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Bainbridge's change of government bill clears first hurdle in Olympia

A bill that would allow for a Bainbridge referendum on its form of government during a special election has unanimously cleared its first hurdle at the state level.

The bill, filed by Bainbridge's Rep. Christine Rolfes in the House and Sen. Phil Rockefeller in the Senate, was heard at a Thursday House Local Government and Housing Committee in Olympia.

The eight members of the committee unanimously approved the bill, with chairman Geoff Simpson saying the issue "faced no opposition."

The committee kept intact a clause declaring the issue an emergency, which, barring any opposition, could set Bainbridge up for a change-of-government vote on May 19.

"It's incredible, we got immediate action from the committee," council member Bill Knobloch said. "They passed it right out of committee unanimously, with the emergency status intact, which means the first step was very successful. We're looking good for May 19."

Council members Bill Knobloch, Debbie Vancil and Kim Brackett all testified at the hearing. Council member Barry Peters also attended. Islanders Dennis Vogt and Andy Maron were also in Olympia to give a citizens perspective on the issues surrounding current state law.

Under current state law, change-of-government votes can only be held during November general elections of an odd-numbered year, which would coincide with Bainbridge's mayoral elections in November 2009.

"There was a consensus that (lawmakers) needed to fix this," Vogt said. "The new bill was really elegantly done, it allows the council to set a date on change-of-government petitions."

The bill, likely the first piece of legislation to clear the committee level this year, will now go to the House Rules Committee and then to the House Floor.

If both the House and Senate approve the bill without amendments, it will go directly to the Governor's desk for signature and immediate implementation.

The change of government initiative has been taken up by the city council after a citizen's petition for a change of government, spearheaded by Vogt, was certified by the Kitsap County Auditor in October 2008.

Those who signed the petition would like islanders to vote on their form of government, choosing between the current mayor/council system or the council/manager system.

In the latter form of government, a professional administrator hired by the council would replace the mayor. Both systems approved forms of government under Washington State law.

To follow the bill's progress in Olympia, or to read its language, visit www.leg.wa.gov.

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