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Council elections dominate freeholders hearing

"Many of those who testified Saturday, Sept. 8 on a plan to restructure county government spent their time arguing about Kitsap's two largest cities.Those who supported a plan to elect county council members by district only slammed Bainbridge Island and its Democratic voting tendancies.Those calling for countywide election of council members held up Bremerton - which elects is city council members in district-only polling - as an example of how not to run a government.About 50 people gave testimony to the Kitsap County Board of Freeholders in a countywide public hearing at the Silverdale Community Center. More hearings are scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, at three locations.Almost everyone who spoke either supported or criticized the freeholders' plan to revamp county elections.Kitsap currently is governed by three county commissioners, who are nominated in district-only primary balloting but chosen by all county voters in the general election. The freeholders would institute a five-person county council, which would be elected in district-only polling in both the primary and general.The fear that Democratic power will decline is the sole reason given against election by district, said Joan Gorner of Poulsbo. And where is this opposition coming from, pray tell? Why, Bainbridge Island.Betty Peterson of Bremerton decried her city's divisive decision-making process, caused by a feudalistic system of electing city council members by district. She asked the freeholders not to replicate that system on the county level.Jim Sharpe of Silverdale drew a laugh when he told the freeholders, I think that if you told citizens you searched for nine months and the best model of government you could find was Bremerton's, they would either laugh or think it's sad.An unofficial count of those who testified found 27 in favor of election by district, with 11 speaking for retaining the current election system.Those in favor of district-only elections said it would provide better representation for Kitsap residents, be less expensive for candidates, and pointed out that state and federal legislators are chosen in district-only elections.Those opposed argued district-only elections would mean worse representation, increased partisanship, and criticized informal polling that found support for the plan.Richard Brown said liberals in west Bremerton and Bainbridge Island wield too much power in Kitsap County.In order to get elected and do something for Olalla, someone from South Kitsap has to go to Bainbridge to see what they think about things, Brown said.Scott Henden of Poulsbo, who unsuccessfully ran for county commissioner in 2000 against Democrat Chris Endresen, said the new system would make local politics more economically accessible. He said a countywide campaign costs a minimum of $50,000, which really is not enough.'District-only elections would be less expensive, Henden said, since candidates would have to reach only voters in their districts.Others said that means candidates would only respond to voters in their districts. Kitsap County, all of it from north to south, east to west, is our district, said Sari Perlow of Silverdale. We're responsible for all of it, and all the county council members should be responsible for it.Russ Hartman of Bremerton argued that district-only elections would interfere with county government's most important responsibility, regional planning.If we're going to do a really good job with regional planning and decision makers, the people who are policy makers - the county council members - need to be elected by all the voters, Hartman said.Responding to some who had called the district-only elections plan a poison pill, Dorothy Guice of Breidablik said the provision is instead a vitamin pill.With this system, the voters from each district will elect the best-qualified candidate, one who is familiar with the issues in each district, Guice said.Janet Roberts of East Bremerton called for a compromise on the controversial issue.Let's keep the same three districts we have and let those three districts have a partisan election to choose their representatives, she said. Then let two positions be elected at large. "

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