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Freeholders could put elections, partisan issues to voters

A previously unnoticed clause in the state constitution could allow Kitsap voters to decide what the county Board of Freeholders can’t.

If the freeholders are unable to find consensus on two key issues, they could submit a charter with alternate provisions to Kitsap voters.

Under an option outlined by freeholders Chair Linda Webb Tuesday, Sept. 25, voters could be asked both to approve the charter, and to decide parts of what’s in it. The option likely would be exercised on one or two thorny issues: whether elected officials should be partisan or non-partisan, and whether council members should be elected in district-only or countywide elections.

It would be an unusual move, but not unprecedented — even in Kitsap County.

A previous local home rule effort also put the partisan issue before voters, according to freeholder Jim Martin of Port Orchard. The charter failed at the polls, and Kitsap retained its current form of government.

Details of how such an election would be conducted are unclear. But according to Martin, voters in June 1971 were asked two questions in a special home rule election.

The first was: “Shall the proposed Home Rule Charter of Kitsap county providing for the separation of legislative and administrative powers and for improved administration be adopted?”

The second question was: “Shall the elective county officials be partisan or nonpartisan?”

The proposal drew mixed reviews from freeholders at the Sept. 25 meeting.

“It strikes me as perhaps a solution to a real dilemma that a lot of us have been dealing with,” said freeholder Jim Avery of Port Orchard.

“I think it abdicates our responsibility as freeholders,” said Gordon Walgren of Bremerton. “This is a decision we should make, right or wrong.”

The freeholders declined to take any action on the option at Tuesday’s meeting. They plan to discuss it further at their next meeting, scheduled for 6:30-10 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 2, in the Bremerton High School library.

Freeholder Karl Duff of Port Orchard expressed support for putting the issue before voters, but proposed another option.

Duff would add two new sections to the charter, which would require a special referendum to the public at the first general election after passage of the charter. The referendum would ask voters to decide how council members should be elected.

Currently, county commissioners are nominated in district-only primary balloting, and elected in a countywide general election. The current draft of the charter would make all county council elections district-only — a change which drew both favorable and unfavorable reactions in recent public hearings.

Freeholders will review the elections method at their Oct. 2 meeting. Also to be discussed as the board reviews its draft charter are the number of members of the council; whether elected officials should be partisan or nonpartisan; whether the county should have an elected executive or an appointed administrator; and several other issues.

Only a handful of meetings left for Board of Freeholders

After 10 months of meetings, the Kitsap County Board of Freeholders is nearing the end of its work.

The freeholders Tuesday finalized their meeting schedule for the remainder of the year. The board still must review its draft charter, and possibly make changes to the document, before sending it to the County Commissioners.

The freeholders’ meeting schedule is:

• 6:30-10 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 2, at the Bremerton High School library: The freeholders will discuss possible revisions to the draft charter, and make any changes deemed necessary. If freeholders are unable to complete this work at the Oct. 2 meeting, they will gather again Oct. 11 at the Island Lake Community Center.

• 8:30 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 13, at the Givens Community Center in Port Orchard: The board will take an article-by-article vote on the revised charter.

• Oct. 23, time and location to be announced: The freeholders will make their first vote on the entire charter.

• 8:30 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 3, at the Givens Community Center: The board will make its final vote on the charter.

• 10 a.m. Monday, Nov. 26, at the County Courthouse in Port Orchard: The final charter will be presented to the County Commissioners, who will be responsible for setting a date for the election on the document. The freeholders have requested a February special election on the charter.

Committee to study costs

The Kitsap County Board of Freeholders heard several questions about how much charter government will cost during a series of public hearings conducted earlier in September. Two freeholders who also serve as county elected officials plan to find answers to those questions.

Freeholders Sharon Shrader and Jim Avery will lead a committee to determine how much charter government would cost taxpayers. Among the changes which could impact the county’s bottom line are expansion to a five-member county council, and creation of an elected county executive.

Shrader, a Democrat, and Avery, a Republican, should be uniquely qualified to lead the effort — in addition to being freeholders, Shrader is the county treasurer and Avery the county assessor.

Their job will be “to answer questions of citizens, can you give us a ballpark figure, your best guess” of how much charter government will cost, freeholders Chair Linda Webb said.

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