Decker petition draws early fire

By Dennis Box-The Courier-Herald

Councilman Dan Decker has submitted another petition seeking to change Bonney Lake to a charter-code city and the issue has already drawn fireworks.

The petition asks citizens to decide if their city should switch from its current code-city form of government to a charter-code format.

Decker submitted a similar petition in November 2007 but withdrew it after consulting with City Attorney Jim Dionne. The petition stated the strong mayor-council form of government should remain the same. Dionne told Decker the provision was a fatal flaw in the document.

Decker said in the new petition he removed the mayor-council statement, but otherwise it is “the exact same as before.”

Cities with a population greater than 10,000 can become a charter-code city. Larger cities like Seattle and Tacoma are charter cities, which allows for broader governing powers.

Kelso is the only city in the state that has adopted a charter-code form of government.

The difference between a code city and a charter-code is how laws are written. In a code city the council passes codes or laws. The laws must follow the U.S. Constitution and the state Constitution.

In a charter-code city, a group of 15 freeholders writes a city constitution or charter. The constitution is presented to the citizens of the city and if passed, laws are written within the confines of the charter and the federal and state constitutions.

The process for adopting a change of government is first for a petition requesting the change to be signed by at least 381 citizens.

Decker said he collected 550 signatures from people in wards three, four and five.

The petition was submitted to the city March 17. The document was sent to the Pierce County Auditor to check for valid signatures.

Decker said he believes once the petition is cleared by the auditor, it will “go to a vote of the people.”

If approved, another election would be scheduled to choose the 15 freeholders who write the charter or constitution.

The charter must then be approved by a vote of the citizens.

If the charter were adopted, the current form of government would be ended. All elected officials would have to run for office under the charter-code.

Decker said although the adopting the charter-code form would end his job as councilman, “having a constitution is more important than being a legislator.”

Officials estimate each election could cost the city about $40,000.

Decker would not give an estimate of the cost to the city to adopt a charter-code form of government.

“I don't see it in dollars and pennies,” Decker said. “I see it in freedom to communicate. Any individual who puts a dollar sign on freedom is a communist and fascist and needs to leave the country.”

Deputy Mayor Dan Swatman said he saw no advantage in switching to a charter-code form.

“There is a huge disadvantage,” Swatman said. “Fifteen people will get together and have an open checkbook. They will study the issue and probably hire a consultant. And all the special elections the city has to pay for. That's money down the drain.... I'd rather be building sidewalks.”

Decker said a charter-code form will “open doors that would never be opened.”

Swatman said he thought it was “the oddest thing in the world for a city councilman not to run this through the council first. The council can put any item on the ballot they want. He didn't even bring it up for debate. He also misrepresented the facts (when collecting signatures) saying people have more powers under a charter-code form of government.”

Dennis Box can be reached at

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