Campaign ideas worth pursuing: Charter government | Editorial

Political campaigns often result in good ideas. Congratulations to the candidates who have contributed to the dialogue this season. Win or lose, they’ve contributed ideas that can lead to better government, more efficient use of our tax dollars, and an improved quality of life. These ideas should be pursued.

This is the first in a series of editorials exploring ideas from the campaign trail.


Kitsap County operates under a uniform system of county government established by the state Legislature. However, the state Constitution gives voters the right to adopt a county charter. Six of 39 counties have charters: Clallam, King, Pierce, San Juan, Snohomish, Whatcom.

Under a county charter, voters can establish local rules for how their county government operates. They could make elected positions non-partisan (with the exception of prosecuting attorney), consolidate departments, establish a citizens salary commission to periodically regularly review and adjust salaries of elected officials, and give voters the right to propose initiatives and referendums (a San Juan County referendum challenged the county council’s ban on safe and sane fireworks; voters upheld the ban). Charters usually establish that a charter review commission will periodically review and recommend charter amendments for voter approval (Pierce County voters have amended their charter six times).

Clallam County’s charter made its director of community development an elected position and set benchmarks and reporting requirements for the office holder.

Pierce County’s charter combined the office of assessor and treasurer and established term limits for all elected positions. It also has a section requiring the county avoid duplication and waste in equipment, services and facilities: “It shall be mandatory that all County policy makers avoid waste and duplication in equipment, services and facilities of a nature common to Pierce County and adjacent municipal corporations in such matters as public works, social services, utilities, police and fire protection through common usage wherever possible.”

San Juan County’s charter created a separate executive and legislative authority by changing its partisan, full-time, three-member county commission to a non-partisan, part-time, six-member county council with an appointed county administrator.

Snohomish County’s charter established rules and timelines for budget presentation, review, adoption and revision.

According to the state Constitution, county commissioners can initiate the charter adoption process by calling for an election of 15 to 25 freeholders, the number to be determined by the commissioners. The freeholders must have been residents of the county for at least five years and must be qualified electors of the county.

These electors must meet within 30 days of their election to begin preparing a charter for the county. The charter must then be submitted to the voters at a special or regular election. If a majority of the voters approve, the charter is adopted and becomes the form of government for the county.

The candidates for County Commission, District 1, talked about the need for reforms in order to make government more efficient, but many of those reforms must be made through the charter process. It’s time for Kitsap County to consider a charter form of government.

To read the Clallam, King, Pierce, San Juan, Snohomish, Whatcom county charters, visit www.mrsc.org/subjects/governance/locgov12.aspx.


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