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New charter could include ombudsman

"A new Kitsap County charter could provide for creation of an office of ombudsman if a straw vote of the Board of Freeholders stands up to public scrutiny.The ombudsman would have independent authority to investigate a wide range of complaints lodged by Kitsap residents against county government under the proposal adopted Tuesday, May 15. Most ombudsmen have subpoena powers and the authority to publish investigative reports.Ombudsmen typically look into everything from malfeasance to unreturned phone calls on the part of public officials and county employees.Leif Bentsen, a freeholder from Indianola, said the city of Portland, Ore., spends about $200,000 a year on its new three-person ombudsman's office.The freeholders voted 9-6 Tuesday, May 15, to OK an ombudsmen, but several who favored the office expressed reservations.I think this is a great concept ... the problem is, we need to grow into this, said freeholder Marcus Hoffman of Silverdale, who voted to create an ombudsman. When we get to a half-million population, this probably ought to be included.Bentsen said creating an ombudsman would address the primary complaint of many Kitsap residents: that county government is unresponsive.We're here because people are dissatisfied by government. If they were happy, we wouldn't be here, Bentsen said. The citizens need an independent, impartial voice to do some fact finding.Freeholders who spoke against creation of an ombudsman feared the office would grow too expensive. The joint King County and city of Seattle ombudsman has a budget of about $750,000, according to Bentsen.I think this adds another unnecessary level of government between the citizen and his or her elected official, said freeholder Gordon Walgren of Erland's Point. If I have a problem with the Assessor's Office, I want to go talk to the Assessor.Freeholders also voted not to include a provision on community councils in the proposed county charter.Three community councils currently exist in Kitsap, representing Central Kitsap, Kingston and Manchester. They serve as advisory panels to the county commissioners.Community councils already are operating in King and Pierce counties, but aren't specifically mentioned in those government's charters, according to freeholder Kay W. Wilson.Los Angeles, Seattle and Vancouver, Wash., are examples of cities which employ neighborhood councils.The freeholders voted 9-6 to not include a provision for community councils in the charter. Those voting against argued that current existence of community council is evidence they need not be mentioned in a new charter. Votes taken during last week's meeting are considered unofficial straw polls. Freeholders expect to address the issues again this fall, after more investigation by the board and a series of public hearings.The next freeholder meeting is scheduled for 8:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Saturday, June 9, at the Bainbridge Island Commons. Information about the freeholders and the charter process is available at www.wa.gov/kitsap. "

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