Hearing shows rift over charterPerceptions of the document depend on which side of the bridge you're on.
June 9, 2008 · Updated 3:30 PM
For those looking for the unexpected, Tuesday night's freeholder meeting at Bainbridge Island City Hall was the wrong place to be.As expected, the principal topic of discussion concerning the draft charter for Kitsap County was whether to elect the county council by district, as a majority of the freeholders propose, or to elect county-wide, as is currently done.Those islanders who spoke unanimously favored county-wide elections. Those from elsewhere in the county unanimously favored the district election proposal contained in the present draft.Don't fragment the county with district elections, said Bainbridge City Council president Lois Curtis. Make candidates learn about issues around the county.John Norris of Silverdale saw it differently.The majority wants district voting, he said. We're one county, but we're also one nation. I'd like to vote for senator from Massachusetts, but I can't.The freeholders are charged with coming up with a charter - basically, a constitution - for Kitsap County. In the absence of a charter, Kitsap is governed by provisions of state law.The freeholders have finished a first draft of a charter, which they presented at the Bainbridge meeting. After the public-input process is complete, a final draft of the charter will be prepared and submitted to the county commissioners, who will then schedule an election.The freeholders agreed Tuesday that they would ask the election to be set sometime in the spring of 2002.In order to become effective, the charter needs a simple majority of votes. If it is adopted, the form of government called for in the charter will become effective at 12:01 a.m. on Jan. 1, 2003.If the proposed charter is not adopted by voters, county governance will remain unchanged.The charter calls for an elected county executive - basically a county mayor - and five county council members, up from the present three county commissioners. The charter proposal retains the present system for selecting candidates. Council candidates must file in the district where they reside. If a primary election is required, voting is limited to district residents. The contentious provision involves the general election. At present, all county voters cast ballots for all commission candidates. But under the proposed charter, voting in the general election would be by district.Will, won'tBoth sides asserted that the charter would pass only if their preferred version of the election provision were included.Change is difficult, Bainbridge City Councilman Norm Wooldridge said. If the charter passes with a 2 percent majority, you can consider it a landslide. Bainbridge voters do turn out, and if the district-election provision is in, I don't think the charter will pass in a close vote.To demonstrate the unanimity of opposition to district elections on Bainbridge, Vince Mattson asked for a show of hands from the roughly 30 people present. Virtually all indicated they favored countywide elections. Most if not all of those who did not so indicate later spoke, and identified themselves as being from somewhere other than Bainbridge.But district-election advocates were equally convinced that the charter would fail without that provision. One Poulsbo resident submitted what she said was a petition containing 170 signatures in favor of district elections.The Bainbridge meeting didn't appear to change the minds of the freeholders, 13 of whom favor elections by district and at least six of whom - including the two from Bainbridge - favor countywide voting.My district believes very strongly that we need elections by district, said Jim Martin of Port Orchard, one of the leaders of the so-called Granite 13 backing district elections. A lot of rural areas support that, and so does Bainbridge Island.Martin referred repeatedly to opinion data collected by the freeholders, the source of which was questionnaires distributed at various public meetings, none of which were held on Bainbridge Island.We've been collecting data for months, Martin said. Do I disregard the input from everybody?Poll valid?But Bainbridge freeholder Andy Maron is not persuaded by the polling.The questionnaire said 'Are you in favor of district elections,' Maron said. Most people say yes. But we have district elections now. There was no explanation of the alternatives.In addition to the two proposals on the table - district or countywide general elections - the two Bainbridge freeholders have proposed a compromise. Under the compromise plan, three council members would be elected by district, and two elected at large.That compromise, Martin said, was unattractive to him because it would generate too much campaigning.Think how many signs there would be in the county, he said.The debate has undertones of political partisanship and anti-Bainbridge animus. Historically, the island has a relatively high rate of voter turnout, and tends to vote Democratic.Some south county residents cite the commission election of 1996, in which residents of the South Kitsap district voted for the Republican candidate, but Bainbridge votes helped swing the election to Democrat Charlotte Garrido. South Kitsap district voters ousted Garrido in the primary in 2000, and the county's voters elected Republican Jan Angel to the seat.The only people who seem to be worried about district elections are the Democrats, said Martin, a self-described lifelong Republican. Maron said the charter could still be changed before being sent to the voters. Two other meetings to gather public comment are planned for September, one in Silverdale and one in Poulsbo.It's just the beginning of the public comment process, he said.