Port Orchard might ditch second-class city status; Port Angeles considers adopting it

PORT ANGELES — Port Orchard residents are close to taking away their city as an example held up by Port Angeles fluoridation opponents who want to change Port Angeles from a municipal-code city to a second-class city and re-elect an entirely new City Council early next year.

The Port Orchard City Council is heading in the other direction, unanimously voting March 28 to change the city’s classification from second-class to code status.

Port Orchard residents have until June 26 to file a petition to put the matter to voters.

With about 30 days left, Port Orchard city officials have yet to receive such a petition, City Council member Bek Ashby said Monday.

Ashby said there was no public opposition to the change in a town hall meeting and hearing.

In addition, an online survey showed support for the switch, she said.

Eighty percent of 148 Port Orchard residents who responded out of more than 13,000 residents favored becoming a code city.

In the same survey, 59 percent said the council should make the decision, while 41 percent said voters should decide.

Bek said one argument against voting was that an election would have cost the city $12,000-$15,000.

She said participation in Port Orchard’s online survey is in keeping with a general lack of participation in such surveys.

“It sounds to me like a significant sample,” she said.

“It tells me that people weren’t that concerned about it.”

Port Angeles is going against that grain.

It would be the first city in state history to go from code-city status to second-class city under a proposal organized by the anti-fluoridation group Our Water, Our Choice!, which proposed the change “in order to elect a full new city council,” according its ballot petition, which received overwhelming support.

In municipal-code cities, residents have home-rule powers, such as putting together voter-inspired initiatives that in some cases grant additional powers to cities.

In second-class cities, residents have only those powers explicitly or implicitly granted under state law and cannot hold initiatives and referendums.

“Under the code, cities may take any action on matters of local concern so long as that action is neither prohibited by the state constitution nor in conflict with the state general law,” according to the Municipal Research and Services Center’s “Code City Handbook” (http://tinyurl.com/PDN-CodeCity).

Bek said she was at first skeptical of making the change to municipal-code city.

“When I looked into it, I realized it was really a home-rule issue, that our code had not been updated since 1997,” she said.

“It just made sense that we would become a code city.

“If you want the state to manage your city, you want to be a second-class city.

“If you want your government to manager your city, you want to be a code city.

“I don’t know why the people of Port Angeles are interested in going backward.

“If they have issues with a particular council member, they have the opportunity to elect new council members every four years.”

Port Orchard voters rejected the classification change in 2013, but the proposal had the caveat of getting rid of the city’s elected, strong-mayor form of government in favor of a weak-mayor, city-manager form of government.

Port Orchard’s newest proposal would keep the elected mayor as the city’s top administrator, changing just the classification.

The Our Water, Our Choice! proposal would keep Port Angeles’ city manager-council government, keeping the city manager as the top administrator and limiting the mayor’s powers to running council meetings.

Our Water, Our Choice Vice President Mike Libera, who lives outside the city limits, said Monday that Port Orchard voters should have been allowed to vote on the issue instead of the City Council making the decision.

“I believe a minority is pushing it through right now,” he said Monday, pointing to the low number of Port Orchard residents who responded to the survey.

Our Water, Our Choice! last year gained overwhelming support for putting the second-class-city proposal to the voters as a response to the City Council’s refusal to stop fluoridation of the municipal water supply and its refusal to follow the anti-fluoridation mandate expressed in an unscientific survey of city water ratepayers.

Since then the City Council stopped fluoridation, agreed to abide by a fluoridation advisory vote this fall and will require public-comment sessions at city advisory committee meetings — answering another criticism of Our Water, Our Choice!.

Libera suggested that Our Water, Our Choice!’s goal in pushing for the second-class designations was largely about getting the City Council’s ear.

“We came up with this as sort of an effort of a last gasp,” he said.

“We didn’t have many tools, many arrows left in our quiver to get the city’s attention.

“The reason we did that, went ahead with the change in government, was to get their attention, and I have to admit it, it did work.”

With the Nov. 7 election on the second-class-city proposal about five months away, Our Water, Our Choice! is still in favor of the measure, though not in full-throated fashion.

“Generally speaking yes, we are,” Libera said.

“We have an obligation to the people we talked to and signed on and were angry enough to want a new city government.”

________

Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at pgottlieb@peninsuladailynews.com.

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