Charter may include choices

A previously unnoticed clause in the state constitution could allow Kitsap voters to decide what county freeholders can’t.

If freeholders are unable to find consensus on key issues, they could submit a charter with alternate provisions to Kitsap voters.

Under an option outlined by freeholders board chair Linda Webb last week, voters could be asked both to approve or reject the charter – and to decide parts of what’s in it.

“It strikes me as perhaps a solution to a real dilemma that a lot of us have been dealing with,” said freeholder Jim Avery of Port Orchard.

The option likely would be exercised on one or two thorny issues: whether elections for county officials should be partisan or non-partisan, and whether county commission members should be elected in district-only or countywide elections.

Currently, the three county commissioners are nominated in district-only primary balloting, and elected in a countywide general election.

The current draft of the charter would make all county council elections district-only – a change which has drawn both favorable and unfavorable reactions.

The Bainbridge Island City Council recently passed a resolution opposing the charter, saying it would increase the cost of county government while providing less accountability.

Bainbridge freeholders have said that district-only elections would effectively factionalize the county, as voters in a given area would only get to vote on one of five commissioners on an expanded board.

Putting the charter before voters with choices for different provisions would be an unusual move, but not unprecedented – even in Kitsap County.

A previous “home rule” effort also put the partisan issue before voters, freeholder Jim Martin of Port Orchard said. The charter failed at the polls, and Kitsap retained its current form of government.

Details of how such an election would be conducted are unclear. But according to Martin, voters in 1971 were asked two questions in a special home rule election.

The first was: “Shall the proposed Home Rule Charter of Kitsap county providing for the separation of legislative and administrative powers and for improved administration be adopted?”

The second question was: “Shall the elective county officials be partisan or nonpartisan?”

The proposal to let voters resolve specific elements of the charter drew mixed reviews from freeholders at last week’s meeting.

“I think it abdicates our responsibility as freeholders,” said Gordon Walgren of Bremerton. “This is a decision we should make, right or wrong.”

Others, like Avery, suggested that it might bring resolution to issues that have so far divided those drafting the charter.

The freeholders declined to take any action, and will discuss the proposal further at their next meeting, scheduled for 6:30-10 p.m. Oct. 2, in the Bremerton High School library.

Freeholder Karl Duff of Port Orchard expressed support for putting the issue before voters, but proposed yet another option.

Duff would add two new sections to the charter, which would require a special referendum to the public at the first general election after passage of the charter.

The referendum would ask voters to decide how council members should be elected.

Also to be discussed as the board reviews the draft charter are is whether to have an elected executive or an appointed administrator; and several other issues.

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