Voters reject county charter

The farther the county charter went north, the more it went south.

Bainbridge and North Kitsap voters led a resounding defeat of the proposed Kitsap charter in Tuesday’s election, turning out in overwhelming opposition.

The charter, which would have dramatically revamped Kitsap government, earned only 44 percent support countywide.

“I have to confess I was both happy and sad Tuesday evening,” said Andy Maron, one of two islanders who helped draft the charter but who wound up opposing the final document.

“I was pleased that it didn’t pass,” Maron said, “but I was frustrated that all the effort was to no avail.”

Support for the charter was strong in South Kitsap, where 55 percent of voters said “yes.” But the numbers fell off from there, plunging the farther one got from the county seat.

Tuesday returns showed Bremerton and Central Kitsap voters opposed the charter by 51 percent and 52 percent, respectively. Opposition was stronger still in North Kitsap, where 59 percent of voters said no. And on Bainbridge Island, opposition hit a resounding 80 percent.

“Ooo-eee,” said George McKinney, the other island freeholder, hearing of the Bainbridge results. “That’s good news.

“There was an anti-Bainbridge undertone to this thing. I tried to overcome that, but it just wasn’t going to happen.”

Agreed Maron:

“We told (freeholders) that if the concern was that Bainbridge voters were too dominant, why would you do a charter that ‘takes on’ Bainbridge voters? It doesn’t make any sense. This proves it.”

Yet even without the Bainbridge vote, Tuesday returns still gave the charter just 49 percent support.

Voters in 1999 narrowly approved formation of a 21-person board of freeholders, charged with drafting a new county charter.

Two years in the making, the charter would have replaced the county’s three-person board of commissioners with a five-person council; established an elected executive position; and made most offices non-partisan.

But some freeholders said the process itself became fouled by partisanship.

Particularly contentious was a provision for elections “by district” – voters who now help select all three commissioners would, under the charter, have only voted for one member of the five-person board.

Critics said the move was an attempt to blunt the Bainbridge vote. Some also faulted provisions for referendum, which McKinney said included a “ridiculously low” threshold for signature gathering. As the charter failed, blame fell largely along party lines.

Gene David Hart, a Bremerton resident and chair of the pro-charter Committee for Better Representation, said the efforts of freeholders were wasted by partisanship.

“You’ve got 21 citizens who gave all that time, all that energy,” he said. “To have the Democratic leadership throw that away because of partisanship is a travesty.”

John Morgan, chair of Kitsap’s Democratic Central Committee, agreed that his party played a role in the charter’s defeat. Volunteers spent much of the past three weeks on the phone, he said, urging party members to vote “no.”

But he and other Democrats blamed Republican freeholders for intransigence on some issues. If the freeholders had compromised, Morgan said, Democrats might not have opposed the issue so vigorously.

“No charter will ever pass until Republicans, Democrats and independents work together to come up with a form of government that represents all of us,” he said. “That was not done this time.”

Jim Martin, a Republican and former freeholder who left the campaign after an organized letter-writing campaign came to light, said his side failed to get its message across.

“If (voters) had understood, they’d have voted for it overwhelmingly,” the Port Orchard resident said. “And I don’t know how we could have explained it any better.”

Some charter backers are already calling for a second try.

“The defeat of this version of the charter is by no means a mandate for the status quo,” Hart said, in a prepared statement distributed by the editor of the Kitsap Business Journal. “The political forces that worked to defeat the charter should not make the mistake of believing it is.”

Maron said he remains convinced that a three-person county commission doesn’t work, and that Kitsap government “absolutely” should be changed. Whether a new group of freeholders could get past the issues that ultimately worked against the failed charter is another matter.

“I’d be willing to talk about it,” he said, “but I’m pessimistic that it could happen.”

Central Kitsap Reporter editor Vince Dice contributed to this report.

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