'F' as in Frank

The Republic of Sunnyside

Here's a slogan for a tourist attraction to draw more visitors to Sunnyside: Come to Sunnyside, the Northwest's only banana republic.

In something of a Mad Magazine 12 Days of Anarchy, five city council meetings, three staff members and one council person have gone by the wayside in little over a week.

It all started with what smells like a pre-determined performance review of former City Manager Eric Swansen last Monday that led to his firing 24 hours later.

Counting our new interim city manager - who himself was nearly axed in the past year or so - that makes three city managers since Sept. 2007.

Actually, if you include Mark Kunkler's stint as interim city manager after Bob Stockwell left, that means Sunnyside has had four city managers in about 20 months.

Guess that means our current interim, Jim Bridges, better enjoy his all too brief honeymoon with council.

By comparison, the turnover at city hall makes junta-happy third world countries seem like bastions of stability.

I think what we have here is a council hemmed in by a city manager form of government that deep down inside would really like a strong mayor/council style of leading.

The solution, it seems to me, is for Sunnyside to finally come to grips that its elected leaders are not well suited to a city manager government.

Just because Sunnyside was the first in the state to adopt a city manager government doesn't mean it can't switch back to a strong mayor/council mode.

But wait, it's argued, citizen government needs expert leadership to provide guidance.

That's fine, hire on the expert leadership in the form of a city administrator.

Oh, wait, Sunnyside's already doing that.

For the second time in less than two years the city has hired a city administrator, Scott Staples, to help pick up the pieces from yet another city manager/council relationship gone wrong.

With apologies to Bad Company, good lovin' gone bad indeed.

By the way, I don't think it's an accident that it took until the 1940s for a city - us - to finally come around to the notion of vesting day-to-day decisions - hiring and firing - in the hands of an unelected official.

The alternative for those who swear by a city manager is to elect city council members willing to commit to the give-and-take required in a city manager/council relationship.

Doesn't sound like the majority we have now is willing to do that.

In my nine years in journalism I've seen city officials get fired, sad to say, but never have I seen such division among council and staff over the action. The other firings I have witnessed have basically been unanimous slam dunks.

Not so here.

So come to Sunnyside, see a banana republic right here in Washington state.

Just don't slip on a peel on your way out.


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