Change of government initiative moves ahead

By Dennis Box-The Courier-Herald

Bonney Lake citizens will likely be deciding whether to change their form of government in the next few months, but there are numerous questions surrounding the issue.

A petition asking to change the city's form of government has been checked out by the Pierce County Auditor for the sufficient number of valid signatures and returned to city officials. The petition seeks a change to a charter-code city from the current form as a code city.

If the petition passes legal review by the city attorney, the issue will go before the voters as an initiative within 180 days, according to state law.

Councilman Dan Decker wrote the petition and collected the necessary signatures to get the measure on the ballot.

Decker said he believes changing to a charter-code city will give people, “more freedom and a less dictatorial form of government.”

The manner of increased freedom or access Decker is promising comes in the city charter written by 15 freeholders. According to Decker the charter “can be changed at any time.”

Decker said the petition and initiative process would be clearer and easier to access in the charter-code system.

The petition and initiative process is available to citizens now to change the city codes or laws, but Decker said, “It is vague and difficult to understand. It was done intentionally that way.”

Decker said certain council members did not want the petition process to be clearly stated.

“There are several council members that would like to see this constitution not written,” Decker said. “They think the people should have no voice.”

The next steps in the process for the city will be an election asking citizens to approve or reject changing the form of government.

According to state law, the election will have two steps. The first is to ask if the change should be adopted and the second is to elect 15 freeholders.

Decker was not aware the freeholders will be elected at the same time the citizens consider whether to change their form of government.

“Why waste peoples' money, time and expense if we don't have a constitution to write?” he said.

State law allows a city with a population of 10,000 or more to adopt a charter-code form of government.

The freeholders or a charter commission writes a charter and city laws are written within the confines of the charter. The city charter must conform to the federal and state constitutions and the county charter.

Currently, the only charter-code city in the state is Kelso. Cities the size of Seattle and Tacoma are charter cities with much broader governing powers.

Deputy Mayor Dan Swatman said, “I don't see it providing any value to a city the size. I've asked Councilman Decker repeatedly what is the advantage?”

Swatman added if there were issues that need to be changed, “why can't we do it now? Why hasn't he (Decker) brought these issues forward to the City Council?”

Decker said the charter gives the people of the city a constitution.

“Many things in a constitution could be controlled,” Decker said. “There are a lot of things not known yet.”

Councilman Mark Hamilton said much of the city's business might need to be altered until the issued is decided.

“All the discussions and what we are doing in the city will have to be set aside so we are not caught behind the eight ball,” Hamilton said.

Dennis Box can be reached at

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