Charter Review Commissioners propose amendments - Voters will decide with aid from fact sheet and pamphlet  

By EVAN McLEAN, Staff writer
Page A


Clallam County, WA - Charter review commissioners are sending five possible amendments to the county’s ruling document to the voters this fall.

Every five years, voters elect citizens to review the Home Rule Charter, essentially Clallam County’s constitution.   They gather county staff and public input and propose amendments to the document for the public’s vote.

Topics like campaign finance restrictions, instant runoff voting, eminent domain and even the frequency of charter review were debated and eventually voted on during an Aug. 6 meeting for inclusion or exclusion from the November ballot.

Proposed amendments

An amendment to make the Department of Community Development director appointed, rather than elected, caused the most debate in the final hours before the deadline,.   County voters chose to make the position elected after the last charter review commission five years ago.

“This amendment assumes that the government apparatus of election does not work and it assumes that the 57 percent of people who approved it five years ago didn’t understand what they were doing,” commissioner Rod Fleck said before voting no on the amendment.

Commissioner Tom Shindler said he still is concerned about a selection process that makes the person in the planning position a politician rather than a technician.  Current DCD director John Miller chairs the Charter Review Commission and recused himself from the discussion.

Commissioners narrowly approved passing the amendment onto voters with an 8-6 vote.

Commissioners voted 9 to 6 in favor of an amendment allowing, but not requiring, the county to adopt a form of instant runoff voting, or rank choice voting.  The systems have been said to be expensive and impractical for a county the size of Clallam.   Proponents argue the provision simply allows it to be a possibility in the future should county commissioners find it cost effective.   Instant runoff voting allows the voter to rank candidates in order of choice, like one to five.  A computer program counts the No. l votes and if no candidate attains a majority, retabulation of the alternate rankings simulates a series of runoff elections to determine a winner.

The commission forwarded an amendment to voters that would prevent the county from taking private property for primarily economic development  uses.

“The whole idea of using eminent domain for economic development is a relatively new idea,” Fleck said before approving the proposal.   “Economic development does not constitute public use.”

The commission also reviewed how often it should meet.   It forwarded an amendment that would cause the Charter Review Commission to meet every eight years, rather than every five.

“The role of this commission is a lightning rod for political activity, and I’d rather  see people
involved in their government more often than not,” Shindler said.

“I think five years is important,” commissioner Sue Forde agreed.  “It is very difficult for the individual to run an initiative and the point of a Home Rule Charter is to bring government closer to the people.”

Sue Erzen was a proponent for the change.  She said it would save the county some money while aligning the charter review elections with other elections, possibly having value of additional voter interest.

Ballot envy

Many motions did not pass the commission to the ballot.  Changes to campaign finance regulations were proposed but ultimately struck down for lack of completeness.

“The problem we have come to is enforcement,” commissioner Kris Grier said.  “I like this idea coming back at the next charter review but it just isn’t ready now.”

Shindler agreed that the topic should come back.

“The problem with campaign finance is real,” Shindler said.  “It gives money too much of a role in the democratic process and as soon as this commission, the state or the federal government reaches a solution, we’ll be bringing this back.”

Commissioner Dave Cummins was pushing to change referendum language in the charter to make it easier for citizens to petition a vote against something that county commissioners approved, like a new tax.  Cummins said he had issues raising a referendum himself, and Fleck agreed that wording in the charter should be changed.  It failed to get a majority vote, however.

Other issues like having an elected coroner or a five-seven member county commission also did not reach the ballot.

The commission will meet again Aug. 20 to review the fact sheet before sending it to the Public Disclosure Commission for approval for publication.  The fact sheet will contain “just the facts” as requested by chief civil deputy Mark Nichols, legal counsel to the commission.  The Public Disclosure Commission indicated the review commission would not be able to legally publish pros and cons for each amendment.

However, several commissioners volunteered for committees that county commissioners are expected to create to write up pros and cons for the charter amendments to appear in the auditor’s online voters pamphlet, available at under elections.

Charter Review commissioners are forwarding five possible amendments to Clallam County’s Home Rule Charter, essentially the county’s constitution.

* Instant runoff voting - amendment would allow, but not require, the county to adopt instant
runoff or rank choice voting for elections.

* Eminent domain - amendment would require private property taken by the county only be
for public use and not primarily economic development..

* Department of Community Development director - amendment would make position 
appointed rather than elected.

* Charter review frequency - amendment would reschedule charter review sessions to occur every eight years, rather than five.

* Independent candidate wording in the charter would change to reflect state law.

(Pullout Quote: “The role of this commission is a lightning rod for political activity, and I’d rather see people involved in their government more often than not.”  - Tom Shindler, charter review commissioner)



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