Charter Review Commission deserves congratulations for hard work done for the citizens of Clallam County: Review changes and vote wisely

Guest Editorial by Bob Forde
(The following editorial was published in the Sequim Gazette in July 2002)

Posted 8/22/02

The 15-member elected commission to review the Home Rule Charter – Clallam County’s “Constitution”, deserves a hand for the hard work and long hours they’ve devoted to reviewing the charter and listening to citizens across the spectrum of political views to arrive at several proposed changes.

Several newspaper accounts have reported inaccurately regarding the commission’s work, especially concerning the initiative and referendum processes.  Much-needed changes to strengthen these two very important rights reserved to the people have been under attack, most recently with the “100 signatures” issue.  It is important to stress that before reporting on these issues, it would be good if reporters from local newspapers (a) actually read the proposed changes; and (b) attended the charter review commission meetings. 

The commission looked at, and incorporated, language from other counties around the state concerning the initiative and referendum process.  The new language, as proposed, places the procedure into easy-to-follow steps, with safeguards to get an initiative to the ballot instead of being shut down before getting to the people for a vote. 

No mention of 100 signatures is made concerning the initiative process. (An initiative is the creation of a new law, or the repeal of a law, initiated by the people.)

The referendum process, which in the existing charter only requires one signature to get it started, would require 100 signatures under the proposed change, just to get it started, making it more difficult for “frivolous” referendums.  This is 100 times the number required now!  The referendum sponsor would have only 8 days to get those 100 signatures.  (A referendum deals with a law just passed by the county commissioners – it “refers” the law to the people – submits to popular vote – a measure passed on or proposed by the county commissioners).

The Sequim Gazette ran a “news” story about the issue, entitled “Charter proposals baffle county leaders” (7.24.02).  You reported that the proposed change would “suspend any ordinance” with the 100 signatures, a statement which was inaccurate and misleading, to say the least.

“Any ordinance” could not be suspended under the proposal; only a new, proposed ordinance made by the county commissioners, if 100 signatures could be gathered within 8 days – not an easy feat.  That’s only to get the referendum started, and then 5% of the people who voted in the last general election would have to sign on in order to get it on the ballot for the vote of the rest of the people. 

“Any ordinance” would include the right of initiative – and the initiative process does not call for 100 signatures anywhere in the language.  The process for an initiative is different than that for a referendum.

During the course of commission meetings, the initiative I sponsored, Initiative 6 – the Repeal of the Critical Areas Code - has been mentioned as an example as to why the charter should be changed toward correcting and strengthening the initiative and referendum process. 

Innuendos made in local papers that Initiative 6 is dead are far from the truth.  The lawsuit over whether the initiative can go forward for a vote of the people has been placed on the “fast track” by the appeals court, and is scheduled for oral arguments on September 4th.  Apparently, the judges in the appeals court think it’s important enough an issue to hear soon. 

Also of note is that prominent organizations and state-elected officials have joined in an amicus brief in favor of Initiative 6.  Signers on this friendly brief include State Representatives Jim Buck and Joyce Mulliken; State Senator Tim Sheldon; the Washington State Farm Bureau; the Evergreen Freedom Foundation, and Ferry County.  They obviously believe that the people of Clallam County have been short-changed in not being allowed to vote on this initiative, and have made an excellent argument regarding the constitutional rights of the people at the local level to do so. 

Time will tell what the outcome will be, but there are many ‘experts’ with whom we have spoken who firmly believe that Initiative 6 will win in the end, and be allowed to go before the people of this county for a vote, as it should have in the beginning.  Whether you are for or against the issue, it should be left to the people to decide.

This initiative should never have been thrown into the courts to begin with.  The county commissioners failed to follow their own ordinance – that an issue “must be on the ballot” before they can even file a declaratory judgment (which is what they did, naming me as the defendant in this case).  With the proposed changes to the initiative and referendum process, hopefully some of these issues will be dealt with through clarification of the proper procedure to follow.  This will not just help “special interest groups” but each and every citizen of this county.

After all, the Home Rule Charter (our county constitution), is designed to “give the control of county affairs to the people of the county rather than requiring legislation from Olympia.”  It offers increased local involvement and local control in our local government by its citizens, which follows the concepts of both the U.S. Constitution and the Washington State Constitution, which states “All political power is inherent in the people, and governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, and are established to protect and maintain individual rights.” (Art. 1, Sec. 1, WA State Const.)

Despite what certain organizations have repeated over the course of the commission meetings, - that the issues are too complex for ordinary citizens to understand - I believe that the people can, and will, make the right choices.

I strongly encourage citizens to obtain a copy of the Home Rule Charter and its proposed changes, which is available at the Clallam County Courthouse, and online at, so you are fully informed about the truth of these issues before you vote in November.

In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, any copyrighted work in this message is distributed under fair use without profit or payment for non-profit research and educational purposes only. [Ref.]


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