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Hearing set for change of government initiative

The petition for a change of government from the current mayor/council form to the council/manager system has been certified valid by the county auditor’s office.

The auditor’s certificate of sufficiency means the change in government initiative will go before voters sometime in 2009. The City Council will decide when the measure will come before voters – most likely February or November of next year due to interpretations of state law.

With the issue still a subject of debate, the council has decided to let the community chime in by scheduling a special, two-hour meeting on the subject from 7-9 p.m. in City Hall on Tuesday, Nov. 18. After community input on the measure, the council will decide when the referendum will be placed on a ballot, said Council Chair Bill Knobloch.

The change of government initiative, if approved by voters, would turn the current mayor/council form of government into the council/manager system. In the latter system, a professional administrator, hired and held accountable by the council, would replace the mayor. Both are approved forms of government under Washington State law.

“I think it’s the right thing to do, it’s what needs to happen,” said petition organizer Dennis Vogt on the announcement of the special council meeting. “Having a special meeting lets the whole community engage the issue, whatever the decision. Everyone, even those who didn’t sign the petition but are interested in the issue, need to see that the process is fair and open.”

According to an informal opinion from the state Attorney General’s office, the change of government petition brought forward by Bainbridge citizens would have to to be decided in the November 2009 general election. However, that happens to be the same time island residents will choose a new mayor.

Prospective mayoral candidates – including Mayor Darlene Kordonowy – have yet to go public with their interest in running for the position in 2009. According to Vogt, however, there is some speculation on who will run, and their campaigns will likely hinge on the outcome of the referendum.

“There are people who want to run for mayor, some who may be on the council,” Vogt said. “They have an interest in when this election is held.”

Despite the informal opinion from the Attorney General’s office, there are still some council members hoping for a February special referendum to avoid voter confusion and to give a clear view of the running field for potential mayor candidates.

An e-mail from the state’s Deputy Solicitor General, Jim Pharris, seemed to distance the office from its previous informal AG opinion and the ultimate decision of the City Council:

“We have not been involved with the specific issue of deciding when Bainbridge Island could or should schedule this election,” Pharris wrote. “The Attorney General does not advise or represent cities, nor does our office have the role of supervising or correcting local government activities. For those reasons, we decline to speculate whether the city could conduct a special election in early 2009 rather than waiting until November, or, if the city did so, whether its action could be subject to challenge.”

Walt Washington, the Kitsap county Auditor office confirmed the petition had been declared valid in a written statement.

The total number of valid signatures on the petition was 1,076, – only 967 valid signatures were required for the petition to be declared sufficient.

A total of 168 individuals were stricken from the official tally for such infractions as signing the petition more than once, signing with an invalid signature or failing to be officially registered as a voter in Kitsap county, according to Washington.

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The special City Council meeting and community forum will take place 7-9 p.m. Nov. 18 at City Hall.

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