Some Twin Falls residents express interest in switching city’s governmental style

Twin Falls has a City Manager style of government. Some would like to a see strong mayor style, so those in charge are held accountable by the voters
Published: Oct. 27, 2021 at 5:35 PM MDT
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TWIN FALLS, Idaho (KMVT/KSVT) — Some Twin Falls residents and city council candidates are saying they would be in support of changing Twin Falls’ form of government, in order to keep those in charge held accountable by the voters. Some question if a switch would be in the city’s best interest, but others say it could help voter turnout for local elections.

The City of Twin Falls has a City Manager style of government. The City Manager oversees the day-to-day operations of the city and is hired by the City Council, who are all elected by the voters. However, the Mayor is not elected by the voters but by the City Council. Current Twin Falls Mayor Suzanne Hawkin’s compares it to a business model

“The City Council is your board that oversees a corporation, and your City Manager would be the CEO who runs the day-to-day operations. The Mayor is the chairman of the board,” Hawkins said.

CSI professor Perri Gardner said three cities in Idaho have a City Manager form of government, but it is the most common form of local government in the United States.

“Big cities usually have (strong) mayoral style. Small cities have that weaker mayoral style, but medium cities it is very common to have this City Manager style of government,” Gardner said.

However, at a recent city council candidate forum at Eastside Baptist Church, one of the questions posed to the candidates from the audience was their thoughts on Twin Falls switching to a Strong Mayor form of government. Some expressed that they would like to see the power of the City Manager absorbed into the Mayor position because they would like to see those in control held accountable by the voters. The City Manager is not an elected position and has no term limit.

Seat 5 candidate Mike Allred said, “with that role and that authority that we allow the City Manager to take, as much as we can put those decisions on elected officials, there is a direct accountability to the citizens. I would love to see that with a mayor.”

Liyah Babayan who is also running for Seat 5 added, “the citizens of Twin Falls if they would like to see a different form of government, and they petition or go towards that movement than the city council should respect that.”

However, Gardner and Hawkins counter by saying cities the size of Twin Falls don’t have the budget or resources to pay for a full-time City Council and Mayor. Also, there might not be enough qualified candidates interested in being a full-time Mayor and handling the day-to-day operations of the city. Bigger cities generally get a large pool of candidates for voters to choose from. A larger city can also offer a qualified candidate more exposure than a smaller city can. Someone who runs for Mayor might have higher political aspirations when his/her term is up. This is why a trained professional like a city manager is valuable to cities the size of Twin Falls.

“If you have someone who is making good fiscal decisions because they understand the whole picture you are really going to come out better in the end,” Hawkins said.

However, Gardner said one of the pros to Twin Falls switching to a strong mayor form of government is that it might create higher voter turnout for local elections. According to the Twin Falls County Clerk Kristina Glascock, the voter turnout for the City of Twin Falls is expected to be around 20%. In 2019, it was 24% and in 2017 it was about 14%.

“One of the things about these City Manager style of elections is that if you feel like you are not voting for the ‘big boss’ you might not turn out to vote,” Gardner said.

She also added the non-partisan elections generally have a low turnout compared to partisan elections. Voters generally vote along party lines, and like the drama of Republicans and Democrats battling it out.

“There is no doubt that in competitive party elections more people turn out to vote, than in not that competitive non-partisan elections. It’s just harder to vote,” said Gardner. “Unfortunately it’s harder to vote in non-partisan elections because people are not always sure on how to make their decisions.”

However, Gardner does not see Twin Falls making a change anytime soon, but maybe down the road as the city continues to grow.

“Bigger cities generally like that strong mayor form of government. Boise as a perfect example,” Gardner said.

But Mayor Hawkins wants to remind people that this upcoming election is an important one for the City of Twin Falls, and she hopes people come out and vote.

“Looking back through history I can not tell you the last time two sitting city council members decided not to run in the same year. Having two brand new council members is not something that happens very often,” Hawkins said.

The new council members will also have a say on who becomes the new mayor. Hawkins is not running for re-election this year.

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