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New Charter Commissioners Divide Politically

By Jim Casey,
Peninsula Daily News

December 15, 2006

Port Angeles, WA – First, you have your partisan political offices – public posts won by party nominees.

Next come nonpartisan jobs for which candidates profess no party affiliation, at least not in their campaigns.

Now, Clallam County Charter Review Commission members have managed to divde themselves along non-nonpartisan lines.

Although the commission is officially nonpartisan, the split divided Republicans from Democrates at their initiati meeting Wednesday.

Democrats echoed their recent federal and state victories, beating Republicans 10 votes to 5 as they chose John Miller of Port Angeles as their chairman over David Cummins.

Miller, former chief of the Clallam County Democratic Party, also will become the elected director of the county Department of Community Development (DCD) on Jan., 2, leaving his current job as executive director of the Lower Elwha Klallam tribe.

The Charter Reivew Commission consists of 15 members, known as freeholders, who will examine Clallam County's home rule charter over the next year and recommend changes to voters next November.

The charter is the county's constitution that lets it decide many policies for itself rather than following state statutes.

Freeholders next chose Sue Erzen - also over Cummins - as first fice chairwoman, Patti Adler over Randy Simmons as second vice chairwoman, and Rod Fleck unanimously as parliamentarian.

Erzen, of Sequim, is active in the Clallam County League of Women Voters.

Adler is a property manager and community activist in Clallam Bay, and Fleck is Forks' city attorney/planner.

Cummins - a Republican Party stalwart and perennial anti-tax activist - had received the most votes among all freeholder candidates with 3,268 ballots.

He thus expected to head the commission after he was nominated by freeholder Sue Forde, also a staunch conservative.

But Norma Turner, a liberal activist, nominated Miller.

After Miller was elected, freeholder Terry Roth - another Republican - said, "I see a partisan split here. I don't consider it a very healthy way to start our commission."

Forde echoed his objection.

However, Adler noted no law said the top candidate must be chairman.

Miller said, "I think I'm a person who can keep his objectivity."

He also promised to abstain from any discussion of the post of Department of Community Develoment director.

Elective office

The job had been an appointive one until the 2001 freeholders recommended it to be an elected position, and voters ratified the change.

Rob Robertsen won the job in a race against the appointed incumbent, Bob Martin, in 2002.

Robertsen filed for re-election, and Miller also announced his candidacy.

In a surprise turnaround, however, Robertsen withdrew from the race last August - after the deadline passed for filing for the office. His withdrawal essentially handed the job to Miller.

Despite seeking the elected position, both Robertsen and Miller agree it should return to an appointive one because it requires expertise in land-use law and building regulations.

In other action Wednesday, the freeholders:

Agreed to allow commission members to attend meetings by telephone with the chairman's prior approval.

Appointed Trish Holden their administrative assistant. Holden also is clerk of the board of county commissioners.

Set the first and third Mondays of each month as their meeting days.

Sessions will start at 6:30 p.m. in the county commissioners' hearing room in the Clallam County Courthouse, 223 E. Fourth St., Port Angeles.

Despite its being the Martin Luther King federal holiday, their next meeting will be Jan. 15.

Requested that Holden assemble all previous freeholders' recommendations and the issues' fates in elections.

Adoped the 2001 freeholders' bylaws at least for the time being.

After the meeting, Cummins was philosophical about losing to Miller.

"I think the pendulum swings back and forth," he said. "There's definitely five Republians and 10 Democrats. You work with that. You do your best to couch your ideas so they are acceptable to the whole committee."

Sales tax

Cummins - who last spring unsuccessfully challenged Clallam County's one-tenth of 1 percent sales tax for drug abuse and mental health programs - restated his intention to change the charter to require referendums on any new taxes.

"Will it pass?" he asked. "Probably not."

For his part, Miller said he was "flattered and honored" to be the freeholders' chairman.

He resigned as chairman of Clallam County Democrats, he said, to run for the charter commission.


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