Now is the time for compromise

The Granite 13 freeholders have lost a few chips off the old bloc.

Readers will recall the 13 as those drafters of a proposed Kitsap County charter whose demand – non-negotiable, some maintained – has been that five county council members be elected only by voters in their geographic district in the general election. The group has held sway on that issue on the 21-member freeholder board.

Opponents of that proposal, including Bainbridge freeholders Andy Maron and George McKinney, favor the present arrangement – candidates must live in the geographic district they represent, and primary elections are limited to voters in that district, but in the general election, everyone in the county votes for all commission candidates.

The Granite 13 argument has both an anti-Bainbridge and a politically partisan smell. The claim has been in the south end that local majorities have favored one commission candidate – a Republican – but that Bainbridge’s strongly Democratic votes have tipped elections the other way.

It appears, though, that the bloc’s resolve is crumbling. This week, a straw poll on countywide versus by-district elections showed the freeholders in a virtual deadlock.

Where does that leave prospects for a new county charter?

As Bainbridge City Council member Norm Wooldridge has observed, expanding the present three-member county commission to a five-person council will increase costs. That, and a general suspicion of change, are probably good for a 40 percent “no” vote, meaning that any other provision unpalatable to a substantial number of voters will doom the charter.

We think Wooldridge is right. Add Bainbridge opposition to other naysayers, and a charter calling for general elections by district won’t pass.

Some freeholders would punt the issue to the voters, asking whether they favor the charter, and, if so, what form of elections they prefer. If the charter were approved, then the elections option with the most votes would go into effect.

We don’t think that plan will work. Essentially, it assumes that Kitsap voters want a charter no matter which election system is included. In fact, though, Bainbridge voters might well prefer to keep the present system unless the charter provides for countywide general elections. And the reverse might be true for South Kitsap folks.

With the freeholders (and perhaps the electorate itself) deadlocked, genuine compromise is needed. McKinney and Maron suggested early on that thee council members be chosen strictly by district – both primary and general elections – and that the two additional members be chosen at-large, that is, in countywide races for both primary and general elections.

It’s time to put that option on the table, and in the charter.

It’s not perfect, but that’s the nature of compromise – nobody gets everything, but everybody gets something. No one gets to vote for every council member, but everyone will vote for a majority. And everyone will have “their” council member, elected from and by their own district.

Freeholders should quit asking themselves whether the 3-2 plan is better than their individual proposals and goals, and ask themselves whether the 3-2 plan is better than defeat of the charter.

If the answer is “yes” – and we suspect it is for almost all of them – then put the 3-2 plan on the ballot with unanimous freeholder endorsement.

We think that’s the way to go – the only way.

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