County can’t move top officials, judge rules

Pierce County Superior Court Judge Bruce Cohoe ruled Friday, Feb. 15, that Kitsap County can’t transfer department heads or their core functions from the courthouse in Port Orchard to a proposed Bremerton government center.

Such a move would require the consent of Port Orchard or a public vote, Cohoe ruled.

“I’m not surprised by the ruling,” County Commissioner Jan Angel said. “I feel terrible that we’ve spent as much time and resources as we have on this. Now we just need to solve the courthouse’s space problems and do what we can to revitalize Bremerton.”

To do that, the commissioners need to work with Port Orchard officials. Cohoe’s order sets the stage for those negotiations.

Commissioner Chris Endresen said there’s an immediate need for more work space for courthouse employees.

“We would like to work with Port Orchard in a collaborative manner and not a litigious one,” Endresen said.

Cohoe’s ruling doesn’t prevent the county from expending resources on Bremerton revitalization efforts.

“I’m glad we have clarification on the issue,” Angel said. “Our number one priority now will be to get new facilities for our employees and to continue focusing on Bremerton revitalization.”

County officials said they won’t know more about future plans until they examine the details of the order and look at other options for county expansion.

The government center plan involved shifting 244 county jobs from Port Orchard to downtown Bremerton. Departments slated for some type of move included the offices of administrator, assessor, auditor, county commissioners, community development, personnel and human services and treasurer.

Bremerton city officials have planned to relocate their City Hall to the government center, which would be developed and operated by the Kitsap County Consolidated Housing Authority (KCCHA). State, federal and Port of Bremerton officials also have discussed a presence at the center.

The housing authority and Bremerton still plan to move forward with the building. The county has committed up to $320,000 for planning, studies and preliminary design work.

Botkin and Endresen supported construction as a new way to boost and revitalize Bremerton and solve the county’s need for additional space. Angel, who represents Port Orchard, opposed transferring so many jobs to Bremerton.

The county and city appeared before Cohoe as part of a “friendly” lawsuit, in which the judge was to determine whether the county’s plan constituted a move of the county seat. He ruled it did.

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