Freeholders get an earful during Bainbridge hearing
June 11, 2008 · Updated 11:18 AM
Judging by public comments at a Aug. 28 Kitsap County Board of Freeholders meeting at Bainbridge Island City Hall, the draft county charter proposed by the 21-member elected body has boiled down to one issue.The principal topic of discussion at the meeting was whether to elect the county council by district (as a majority of the freeholders propose) or county-wide (as is currently done).Don't fragment the county with district elections, said Bainbridge City Council President Lois Curtis. Make candidates learn about issues around the county.John Norris of Silverdale saw it differently.The majority wants district voting, he said. We're one county, but we're also one nation. I'd like to vote for senator from Massachusetts, but I can't.The freeholders are charged with coming up with a charter - basically, a constitution - for Kitsap County. Absent a charter, Kitsap is governed by provisions of state law.The freeholders have finished a first draft of a charter, which they presented at the Bainbridge meeting. After the public-input process is complete, a final draft of the charter will be prepared and submitted to the county commissioners, who will then schedule an election.The freeholders agreed Aug. 28 to seek an election in the spring of 2002.In order to become effective, the charter needs a simple majority of votes.The charter calls for an elected county executive and five county council members, up from the present three county commissioners. The proposal retains the present system for nominating council candidates.Council candidates must file in the district where they reside. If a primary election is required, voting is limited to district residents.The contentious provision involves the general election. Currently, all county voters cast ballots for all commission candidates. But under the proposed charter, voting in the general election would be by district.Both sides asserted that the charter would pass only if their preferred version of the election provision were included.Change is difficult, Bainbridge City Councilman Norm Wooldridge said. If the charter passes with a 2 percent majority, you can consider it a landslide. Bainbridge voters do turn out, and if the district-election provision is in, I don't think the charter will pass in a close vote.To demonstrate the unanimity of opposition to district elections on Bainbridge, Vince Mattson asked for a show of hands from the roughly 30 people present. Virtually all indicated they favored countywide elections. But district-election advocates were equally convinced that the charter would fail without that provision. One Poulsbo resident submitted what she said was a petition containing 170 signatures in favor of district elections.The Bainbridge meeting didn't appear to change the minds of the freeholders, 13 of whom favor elections by district and six of whom - including the two from Bainbridge - favor countywide voting.My district believes very strongly that we need elections by district, said Jim Martin of Port Orchard. A lot of rural areas support that, and so does Bainbridge Island.Martin referred repeatedly to opinion data collected by the freeholders via questionnaires distributed at various public meetings, community festivals and other gatherings.We've been collecting data for months, Martin said. Do I disregard the input from everybody?But Bainbridge freeholder Andy Maron is not persuaded by the polling.The questionnaire said 'Are you in favor of district elections,' Maron said. Most people say yes. But we have district elections now. There was no explanation of the alternatives.Maron and the other Bainbridge freeholder, George McKinney, have proposed a compromise. Under the compromise plan, three council members would be elected by district, and two elected at large.That compromise, Martin said, was unattractive to him because it would generate too much campaigning.Think how many signs there would be in the county, he said.The debate has undertones of political partisanship. The only people who seem to be worried about district elections are the Democrats, said Martin, a self-described lifelong Republican.Maron said the charter still could be changed before being sent to the voters. Two other meetings to gather public comment are planned for September, including 9:30 a.m.-noon Saturday, Sept, 8, at the Silverdale Community Center.It's just the beginning of the public comment process, he said.