Pol-i-tics: The Art of Influencing Others by John Merton Marrs

Members of the County Charter Review Commission are about to show their cards. This will reveal the topics commissioners want to explore over the spring and summer for proposals to be placed on November’s general-election ballot.

Proposing these topics heads the agenda for the Feb. 2 meeting (scheduled for 6:30 p.m at the County Courthouse in Port Angeles).

Norma Turner of Port Angeles was elected CRC chair over Sue Forde of Sequim at the January meeting by an 8-5 vote. The commission is officially non-partisan, but the vote revealed the members’ underlying philosophical split, as Forde’s votes came from the members who were supported for election by conservative interests, Glenn Wiggins, Maggie Roth, Connie Beauvais, Nola Judd and Forde.

The top vote-getter in November’s election, Forde was chosen to be first vice chair and Barbara Christensen of Lake Sutherland was chosen as second vice chair. The three comprise the CRC executive committee. Rod Fleck of Forks was chosen to serve as parliamentarian.

Top Topics

Two topics certain to come up are the partisan status of the county prosecuting attorney’s office and the elected status of the Director of County Development. It’s a good guess that there will also be proposals aimed at limiting tax measures or protecting private property interests against state regulations dealing with the environment or water conservation.

The basis for having home-rule charter counties is to enable local control over the structure of county government, but it’s something of a reach to imagine that the home-rule power extends to limiting state government authority. All Washington counties are instruments of the state and there are limits to what any home-rule county can do that would depart from or conflict with state law.

Community Input Ensured

Most of the commission business conducted in January was procedural, chiefly streamlining or updating the 8-year-old bylaws. The most important decisions regarded public participation. The CRC decided that members of the public will have up to three minutes apiece for comments at two different times on each meeting agenda. They also decided not to take any ownership of video taping their meetings. Stephanie Noblin, who ran unsuccessfully for the CRC, recorded January’s meeting and said she planned to make the video public on YouTube. The commissioners also voted to distribute public correspondence to every commissioner and to post correspondence on the CRC web page.

Following on the Internet

Citizens may not find it easy to get to that page. You have to start at Clallam.net and then make your way by clicking on Board of County Commissioners and then on Home Rule Charter. As of Jan. 19, the only items available were the Jan. 5 agenda packet (including the old bylaws) and the minutes of the initial Dec. 23 meeting. Citizens can also find the history of the CRC’s charter amendments on the county site.

Electing the Director of Community Development

Electing the DCD’s job was put to the voters first in 2002, and the count favored making the office an elected one, 13,800-10,400. Five years later, the CRC asked the voters to reverse that decision, but the proposal was rejected, 13,300-9,700.

Nevertheless, don’t be surprised if it gets on the next general-election ballot. Several commissioners want to take the question up again, and they have the support of the first elected DCD, Robbie Robertson. Though he did not win election to the commission in November, Robertson told me his chief reason for running was to get his old job taken off the voting list.

Given voting history, it’s not easy to see the voters changing it back. The immediate past DCD, Sheila Roark Miller, was the subject of controversy, including allegations that she caused morale problems and failed to act lawfully in certain cases. However, she was unseated by Mary Ellen Winborn, campaigning that she could fix things up. If the public perceives that Winborn is succeeding in the coming months, that may decrease interest in making any change.

Partisan Prosecutor?

One other topic is the partisan status of the prosecuting attorney’s office. At least two commissioners, Ted Miller and Ken Hays of Sequim, would like to see the job made non-partisan, and Miller is poised to propose the change. Nola Judd may not be, as she argued against commissioners having “preconceived” notions when Miller referred to the matter during the last meeting.

Another unsuccessful CRC candidate, John Alan Kirschbaum, feels strongly that the state constitution prohibits such a change. Miller, however, says he has two legal opinions saying that home-rule counties can make such a change. The argument hinges on the meaning of one word in the constitution, as in home-rule counties cannot make changes that would “affect the election of the prosecuting attorney.”

Would removing party affiliation affect the election? Maybe not. In our last election, both candidates were Republican.

It might seem cleaner to take partisan politics out of the attorney’s election, but just like the CRC itself, having the non-partisan label does not mean that political ideology won’t play a role. Time will tell how non-partisan the 2015 Charter Review Commission may be.

John Merton Marrs, another unsuccessful candidate in the Charter Review election, comments monthly on local politics. A former daily newspaper editor and reporter, he covered politics and government in Alaska and California.

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