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Series: Ideas from the campaign trail | In Our Opinion
Good ideas often emerge from political campaigns. Congratulations to the candidates who 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.
This is the first in a series of editorials exploring ideas from the campaign trail that should be pursued.
This issue was raised in the 2011 County Commission election. We endorsed the issue then and it deserves repeating: By establishing a charter for county government, rather than operating on rules established by the state, Kitsap County residents could create a system of government that is non-partisan, more efficient and subject to more review.
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 could 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. 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.
In this election, San Juan County voters revised their charter, reducing their county council from six part-time members to three full-time members with executive authority, changed the county administrator position to county manager with daily management responsibilities, and required that all council meetings, including subcommittees, be open to the public.
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, have 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 county charters that have been adopted in Washington state, visit www.mrsc.org/subjects/governance/locgov12.aspx.