District-only elections among issues at freeholders’ forum in south Jefferson
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Cass Brotherton of Quilcene asks a question at the forum for freeholder candidates. The freeholders will write a new county charter if the voters approve going ahead with the process on Nov. 5. -- Photo by Charlie Bermant/Peninsula Daily News

By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News

QUILCENE — While the contents of a county charter will not be determined until it is drafted by a 15-member board of freeholders, the election of commissioners by district and making some county positions nonpartisan will be part of the discussion.

Those topics and others were explored at a District 3 freeholder candidate forum Tuesday night that drew about 40 people to the Quilcene Community Center.

“We need to have county commissioners who are qualified and who can represent who we are in District 3,” said Ron Gregory, a candidate for freeholder.

“I have attended numerous commissioner meetings, and it’s an embarrassment,” he said.

“Listening to those three old ladies makes you wonder why we have a commission at all. They are like a bridge club.”

The Jefferson County Board of Commissioners consists of three men, all older than 60.

Gregory, the former chair of the Jefferson County Republican Party, has said the charter process should be nonpartisan, although his party has endorsed the charter process, while the Jefferson County Democratic Party is officially opposed.

The forum was sponsored by the Community Rights Coalition, which gathered the petitions that put the measure on the general election ballot.

The Nov. 5 vote is in two parts, one to approve going ahead with the charter process and the other to elect a board of freeholders to write the charter, which then must be approved by the voters.

Nine candidates appeared at Tuesday’s forum, which did not address the measure concerning the process: Gregory, Davis Steelquist, Dan Toepper, Craig Durgan, Jim Davis, Norm Norton, Diane Johnson, Jim Boyer and Bob Pontius.

Candidates not present were Larry Hovde, Wayne King, Ed Jaramillo, Nicole Black, David Dickson and Bill Eldridge.

Sunday Pace has withdrawn from the race, but her name is still on the ballot.

District 3 covers southeast Jefferson County and extends west to the Pacific coast and the communities of Kalaloch and Queets.

If the measure to go ahead with the process is approved, five from District 3 will be seated as freeholders, joining five from each of the other two commissioner districts to create the board.

District 1 includes the city of Port Townsend and the adjacent area. District 2 covers Cape George, Kala Point, Nordland, Chimacum, Port Hadlock, Irondale and Four Corners.

District-only election of commissioners would provide better representation for individual districts than the current system of narrowing the field in the primary and voting countywide in the general election, supporters said.

The Jefferson County auditor records that four commissioners since 2000 were elected to the office without prevailing in their own districts: Dan Titterness in 2000, Wendy Wrinkle in 2002, David Sullivan in 2008 and John Austin in 2010.

“The one thing I’d like to see in the charter is to have the people in District 3 elect their own commissioner,” Durgan said. “I don’t think that it’s correct that District 1 gets to decide who will represent us.”

A charter could change the process for elected officials such as auditor, assessor, treasurer, sheriff and court clerk, turning them into nonpartisan offices or changing them from elected to appointed jobs.

“Jobs like the assessor, treasurer and auditor are hard to fill in a small county, and you can appoint them, but it will cost us more money,” Steelquist said.

“The question will be whether we want a person who is local and will cost us less or someone from the outside who may do a better job but will cost us a lot more.”

Steelquist suggested that the sheriff could be appointed, an idea that Pontius opposed.

“These positions should be nonpartisan,” Pontius said. “Sometimes, the best person doesn’t get elected.

“But appointing the sheriff is a terrible idea. As the county’s chief law enforcement officer, he needs to be held accountable.”

Superior Court Clerk Ruth Gordon said later that while her office is nonpartisan, it can help candidates to be affiliated with political parties during elections.

“In our daily jobs, we treat everyone exactly the same regardless of what party they are or what party we belong to,” she said.

“But a lot of people running for office don’t have the ability to run a campaign by themselves, so the party can help them provide the knowledge they need.”

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Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or cbermant@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: September 25. 2013 7:07PM
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