By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News
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“I don’t sense any overriding principles,” said David Goldman, one of 16 out of 20 candidates who appeared at a Tuesday night forum for those running in the district that covers Port Townsend and the surrounding area.
“A lot of people have asked me what is wrong with the charter we have, which leads me to believe that education is needed as to what it is we are doing, what we are proposing to do and why,” Goldman continued.
The candidates sat at a long table at the Port Townsend Recreation Center in front of an audience of about 60.
In addition to the 16 hopefuls present, candidate Jim Rough was represented by Katherine Baril.
On Nov. 5, voters in Jefferson County will decide whether the county should begin the charter process and also vote for five freeholders in each of three county commissioner districts.
Ballots will be mailed to registered voters Oct. 16.
If voters reject the measure to begin the charter process, then electing 15 freeholders to write a charter will become moot.
Elected freeholders would be charged with writing by June 20, 2015, a county charter that must be approved by the voters before it is enacted into law and becomes the blueprint for county government.
Home-rule charters are permitted by the state constitution as a way for counties to provide forms of government that might differ from the commission form prescribed by state law.
Six counties in the state have adopted home-rule charters, including Clallam County.
In addition to the 20 hopefuls for District 1, 15 are running in District 2 — which covers Cape George, Kala Point, Nordland, Chimacum, Port Hadlock, Irondale and Four Corners — and 16 are on the ballot for District 3, although two, Sunday Pace and Larry Hovde, have withdrawn from the race.
District 3 covers southeast Jefferson County and then extends west to the Pacific coast and the communities of Kalaloch and Queets.
On Tuesday night, candidate Julia Cochrane said she thinks people want to have a greater effect on county government.
“Most people would like a more direct voice, a clearer voice and would like their voice to count for something,” Cochrane said.
“I don’t think there is a consensus in Port Townsend about anything,” she said.
“Most of the consensus has to do with wanting to have this discussion and to be part of the process.”
Candidate George Randels, a former Port Townsend deputy mayor, said he didn’t think there was any “overriding principle, but I do sense a fear of unexplored consequences.
“So we need to make sure what we propose to the voters is something that will work and work well.”
The two-step process, one to approve the charter and the other to elect the freeholders, is one of the greatest sources of confusion even though it has been explained in depth at each of the preceding forums, according to several candidates.
“Fifty percent of the voters don’t know what’s going on,” candidate Bernie Arthur said.
“The people involved in the process talk to themselves, but those outside don’t know what it’s all about.”
Aside from Randels, Goldman, Arthur and Cochrane, those appearing were Raven, former County Commissioner Richard Wojt, Kevin Coker, Douglas Milholland, Peg Furey, Dennis Schultz, 2010 District Court candidate John Wood, Joan Best, O’Neill Louchard, 2012 county commissioner candidate Tim Thomas, former City Councilman and Port Commissioner Bob Sokol, and County Assessor Jack Westerman.
Not attending and sending no representative were former Port Townsend City finance director Michael Legarsky, Gary Embrecht and David Wayne Johnson.
Five candidates are retired or practicing attorneys: Randels, Goldman, Wood, Best and Furey, who also served as a judge.
“Having lawyers on this panel will be important because we don’t want to enact anything that’s going to be knocked down by a judge,” Best said.
Midway into candidates’ opening statements, a hopeful who goes by the single name of Raven presented his statement as a song, which began as a slow blues riff and evolved into a chant with lyrics such as, “We’ll build a bill of rights now, time is winding up.”
By the end of the three-minute song, many were singing along.
Members of the Community Rights Coalition of Jefferson County, which submitted the petitions July 30 that started the process, have said they hoped the charter would include a citizen bill of rights and an initiative process, but the final document is up to the freeholders who write it.
The cost of the charter process has not yet been determined.
County Administrator Philip Morley is now carving a place in the 2014 budget to accommodate those costs, but many critics already have said the county can ill afford the extra expense.
Those in favor of the process feel it will be a worthwhile investment.
“We’ll be spending some money on this, but that’s just fine because we’ll come out with a product that will save us some money,” Coker said.
Forums have been held for candidates in Districts 2 and 3.
The county Republican Party, which has endorsed the charter process, will host a forum at 6:30 tonight at the Bay Club, 120 Spinnaker Place, Port Ludlow.
The forum is for District 3 freeholder candidates.
Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or firstname.lastname@example.org.