Charter flop shows lack of compromise

When freeholders held their only Bainbridge meeting to discuss the Kitsap County

charter, one islander noted that a lot of folks will vote against any change – particularly if they think it will cost them money.

So, he reasoned, if the charter contains any provision that’s opposed by a significant number of people, the whole effort is doomed to fail.

He was right. The charter included controversial provisions on the manner of elections, powers of an elected executive, and voter referendum. That left opinion deeply divided, even among those who supported change in theory. Three of the six newspapers in the county (including this one) opposed the document, as did one of the major political parties (Democrats) and a significant interest group (environmentalists).

Add their votes to those suspicious of change for their own reasons, and the charter never had a chance.

So where do we go from here?

Most agree that Kitsap County government could use a few tweaks – expanding the board of commissioners from three members to five, at the very least. And legally, the process of change has to start from the beginning, with a vote to convene a new board of freeholders.

But there’s no reason to start from scratch. The defeated charter can be re-worked – perhaps by an independent group, like the League of Women Voters, given some time for study and focus groups – and freeholders selected who are committed to the new document.

A sensible start would be to scrap the election-by-district provision, which would have disenfranchised voters across Kitsap. A perfectly reasonable compromise – electing three commissioners by district, and two at large – would immediately bring many charter foes into the fold. Similar compromises are needed on issues like initiative and referendum (raise the threshold for signature-gathering), the county executive (make the position appointed) and election timing (go with even-numbered years, to save money and boost turnout).

The spirit of compromise would also demand some new players, in place of those who drove the first charter process into a partisan mire. The folks who steered the failed

campaign have no credibility left – none. They should stay out of the way, and let others take the wheel.

We do need a “modernized” form of county government.

But let’s learn our lessons while they’re still fresh in our minds, and get it right – with a charter everybody can endorse.

* * * * *

A last note on the charter vote: One of the subtexts of the campaign was that Bainbridge Island, by virtue of its high voter turnout, tends to “swing” countywide elections. (Ergo, the vote-by-district provision to isolate the island.) So we sat at home Wednesday evening with early precinct breakdowns and a pocket calculator, to see if that was true in this case.

The charter flopped countywide, earning only 44 percent support. Subtract out the overwhelmingly “no” Bainbridge vote, and – surprise – it still would have failed at 49 percent.

Then put Bainbridge back in and subtract out South Kitsap, and it earned just 42 percent.

So rather than Bainbridge shooting the charter down, one might more accurately say that South Kitsap kept it aloft, before an inevitable crash.

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