By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News
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On Tuesday, seven members of the 15-person executive committee voted on a recommendation to oppose the charter proposal that will be on the Nov. 5 general election ballot. It was approved 6-1.
The entire party membership will consider whether they want to support, oppose or stay neutral on the charter issue when they meet at 7 p.m. Sept. 17 at the Quimper Grange, 1219 Corona St.
It’s a measure the party chairman personally opposes.
“Before we consider this, we need to examine what has happened in other counties that have adopted a charter,” said George Yount.
“In those cases, the government has become larger and more complicated than it was before.”
Voters in Jefferson County will decide during the November general election whether the county should change to a charter system.
On the same ballot, they will consider a total of 51 freeholder candidates and elect a slate of 15 — choosing five from each county commissioner district — who will be sworn in if the process is approved.
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.
The state constitution permits counties to write home-rule charters to provide a form of government that differs from the commission form proscribed by state law.
Ballots will be mailed to registered voters Oct. 16.
The Sept. 17 Democrats meeting will be open to the public, but only party members in good standing can vote or comment, Yount said.
Val Phimister, spokeswoman for the Community Rights Coalition of Jefferson County, which submitted the petitions July 30 that started the process rolling, said such a party preference is inappropriate.
“The party has the option to support, oppose or stay neutral on the issue,” she said.
“We think they should stay neutral because this is intended as a nonpartisan process.”
Jefferson County Republican chair Gene Farr said the local GOP will remain neutral about the creation of the charter but may make an endorsement on the charter when it is presented to the voters.
Yount said the charter process can operate in a nonpartisan way but that many of the participants cannot erase their partisan past.
“This is like ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes,’” he said. “It won’t be nonpartisan just because someone says so.
“There are many people who have run for office before and are identified with political parties and special interest groups, which is where they get their values,” Yount added.
“You can’t just slap a ‘nonpartisan’ sticker on their foreheads and make people forget what they have said in the past.”
Phimister said that if the Democratic Party voices a preference against the charter, it will put freeholders who are party members in a difficult position.
“If they campaign for freeholder, it will put them at odds with the party,” she said.
Yount said that while he opposes the idea of a charter he as not criticizing the freeholders themselves.
All three of the county commissioners are Democrats, but Yount said his opposition to the charter is not an effort to save their jobs.
“These are popular commissioners,” Yount said.
“If people aren’t happy with the way they are doing their jobs they can vote them out, they don’t need to change the form of government in order to do that.”
Phimister said her group is hoping the charter process will give people a feeling of control over county government, establish an initiative process and create a citizens bill of rights.
Whether this will be accomplished depends on who is elected freeholder and what governmental changes they support.
Yount said any charter needs to conform with state and federal laws, and referendums cannot prohibit anything over which other laws take precedence.
Several forums are planned on the charter government issue, with others expected to be scheduled.
The Community Rights Coalition has scheduled three meet-the-candidate forums, corresponding with the three commissioner districts.
For District 3, the forum will be from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Sept. 24 at the Quilcene Community Center, 294952 U.S. Highway 101.
For District 2, it will be from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Oct. 2 at the Tri-Area Community Center, 10 West Valley Road, Chimacum.
The final forum, for District 1, will be from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Oct. 8 at the Port Townsend Community Center, 620 Tyler St.
Phimister said each freeholder candidate will be given the opportunity to make an opening statement of two or three minutes, to be followed by an organized question-and-answer session.
Not all of the candidates will attend, she expects, and among those speaking, some will not use the entire allotted time, she said.
The Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce has scheduled a forum at noon Oct. 21 at the Elks Club, 555 Otto St.
County Commissioner David Sullivan said earlier this week that he opposed the charter, as it would require the use of discretionary funds that could be used to support county programs.
Phimister said she did not know how much the process would cost the county but doesn’t think it will cost more than a few thousand dollars.
County Administrator Philip Morley said a line item to support the charter will be entered in the 2014 budget as an estimation of what the process will cost, but that estimation could change.
The estimate will be made available to voters before the election in order for them to use it as information to make their decision to support or reject the measure, Morley said.
Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or firstname.lastname@example.org.