Ill-fated charter try could have effect on Jefferson County government anyway

By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News

PORT TOWNSEND — Even though voters rejected a proposal to create a charter government in Jefferson County, the attempt to rewrite how government works could lead to changes in some processes.

“We understand that some citizens are looking for an avenue to present issues that need to be addressed,” County Administrator Philip Morley said Wednesday, the day after the general election.

“We are looking for ways where the public can get items they feel are important on the governance agenda where they can be addressed on their own merits by the commissioners,” he said.

A proposal to begin a home-rule charter process in Jefferson County was defeated Tuesday with an initial count of 7,434 votes, or 71.6 percent, opposed to beginning the process of writing a county charter. Votes in favor numbered only 2,942 votes, or 28.4 percent.

A second tally of ballots in the all-mail election at about noon Friday is not expected to change the outcome, according to Jefferson County Elections Supervisor Karen Cartmel.

The elections of three sets of five freeholder candidates — one for each county commissioner district — were voided by the defeat of county Proposition 1, which would have established the charter process.

The state permits a home-rule charter to be written as an alternative to the standard commission form of government set by the state constitution. Charters are in effect in six counties, including Clallam, which instituted it in 1979.

The Community Rights Coalition of Jefferson County, which submitted the petition in August to put the measure on the general election ballot, hoped the charter would add options of initiative and referendum to county government.

Morley said the spirit of this proposal can be incorporated into the current governmental structure.

“The advantage of the initiative process is that it allows citizens to place items on the agenda, but the disadvantage of initiatives is they are not subject to the same review and refinement process as other legislation,” Morley said.

One possibility is to institute a procedure where items can be placed on the agenda or a public hearing can be established if a certain number of signatures is collected, Morley said.

Some discussions already have occurred, he said, adding that new processes wouldn’t be put into place until after the 2014 budget is completed.

A temporary line item for $83,900 to support the charter process will be removed in the wake of the charter measure’s defeat, Morley said.

That money will be allocated to support various programs, he said.

“While the financial picture has improved, we will still need to make some cuts,” Morley said.

“We can put this money back into the budget and use it to preserve some programs that were threatened.”

County Assessor Jack Westerman, who was the second highest vote-getter for District 1 freeholder, said he was surprised by the charter measure’s wide margin of defeat.

“I didn’t think that it was going to go down by 72 percent, especially since Clallam County has been so successful with its charter,” Westerman said.

“I don’t know why people didn’t give this a shot,” he added. “They could have waited to see what the freeholders came up with and decided then.”

Had voters approved the measure starting the charter process, the 15 freeholders also elected would have written a charter by June 20, 2015, that would then have gone before voters for ratification or rejection.

Fifty-one people filed for freeholder positions, with two withdrawing later.

The three districts are District 1, corresponding to the Port Townsend city limit; District 2, which covers Cape George, Kala Point, Nordland, Chimacum, Port Hadlock, Irondale and Four Corners; and District 3, which covers southeast Jefferson County and extends west over the mountains to the Pacific coast and the communities of Kalaloch and Queets.

The leading five candidates in District 1 were Richard Wojt, former Jefferson County commissioner; Westerman; Douglas Milholland; former Port Townsend Deputy Mayor George Randels; and O’Neill Louchard.

Leading in District 2 were Jim Pearson, Dick Shipman, Mark Clark, David Cunningham and Chris Hanson.

Leading in District 3 were Diane Johnson and Jim Boyer, who were unsuccessful 2010 county commissioner candidates; Nicole Black, Brinnon Park and Recreation District commissioner; Bill Eldridge; and Ron Gregory, former county Republican chairman.

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Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or cbermant@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: November 06. 2013 6:22PM
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