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Board opposes by-district electionsCounty commissioners are united against the controversial provision.
Kitsap County Commissioners are united in their opposition to a proposal to elect future commissioners by district rather than at large.Reaction was unanimous when the commissioners were presented with the draft charter for Kitsap County last week. The document was submitted by the 21-member board of freeholders, who have drafted the charter over the past year.Among other changes proposed in the draft document, the county commission would be expanded to five members from the current three. But it also includes a provision under which commissioners would be elected by district rather than countywide.Under the current system, candidates are selected by their voters in their own districts in the primary, but are voted on countywide in the general election. The provision for by-district election has been criticized by some as divisive to the county as a whole; some Democrats have called the proposal overtly partisan, or a way to blunt the influence of Bainbridge Island voters on county races.I thought a lot about this, and decided that for all of Kitsap County to benefit, the positions must be elected at-large. It should stay the same, said Kitsap County Commissioner Jan Angel, a South Kitsap Republican. It's a hard way to go, but I think it's the right thing to do. If the county council represents just one district, then there will be range wars going on, and the council won't be making the best decisions for the county.In fact, Angel would prefer the county council seats become non-partisan positions. Her argument is that regional issues aren't tied to political parties. I think the people would vote for the best candidate, she said.Commissioners Tim Botkin and Chris Endresen, both Democrats from Central Kitsap and North Kitsap, echoed Angel's concerns.I'm disappointed the freeholders went that way, since it would represent a bit of a harsh change, Botkin said. There are times when representatives keep their district's specific issues in mind but, more often, commissioners are asked to represent the county as a whole.I think it's a mistake, agreed Endresen. The charter should be about making Kitsap County government better. Council members should be held accountable to everyone in the county.Endresen said if council members are elected by district only, then citizens and voters will be short-changed.If you want anything done in your district, you'll have to get at least two other representatives, probably three, who aren't beholden to you at all to vote for what you want or what you oppose, she said.Public hearings on the draft are now being held around the county. The freeholders - 13 of whom favor the vote--by-district provision - will vote on the final document next month. The charter will go to the county commissioners in November. The commissioners then are expected to schedule a special countywide election on the charter for February or March 2002.Botkin, who said the draft county charter as whole is well-thought out, worries that by-district elections could divide the county.In terms of transportation or development planning, commissioners are asked to make decisions that would benefit the county as a whole, rather than specific districts. Necessarily then, commissioners should be held accountable by the entire county.The current system we use works pretty well, said Botkin. Nominations are made at the district level and then the general election is at-large. It makes a lot of sense.Those freeholders backing by-district elections rejected a compromise proposal to make three of the commission seats local, with two more elected at large. Under that system, every voter in the county would be voting on a majority of the council.The notion of a five-district county council by itself makes sense to Botkin, since the county has grown at such a rapid clip in recent years. Angel agreed, saying the business of the county is too much work for only three people.