The Wahkiakum County Eagle - Established as The Skamokawa Eagle in 1891

Hiring town manager is a bad idea


To The Eagle:

Doing more with less is a constant in local government. Only when that option is exhausted should doing more with more be considered. In Cathlamet’s case, the proposal to hire a town manager seems ill-conceived and potentially undemocratic. My concerns are as follows:

1) What evidence is there that our quasi-volunteer system is broken? Today, council members and the mayor receive nominal pay for significant work. But is the level of service now provided so deficient as to justify a salaried town manager?

2) Why not increase the mayor’s salary? That would encourage him or her to put in more effort, and attract others to run for mayor every four years. In my view, ending the pattern of uncontested elections in Cathlamet should be prioritized over adding an additional town employee to the payroll. Competition is good.

3) Once created, public jobs are hard to eliminate. With the town’s population now below 600, an additional part-time employee could impair the budget, push our water/sewer rates higher and threaten spending on much-loved town services including the library and the pool.

4) A town manager would end up reporting to the council and not the mayor. That, in practice, could mean five council members vying to run their own agendas and pushing pet projects. Councils dislike the strong mayor system that is standard in Washington State because it curbs their powers – by design. The alternative is a leaderless government and organizational chaos.

5) A town manager could become the de-facto chief executive. He or she would likely live outside the town limits and serve not the town’s people but any faction of council members with hire/fire power. Transparency would suffer. Back-room deals would become the norm. Voters would have no direct way to change the chief executive; instead they would need to elect a new majority on the town council, which could take two election cycles.

Local government needs to be small, focused and smart. The current structure is the best means for attaining these objectives.

George Wehrfritz

Former Cathlamet mayor


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