The conversation to change how Woodland government operates is back before council following a workshop session that considered putting the decision back on the ballot after voters rejected the move years earlier.
During its June 7 meeting, Woodland City Council discussed the potential to let residents vote on changing the city government structure from a mayor-council form to a council-manager system. The forms differ on where executive authority lies in government. Under the current system in the city, the elected mayor has that authority, while under the other system a city manager appointed by council has it.
Woodland voters shot down a 2009 vote to go to a council-manager form with 72 percent in opposition. Following the election of current Mayor Will Finn, the city ended up hiring city administrator Pete Boyce in 2016, who handles the day-to-day operations of the city much like a city manager would.
Finn brought forth the decision to reconsider changing the city’s government because he felt it was a good time to bring the idea back up for discussion, pointing to the city’s track record with Boyce who is now five years into his position.
Finn said when he ran for mayor in 2015 — the first of two elections to the position in which he ran unopposed — he “made it perfectly clear that no one should be able to walk off the street without any knowledge or experience on how to run a city of our size without professional management.”
He said having that management in Boyce led the city to raise its overall level of professionalism.
Councilor DeeAnna Holland said opposition to establish a city administrator happened because it appeared the city went behind the backs of voters to install essentially the same position.
“It goes back to (the fact) we already said ‘no’ … you just called it something else and you’re doing it anyway,” Holland said, adding she was supportive of Boyce’s role. “(With) the shenanigans that go on in this town on a daily basis, Mr. Boyce has the patience of a kindergarten teacher.”
Councilor David Plaza said he heard complaints when Boyce was hired, though he wasn’t on council yet. He spoke critically of the mayors that served Woodland prior to Finn.
“We had a mayor, our last mayor, that was a narcissistic, corrupt piece of crap, and then we had the other mayors ahead of that who just wanted to wave at people in the parade,” Plaza said. “It became the ‘good old boys network,’ which is something that I constantly hear people complaining about and that we needed to get away from. Just because you’re from the city doesn’t mean you’re going to do a good job running the city.
“I think it can be a very good thing for the city, and I think it could move the city in the direction it needs to go to,” Plaza said.
Councilor Benjamin Fredricks was more positive about past mayors, who he felt came into their positions “with the best interest of trying to make the city a better place.” He said he was responsible for bringing the 2009 resolution before voters, adding it was in Woodland’s long-term interest to change the form of government.
Fredricks didn’t bring the idea back to council once he saw a lack of support from the executive branch. Finn noted the decision would essentially strip him of executive powers, but noted it was something he was ultimately fine with.
“I enjoy doing this. I enjoy being here. I enjoy helping make decisions and making our community wonderful, but at some point I need to be the bigger person” and take a bigger-picture view of city government, Finn said.
Fredricks pointed to Finn’s lack of challengers as evidence that other people aren’t willing to step up to the position.
He said one reason to change the form of government when the city already has someone ostensibly doing a city manager’s duties is because there have been municipalities across the state where a new mayor came in and fired the city administrator.
“The aftermath of that is not a pretty sight and it’s very expensive,” Fredricks said.
Concerns over the financial impacts a city manager would have on the city are “already baked into the (city’s current) expense,” Fredricks noted.
Boyce has an annual gross salary of roughly $133,000, according to a list of city employee salaries provided to council during consideration of this year’s budget.
When asked, Boyce said he would be happy to take a change in job title should the council decide to make him the city manager. Fredricks said maintaining the city’s professionalism through an executive hired directly through council would limit potentially unwanted changes in city staff.
“If you want to keep this crew that we have … this is the next logical step,” Fredricks said.