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Commissioners favor at-large council elections

The Kitsap County Commissioners were unanimous about one plank of the draft charter released last week by the Board of Freeholders.All three think they should be elected by all of the county's voters, instead of just those from their districts.The proposed charter would replace the current three-person Board of Commissioners with a five-member County Council, and revamp how members are elected.Under the current system, commissioner candidates are nominated in district-only primary elections. The winner is chosen in a countywide general election.The draft charter prepared by the 21-member Board of Freeholders would have council members chosen exclusively by the voters of their respective districts in both the primary and general elections.I thought a lot about this and decided that for all of Kitsap County to benefit, the positions must be elected at-large. It should stay the same, said Kitsap County Commissioner Jan Angel, a Republican who represents South Kitsap. It's a hard way to go, but I think it's the right thing to do. If the county council represents just one district, then there will be range wars going on, and the council won't be making the best decisions for the county.County commissioners Tim Botkin and Chris Endresen echoed Angel's concerns.I'm disappointed the freeholders went that way, since it would represent a bit of a harsh change, said Botkin, a Democrat who represents Central Kitsap. There are times when representatives keep their district's specific issues in mind but, more often, commissioners are asked to represent the county as a whole.I think it's a mistake, agreed Endresen, also a Democrat. The charter should be about making Kitsap County government better. Council members should be held accountable to everyone in the county. In my eight years on the Poulsbo City Council, representatives were elected at large.Endresen said district-only elections ulitmately would short-change citizens and voters.If you want anything done in your district, you'll have to get at least two other representatives, probably three, who aren't beholden to you at all to vote for what you want or what you oppose, she said.At present, the current system could come under fire as early as next year. The freeholders - 13 of whom are in favor of district-only elections - are scheduled to vote on a finalized version of the document next month. In November, the charter will be sent to the county commissioners, who plan to send the charter to voters in February or March of 2002.The current system we use works pretty well, said Botkin. Nominations are made at the district level and then the general election is at-large. It makes a lot of sense.Botkin described the proposed new charter as mostly well-thought-out and professional, but said he worries that by-district elections could divide the county.He said commissioners make transportation or development planning decisions to benefit the county as a whole, rather than specific districts. It follows, he said, that commissioners should be held accountable by the entire county.Botkin was encouraged by the freeholders' proposal for a five-person council, since the county has grown rapidly in recent years.Angel agreed, saying the business of the county is a lot of work for only three people.Angel also said she would prefer the county council seats become non-partisan, a proposal the freeholders rejected. Her argument is that regional issues aren't tied to political parties. I think the people would vote for the best candidate, she said.In their deliberations, the freeholders feared the two parties would actively campaign against the charter if it made council positions non-partisan.A public hearing on the charter is scheduled for 9:30 a.m.-noon today, Sept. 8, at the Silverdale Community Center.

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