WARRENTON — The city of Warrenton does things a little differently.

Unlike Astoria, it’s run by a commission, not a council.

The mayor is selected by an annual vote of the commission from among its five members, instead of by a vote of the community.

But that may soon change.

The topic has come up again about whether the mayor’s seat – currently held by Dick Hellberg – should be an elected and possibly paid position, a would-be change to the city’s charter rules that lay out how the commission should be selected, led and operated.

“It would give the people of the city of Warrenton a voice in who their spokesperson for the city was,” Commissioner Mark Baldwin said. “It’s pretty simple.”

Three of the five commissioners voted Tuesday night to allow the community to decide in the November election whether that’s a voice they want to have.

If it is, and the measure passes to amend the city’s charter and allow for the mayor to be elected and/or paid, then November 2014 would be the first race for mayor in the city of Warrenton.

City Manager Kurt Fritsch needed direction from the commission Tuesday night. He posed four questions that would help city staff move forward. They are:

• What powers should the mayor have?

• How long should the mayor serve?

• Would a person have to be a member of the commission or could the candidate be a member of the public to run for the mayor’s seat? And if the mayor elected was a member of the public, would the city drop a commissioner or add another seat, creating an even number on the commission?

• When should the change take place?

“I don’t think this needs to be very complicated at all,” Commissioner Mark Kujala said. “The powers will remain the same, it would be a four-year term, it would remain to be a position on the commission and it should probably be 2014.”

Kujala, Baldwin and a reluctant Commissioner Frank Orrell voted to put the issue on the November ballot.

Commissioner Terry Ferguson said the current way is working and he would prefer to leave it as it is.

Mayor Dick Hellberg said he was torn, but would at least like to allow more time on it, bringing the issue of whether the community wants a vote in November 2014 and then hold a race for mayor in an election after that.

“I’m not necessarily opposed to having an elected mayor, but I’m not necessarily in favor of it either because I think our system works,” Hellberg said. “But I don’t think it’s something that we can do, put it on the ballot by November, and have a meaningful discussion with the community.”

He added that he would like to see the charter rules opened up for a full revision rather than just the mayor’s seat.

Commissioner Baldwin brought up the idea of having an elected and paid mayor after the last commission vote for mayor, during which Kujala was replaced by Hellberg.

“The last election I felt like I was between a rock and a hard place,” Baldwin said. “Quite frankly, if there could have been any way I could have crawled underneath a rock somewhere and disappear for that meeting, I would have done so.

“I’m not going to say that I created an enemy, but Mark and I don’t discuss things as we used to. I think Dick and I discuss more things now because of it, so it was a positive and a negative.

“A lot of people want to be more involved without sitting through a two-hour meeting, I guess.”

Community and audience member Dennis Faletti confirmed that to the commission when called upon for public comment.

“I think it’s a better way to do it,” he said. “I don’t think you’re going to be disagreeing with each other anymore. I think the public will feel more part of you guys and not have to come to the meetings all the time.

“I don’t think it will make any difference of you guys fighting or getting together, because you guys seem to know what’s right for the city and you do it, no matter what your view is. ... I think it should be put on a ballot and let people decide, ‘I want to elect my mayor,’ then you’re letting everybody have a voice. No matter what your opinion is, you’re letting me have my voice.”

Kujala said he would like to see the person elected replace whomever the current mayor is at that time.

There would be two more mayor votes by the commission before the ballot measure would go into effect, if passed by the voters.

The deadline for the city of Warrenton to get the issue on the ballot is Aug. 8.


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