PORT ANGELES — It took just five years for voters to reverse course on deciding how their Clallam County commissioners should be elected, once again changing the home rule charter to elect commissioners countywide rather than by district only.
In 2015, they voted 63 percent to 37 percent to mandate that only voters from the commissioner candidates’ home district could vote on the position in the general election.
Sixty-five of the county’s 67 precincts favored the idea — which voters had rejected in 1983 and 2003.
In Tuesday’s general election, voters switched gears again.
They were deciding 54 percent to 46 percent as of Wednesday to go back to the old way: nominating commissioners by district but allowing voters countywide to decide who should hold the county’s top elected offices.
The county elections office did not count ballots Thursday. The next count is by 4:30 p.m. today.
Elizabeth Stanley, Clallam County deputy prosecuting attorney, said Thursday the process of enacting the amendment is largely an administrative procedure.
The amendment approved Tuesday will go into effect 10 days after the Nov. 24 certification of the election results.
County commissioners Mark Ozias, Randy Johnson and Bill Peach have up to 180 days to pass an ordinance to enact the amendment if an ordinance is required, Stanley said.
Peach, who represents the West End and west Port Angeles, would be the first of the three to run for re-election countywide under the amendment. His term ends in 2022.
District-only voting was championed by West End and other rural area residents who have felt disenfranchised by larger voter numbers in the county’s urban areas, particularly Port Angeles.
Rod Fleck, the Forks city attorney-planner and charter commission member who opposed the Nov. 3 ballot measure, said Thursday he expects the vote totals to hold with more votes to count.
“I don’t think it’s going to dramatically change,” he said.
Fleck said it’s possible the voters could consider the same proposal when the charter review commission meets again in five years, drawing comparisons to a charter amendment he opposed that failed Tuesday for a third time in 17 years.
It would have made the Department of Community Development director a commissioner-appointed position after voters made it an elected position in 2002.
“I suspect this issue is not gong to go away, much like the DCD question,” he said.
The 2002 decision gave Clallam County the only elected land-use director job in the U.S. Voters rejected reversing that move in 2007 and 2015.
It was failing again 64 percent to 36 percent as of Wednesday, mirroring the fate it suffered in 2015.
Sue Erzen, who chairs the charter review commission, said Thursday she doesn’t expect the Charter Review Commission to consider putting the DCD director measure before voters again anytime soon.
“I think that would be my feeling after this has been soundly defeated,” she said.
“I think [the voters] have spoken.”
But Erzen said voters may be able to address an issue in 2022 at the ballot box that led to the repeated and concerted effort to have voters change their minds about the DCD director position.
At their virtual meeting at 6 p.m. Nov. 12, the Charter Review Commission will discuss submitting a proposed charter amendment for the November 2021 ballot that Erzen said could clarify the role and authority of the elected DCD director, which she said has been lacking since 2002.
The meeting can be accessed by clicking on charter review commission on the Clallam County home page at clallam.net.
“A review of Clallam County ordinances has failed to find changes made to address the conversion of Director of DCD from appointed administrative position to an elected office,”according to the amendment.
“In the 18 years since voters first approved electing a Director of DCD the position continues to function in the same manner as an appointed Director of DCD,” it says.
“The voters deserve to know how their vote has resulted in a change in the powers and duties of an elected DCD Director.”
The amendment says commissioners and the DCD should hire a third party to review ordinances and operating procedures “to clarify the roles and responsibilities of the DCD” and base proposed ordinances on a commissioned report.
“Ordinances shall be reviewed and amended, 30 Nov 2021 to incorporate changes required to address the DCD as an elected office,” it says.
“[The county commissioners] shall place on the November 2022 ballot any necessary charter changes to clarify the powers and duties of an elected DCD Director.”
Erzen said Thursday “there are lots of reasons” that voters decided to continue the DCD position as an elected position.
“Now maybe they will have the opportunity to also have the charter and the ordinances clarify what the powers and duties of an elected DCD director are.”
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].