in 2017, to a term that expires next year.
Coston voted in favor of the resolution Monday. She said she hasn’t made any decisions about running for re-election.
Coston said in an email that she heard from many voters after the 2018 election who indicated that they only voted in favor of the proposition because of the intention to revert the mayor position back to an elected office.
“In addition, I believe that this is a more democratic and transparent way to operate our local government,” Coston wrote. “The voting citizens of the community elect their mayor. Period.”
Current Position 1 Councilor Brent Boger’s term expires next year as well. Boger voted in favor of the resolution.
“I move that we abolish my council position,” Boger said with a laugh at Monday’s meeting.
Boger said that appointing mayors exacerbates weaknesses in council-manager systems, most viscerally in interaction between the city and residents.
“City manager systems tend to be more bureaucratic and sometimes accountability is not clear to the public,” Boger wrote. “An elected mayor is a valuable conduit between the public and city government.”
Councilors Paul Greenlee and Michelle Wagner voted against the resolution. The councilors didn’t explain their reasoning Monday and did not respond to requests for comment.