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Change of government forum set for Tuesday | Around the Island

Change of government

This Tuesday, Bainbridge citizens will have their first say on a change-of-government initiative.

From 7-9 p.m. the council will hold a public forum and accept comments before deciding when the issue will come before voters. Islanders will choose to either opt for the council-manager form of government or uphold the current mayor-council system.

The meeting will bring to a head a host of disparate arguments that revolve around the referendum date.

The city’s attorney, Paul McMurray, has publicly expressed his opinion, based on state law, that the vote would have to occur in November 2009 – the same time voters will decide on a new mayor.

Opponents of placing a change-of-government initiative and a mayoral vote on the same ballot have called for a February or May special referendum.

At Wednesday’s council meeting, councilors began to hint at where the debate would lead, and whether there would be a challenge to the state’s law regarding special referendums on change-of-government initiatives.

“What I would want the city attorney to prepare, is not what the law says, but who would have standing to challenge us if we proceed with an expedited date,” said council member Barry Peters. “Would any citizen have the legal standing to bring a challenge in a court of law and is there any statute of limitations on that?”

Some council members have speculated that holding a special referendum on the issue could open the results to legal challenge.

“There is an old attorney saying, you can sue a ham sandwich if you have a reason,” council chair Bill Knobloch replied. “Hopefully there is a community spirit and we can avoid that situation.”

The initiative started as a petition by Bainbridge residents. If approved by voters, it would replace the current mayor-council form of government with a council-manager system. In the latter system, an administrator, hired and held accountable by the council, would replace the mayor. Both are approved forms of government under Washington State law.

Win for turf proponents

Backers of the project to install artificial turf fields at Battle Point Park, scored in one appeal heard by Bainbridge Island Hearing Examiner Margaret Klockars Thursday, while a decision is still pending on a second appeal.

The Bainbridge Metropolitan Parks and Recreation District, and the Bainbridge Island Youth Soccer Club had appealed a condition in the city’s environmental determination of non-significance for the project.

If approved, the action would have required an outside government agency to certify that the fields would never contaminate groundwater in the future before the project could move forward.

The park district and soccer club, which have partnered to resurface the two sports fields, argued that no agency would be willing to give such an open-ended guarantee.

In the Thursday hearing, city Planning Director Kathy Cook agreed that it would be unlikely for an agency to certify the project, because the agency would have no power over how the fields would be maintained in the future. She said the city would not object to the condition being removed.

Klockars gave a summary judgement striking the condition from the determination of non-significance. Klockars said the condition was both unreasonable to meet, and that there was insufficient evidence of risk from the project.

The park district will still be required to monitor groundwater surrounding the fields and submit annual water-quality reports to the city.

A hearing on a second appeal to the determination of non-significance also began Thursday. Chris Van Dyk, an active artificial turf opponent, wants a full environmental review of the project.

The hearing on the second appeal was expected to last through Friday.

Learn about schools suit

Bainbridge School District is one of about two dozen Washington districts and education groups joined in a lawsuit against the state over education funding. The Network for Excellence in Washington Schools (NEWS) is suing to force the state to fully fund public schools. The suit alleges that the state is not meeting its constitutional obligations regarding education.

Attorney Tom Ahearne will give a presentation about the NEWS lawsuit, 4:30 p.m., Monday in the Woodward Middle School Library.

The lawsuit will be heard in June 2009.

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