City Governance: Passionate Discourse

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A panel discussion on the once-per-decade Tacoma charter revision will tap into rising passions on the issue.

The City of Tacoma is in the midst of a once-per-decade review of the city charter, the document which “lays out the rules for the operation of pretty much every aspect of the City in 21 pages” (quoting from an Exit133 article).

This decade, discussion is emerging around whether the City should move to a so-called “strong mayor” system of governance. The conversation has recently gotten somewhat heated, with participants arguing passionately for one form of governance or another.

Faculty at UW Tacoma have planned a public panel discussion on the charter revision process. The event, “Reforming Tacoma’s City Charter,” is scheduled for Thursday, April 24, 2014 at 6:30 p.m., in William W. Philip Hall on the UW Tacoma campus.

Panelists include:

  • Bill Baarsma, former mayor of Tacoma
  • Michael Sullivan, UW Tacoma history instructor
  • Lyle Quasim, co-chair, Tacoma Pierce County Black Collective
  • Lyz Kurnitz-Thurlow, Tacoma-Pierce County League of Women Voters 1st Vice-President
  • John Ladenburg, former Tacoma city council member and former Pierce County Executive

The event is sponsored by the Urban Studies Program at UW Tacoma, the Center for the Study of Community and Society, and the Center for Leadership and Social Responsibility.

Ali Modarres, Director of Urban Studies at UW Tacoma, makes the following comments on the value of universities like UW Tacoma holding public discussions of major civic activities:

City Charters are akin to the constitution of a city. They allow the governing bodies and citizens to come to an agreement regarding governance and procedures for the structure of decision-making and delivery of urban services. As such, they are important documents that allow all of us to define and refine how a city is run. Tacoma has the exciting opportunity to revisit and potentially revise its charter.

Urban-serving universities, such as UW Tacoma, see it as their responsibility to act as neutral spaces for community dialogues on important issues. Given that city charter revisions rarely attract a lot of attention from citizens, in March, we began a conversation regarding hosting a community event on our campus that would allow interested citizens to participate in a dialogue regarding the upcoming charter revision. We at UW Tacoma value the role that we can play in bringing a productive political discourse to campus and availing our students with an educational opportunity to learn about an important issue like charter reform. As such, we hope to have residents, students, and faculty members at this event, engaging in a fruitful conversation about what city charters are, why cities frequently revisit them, and what these revisions might mean to all of us.

For more information on the charter revision process:

Recent coverage in The News Tribune:

What: "Reforming Tacoma's City Charter: A Panel Discussion"
When: Thursday, April 24, 2015, 6:30 p.m.
Where: William W. Philip Hall, UW Tacoma campus, 1918 Pacific Ave., Tacoma, Wash.
Cost: FREE

April 17, 2014
Media contact: 

John Burkhardt, UW Tacoma Communications, 253-692-4536 or