The last votes are still being counted. However, the real voting hasn’t even started yet in Maple Valley.
Like Covington, Maple Valley gets its mayor by a majority vote of council members at the first meeting with the “new guys.” Forget the official vote; the whispering, deal-making, and posturing has already started. Will this be the year that the do-nothings finally lose to the change-everythings? We won’t know for a couple of months, but we can at least dream about who we’ll get.
Officially, a mayor is supposed to preside at City Council meetings, which doesn’t involve any more skill than banging a hammer on the table, reading from a script and calling on people with their hands raised. The other official job is to show up at city ceremonies with the giant scissors or golden shovel, read from a script and eat cake. Don’t get too excited; the job pays less than $700 a month (but the carrot cake at the lodge is pretty good).
Unofficially, a mayor sets the tone for how great the city will be, and holds a few more important titles that aren’t mentioned in the state law:
• Schmoozer in chief
There are dozens of other cities, counties and commissions clamoring for state and federal money to widen roads, fix landmarks, etc. The People With Grant Money have to listen to all of these requests and decide who is worthy. Who’s gonna get that money for us? Who will leave a great personal impression on these mysterious financial overlords? Sure, the city staff does the real heavy lifting in this area, but these people expect to see the mayor; not the intimidated first-term position-whatever council member.
In international diplomacy, it’s considered an insult to send the assistant undersecretary to meet with another country’s president, and we’re doing the equivalent in local government circles. We also need our schmoozer in chief to be likable, because people always want to help out people that they like.
• Face of the franchise
Just cutting ribbons and only showing up at mandatory events isn’t enough. The title of mayor includes the power to make a difference and to squander it with official proclamations in an empty city council meeting that doesn’t change anything or help anyone. We need our face of the franchise to represent us in regional decision-making bodies like the Puget Sound Regional Council and work on generating outside interest in our city.
In recent years, the City Council has largely been concerned with issues inside its borders, and it’s finally time to grow up and join the rest of King County. You can either play the game or get played, and by not sending out the face of the franchise to advocate our interests, Maple Valley is getting played.
• Dear leader
There’s a big difference between being a leader, and being a manager. When McDonald’s brings in a manager, he or she is given the rules, and is expected to maintain the status quo. Innovation is discouraged, and managers are not hired to create. No one gets excited about working with a manager.
Leaders are the complete opposite. Leaders inspire others to create, be innovative and think big. Leaders are proactive, look ahead to anticipate problems in the future and encourage others to find creative solutions. Managers are reactive, work within the rules until problems arise and then try to solve those problems within the framework of the rules. It’s far easier to be reactive, and when leaders lose their passion they often fall back into being managers.
I’ve been following the city council pretty closely for the last six months, and it’s obvious to me that our mayor is simply managing and not leading. Well, we already have a city manager, everyone seems to like him, and we’re paying him a lot of money to do a really great job. In our mayor’s defense, maybe she’s just recently lost her passion for the job. It’s not impossible for someone to rediscover a passion for leadership, but it’s very, very difficult if you’ve held the job for 12 years.
Maple Valley has a chance to be a truly remarkable city, and our next mayor can lead us there. Is our council bold enough to choose a leader? Let the real voting begin.