No more talk about charter; forum finale held in Jefferson County
Val Phimister, left, who favors the development of a Jefferson County charter, debates the issue with charter opponent Bruce Cowan at a meeting of the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce on Monday. It was the last of about 15 forums about the issue. -- Photo by Charlie Bermant/Peninsula Daily News
By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News
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About 70 people attended a meeting of the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce at the Port Townsend Elks Lodge to hear arguments by Val Phimister in support of the charter and Bruce Cowan, who was opposed.
“This is not about throwing the commissioners out of office, and is not about throwing our government out and starting from scratch,” Phimister said.
“It is about taking what we have and writing it down in a charter that belongs to us, and giving the citizens in this county one more opportunity to have a voice.
“It’s about supporting the county officials who are already here and are doing the best they can do and getting the people who are involved more involved.”
“The yes campaign has talked a lot about voice in government, but everyone in our democracy, especially on a local level, already has a voice,” Cowan said.
“First and foremost you have your ballot. We have regular elections, we have free speech and free press and lots of access to public officials.”
About 15 forums divided between yes/no debates and candidate forums have taken place since petitions were submitted that put the measure, Jefferson County Proposition 1, on the Nov. 5 ballot.
Voters have two parts to decide: first to approve or reject the home-rule process, and second to elect a board of freeholders that will have until June 2014 to write a charter, which will then be approved or rejected by voters.
“I think we do want to continue this conversation, but not in the context of a charter government,” Cowan said.
“I think a lot of people have stepped forward with great ideas in the last couple weeks, and I want to thank the yes campaign for having a dignified discussion.”
The contents of any charter won’t be known until the freeholders convene and submit it to the voters, so Phimister said she has deliberately avoided speculating about what it could or would contain.
The cost of the charter is also impossible to forecast; it could be more or less than the $83,900 yearly projection by County Administrator Philip Morley announced Oct. 4.
“I’m sure that Philip Morley came up with every possible expense that may come up in the process, but even if every penny of that estimate was spent the total per person expense would be $1.42 for each of two years,” Phimister said.
“The prudent thing is to move forward. I think that voters should spent their $1.42 and give the charter a chance.”
“This is not a new tax levy and is not something that you can give up the price of a latte so you can fund it,” Cowan countered.
“If the measure passes, we will spend $83,900 on this instead of spending it on something else that should be a higher priority, like restoring services to our most vulnerable citizens.
“We should start funding the mental health court or restore parks and recreation programs that were cut during the recession.”
Cowan said Kitsap County had projected a cost of $80,000, but the final cost was $200,000 more because “the process became contentious and the proposal became an expansion of county government, which was rejected by the voters.”
While there is an unknown element in a charter, Phimister said it should not be a cause for fear.
“We had no idea what would happen when we got in a war over slavery and had no idea what would happen when women took to the streets and campaigned for the right to vote,” she said, “We had no idea but we pushed for these things and laws were changed.”
“There are those who say we should take the plunge and see what they come up with,” Cowan said.
But our current form of government works well enough, and I would suggest you vote ‘no, thank you.’”
Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last modified: October 21. 2013 6:22PM