Home rule vets keeping eye on Kitsap

"As Kitsap County debates a home rule charter, other Washington counties with revamped governments are watching to see if it will have as exciting and divisive a ride as they had.County officials and former freeholders from two counties with home rule, Whatcom and Clallam, have mixed opinions about the issue.Kitsap voters this fall will decide whether to elect a board of freeholders to write a home rule charter. The freeholders would have the authority to re-organize county government - essentially write a new county constitution, called a charter. Voters would then have the authority to either ratify or kill the new charter. Five counties (King, Pierce, Snohomish, Whatcom and Clallam) operate with home rule governments.Two re-organizations have been proposed in Kitsap. One would impact only county government, while the other could simultaneously overhaul county, city and most junior taxing districts.Bob Muenscher of Lynden was a member of the board of freeholders that wrote a new Whatcom charter in 1977. The board met every Tuesday for a year, conducting long meetings involving every opinion the community could throw at the freeholders. Whatcom County eventually adopted a charter creating a county executive position. That separated the legislative and executive powers of county government, both of which reside locally in the hands of the Kitsap County Commissioners.Muenscher said Whatcom's charter broke up exclusive county commissioner power. Any time two of the three would get their heads together, they could do what they wanted to do, Muenscher said.Muenscher said the new government is more efficient, since the executive handles day-to-day operations.I'm sure there are some problems with (home rule), Muenscher said. But it's so superior to what we had before. Some home rule charters have been less radical. When Clallam County adopted its charter in 1976, little changed. Clallam County Commissioner Mike Douherty of Port Angeles, a former Board of Freeholders chairman, said Clallam simply wanted to modernize its existing government. A couple elected positions became non-partisan and personnel offices were consolidated, but Clallam retained its three-person board of county commissioners.The math is simple (for a vote), you add one and one and get two, Douherty said. Kitsap will spend the fall debating what sort of home rule to pursue, as both Section 4 and Section 16 reorganizations have been proposed. But some, like Linda Zander of Everson, warn that any kind of home rule would be a big mistake. Zander, a former Whatcom freeholder, said Kitsap County is digging itself a grave it will not be able to get out of.It's the absolute worst thing they (Kitsap County) can do, Zander said. Regardless of what type of government you have within home rule, it will be bad.Zander claimed home rule has bogged down and corrupted county government, and that Whatcom's old three-commissioner board was more efficient and less expensive. The 1978 charter created a seven-commissioner board, which Zander said enacts too many regulations. She even wrote a paper about it for Western Washington University and has offered to talk anyone she can out of voting for home rule.Once you get it in, you can't get rid of it, Zander said.Former Kitsap County Commissioner Billie Eder was a freeholder during a previous unsuccessful charter attempt in 1971. She said a lack of awareness doomed that effort. The attitude was 'If it's not broke, don't fix it', Eder said. It (Kitsap) has grown since then, and the people who have come here have come from home rule counties. Eder remains in favor of home rule and has endorsed the Section 4 effort led by the Home Rule Committee. She said everyone involved have open minds, regardless of what they already think about it.People who go in should not have any preconceived ideas. They should find out all the options and present them to the public, Eder said. It's a big learning process."

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