Clallam charter change would limit candidates' spending
By Jim Casey, Peninsula Daily News
PORT ANGELES - Clallam County Charter Review Commissioners hitched up their britches Monday and carried three more proposed changes a step farther on the road to the Nov. 6 election.
They already had agreed to forward two other issues to Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Mark Nichols for review:
- Should the director of the Department of Community Development continue to be elected, not appointed?
- Should the Charter Review Commission be chosen every eight years instead of every five?
Meeting Monday night, they voted to send three more issues to Nichols:
- Should campaign spending by candidates for county offices be held to the same spending limits as candidates for the Legislature, currently 41 cents per voter?
- Should the county enable county commissioners someday to approve Instant Runoff Voting, also known as ranked-choice voting?
- Should voters forbid the county to seize real estate by eminent domain for the sole purpose of economic development, primarily by private developers?
Still awaiting Nichols' advice is the question of limiting terms for county elected officials.
He will tell them July 16 if the limits are constitutional.
A proposal is pending that voters must ratify new taxes.
Another idea - to increase the number of county commissioners, choose them only within their districts and elect the county administrator - appears to have died.
The 15 charter commissioners - five from each county district - were chosen last November to review the charter, the county's constitution.
Forwarding the five issues to Nichols doesn't guarantee they will appear in the election that will end Nov. 6.
He will rule only on their legality and how they must be worded.
If Nichols approves the substance and form of the measures, the charter commissioners will vote whether to place them on the ballot.
Although Nichols' approval won't amount to a certainty, it will heighten the probability that voters will decide the issues.
The proposals in brief:
Voters in 2002 decided to elect the community development director, who county commissioners previously had appointed, making Clallam County unique in the nation.
Since then, however, both the former and present elected directors told charter commissioners the job should revert to an appointive one.
Despite their urgings, conservative members of the charter commission have maintained it still should be elected.
The term of Community Development Director John Miller, who also chairs the Charter Review Commission, will end Dec. 31, 2010.
Charter Review Commission members may ask voters to elect the group every eight years - corresponding with presidential elections - instead of every five.
Arguments in favor of the change say it would draw more candidates for the commission - which serves unpaid for a year - and generate more voter interest.
Opponents say the five-year cycle has worked well and needs no change.
Charter commissioners Kris Grier and Tom Shindler of Port Angeles on Monday said county office seekers should be limited to spending no more than candidates for the state Senate and House of Representatives, as set by law.
At a present level of 41 cents per voter - with about 45,000 registered voters in Clallam County - that would restrict each candidate to $18,450 if he or she were running this year.
Charter Commissioner Sue Forde of Sequim, who ran unsuccessfully against County Commissioner Steve Tharinger , D-Dungeness, in 2003, said the amount was too low.
Forde - whose husband Bob is running against Tharinger this year - said she spent $32,000 in her campaign and was outspent by her opponent.
Commissioner Patti Morris of Port Angeles said the restriction would handicap newcomers to Clallam County politics who had little name recognition.
However, Shindler spoke of "leveling the playing field" and trying to change campaigns "from marketing to persuasion" and "to quality over quantity."
Furthermore, he said, political parties and political action groups could spend $18,450 on each candidate's behalf.
Instant Runoff Voting
The idea of each voter ranking candidates instead of voting only for one has been backed by Nelson Cone of Sequim since the charter commission's first meeting in January.
The process - common in parliamentary systems of government in other countries - would encourage participation of minor-parties candidates and eliminate the need for primary elections, Cone said.
Currently, only Pierce County among Washington counties has adopted IRV, and officials still are coping with its technicalities - including new voting software.
Monday's charter review decision only would enable the practice - not require it - if county commissioners chose to adopt it.
Charter Commissioner Terry Roth said the idea was popular only among moneyed residents of the county's East End, and Shindler observed that only five governments across the country have embraced IRV.
"I think we are way ahead of the population on this," said Charter Commissioner Sue Erzen, adding that IRV would require massive voter education.
But because the proposed charter change only would allow the county to adopt IRV at some point in the future, charter commissioners unanimously voted to forward it to Nichols.
Following a U.S. Supreme Court decision in a Connecticut case that allowed a government to seize land for private economic development two years ago, 40 states have moved to forbid the practice, said Forde.
Roth said it was one of the hottest issues among his constituents.
The case, Kelo v. City of New London, involved the city seizing homeowners' property for a research facility by pharmaceutical firm Pfizer Inc.
Charter Commissioner Norma Turner noted that a county charter change to outlaw the practice would not affect other governments, such as the Port of Port Angeles or the Clallam County Public Utility District.
Charter Commissioner Patti Adler of Clallam Bay, however, said, "People would probably come and bite us" if commissioners didn't restrict eminent domain.
Reporter Jim Casey can be reached at 360-417-3538 or at email@example.com.