Freeholders vote to keep council partisan
June 11, 2008 · Updated 11:28 AM
"The Kitsap County Board of Freeholders chose the middle ground in determining whether government offices ought to be partisan under a new county charter.After debating the issue for nearly two hours, the freeholders chose to keep elected officials in policy-making positions - i.e., county council members and a possible county executive - partisan. Office holders in jobs which don't set policy - such as sheriff, clerk, auditor, assessor and treasurer - would be non-partisan under a proposal adopted by a 12-6 vote Tuesday, April 24. Prosecuting attorney, by state law, must remain partisan.The straw vote decisions are preliminary and can be revisited by the freeholders later this year, according to Chair Linda Webb. The freeholders also voted to make the county coroner an appointed position. Other county jobs that currently are elected would remain so under the plan adopted during the four-hour meeting at the Bremerton School District administration building.Most of the debate Tuesday was over whether candidates should be required to declare political affiliations.Representatives from both major parties argued for retaining partisan affiliations during presentations at the meeting. County Democratic Chair John Morgan said eliminating partisan labels would only serve to frustrate the voters.I think the term non-partisan election is an oxymoron. There is no such thing, Morgan said. There are Democrats, Republicans and independents, and we all know who they are.Morgan, a Silverdale attorney, said party identifications give voters an idea of where candidates stand on key issues.GOP state committeeman Ed Mitchell said eliminating partisan labels could decrease voter participation.How many people don't vote for judges because they don't know where the candidate stands on the issues? the Port Orchard resident and former 35th District legislative candidate asked.Mitchell also said parties play key roles in the political process, from monitoring elections to identifying and recruiting candidates.In a non-partisan race, we're not going to be able to get the word out there, Mitchell added. The voters are not going to be as well-informed.Freeholder Matt Ryan of Brownsville has conducted extensive informal polling on a number of charter issues. He said support for non-partisan offices has been overwhelming.Freeholder Leif Bentsen pointed out that elections in most cities are conducted on a non-partisan basis.I really don't think it's that important to have local offices be partisan, said Bentsen, an Indianola resident. If you ask me on a state or federal level, I'd reverse my position.Marcus Hoffman, a freeholder from Silverdale, warned against confusing non-partisan with non-political.We're going to hear back from the public that they want non-partisan elections, he predicted. I think they believe that making positions non-partisan is going to take the politics out of county government. Let me tell you something folks, it won't happen.Several freeholders expressed concern that removing partisan labels from county elected positions would turn the party apparatuses against the charter, thereby dooming it to failure.The freeholders eventually settled on a compromise. Offices which set policy, such as council members and a possible elected county executive would be partisan. Those offices which involve administering policy wouldn't be partisan.The freeholders voted 12-6 to make the county council partisan. The vote to make other offices non-partisan was 13-5. "