Seattle voters reject city manager system of government on March 10, 1925.

  • By David Wilma
  • Posted 5/11/2002
  • Essay 3766

On March 10, 1925, Seattle voters reject an amendment to the city charter that would place a city manager in charge of the police and fire departments, City Light, and the Municipal Railway. The Seattle Times opposes the measure in a strenuous campaign.

The use of appointed city managers to run the increasingly complex aspects of municipal government received widespread attention among reformers in the early twentieth century. City councils in small- and medium-sized cities appointed experts to manage public safety, utilities, and other municipal operations. Seattle operated under a weak mayor -- strong council system in which efficiency often succumbed to politics. The Municipal League was a long-time supporter of a manager system.

After newspapers exposed connections between Mayor Edwin J. "Doc" Brown and the power conglomerate, Stone and Webster, the Municipal League was able to place its proposal for a city manager system on the ballot. Leaders of the Chamber of Commerce, the Waterfront Employers' Association, and the Rev. Mark A. Matthews (1867-1940) supported the measure.

The Seattle Times launched a campaign against the amendment with headlines such as, "City Manager Only Rubber Stamp for Same Old Council" (Berner, 80). Popular City Light Superintendent James D. "JD" Ross (1872-1939) saw private power interests behind the plan. Ross mobilized neighborhood groups and City Light employees against the plan.

The measure was defeated, 26,942 to 22,470.



Richard C. Berner, Seattle, 1921-1940: From Boom To Bust (Seattle: Charles Press, 1991), 77-80.

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