County Home Rule Charter amendments debated

by Lois Krafsky-Perry
Citizen Review

October 4, 2007

Sequim, WA - Clallam County Freeholders are offering five amendments to the November 6 ballot.  Four of the amendments were debated at a forum October 3, where four freeholders and one Green Party member discussed pros and cons to the issues. The forum took place at the Sequim Prairie Grange.

The Department of Community Development (DCD) director would return to an appointed position, as opposed to elected.  This is an issue causing the most controversy.  It will be placed as Amendment number 3.

The discussion is based around the fact that Clallam County is the only county in the nation with an elected director.  That decision was determined five years ago, when the freeholders at that time had it placed on the ballot for the voters to decide.  The voters affirmed by vote, in favor of the decision.  Since that time, two directors have been elected and they have done a great job for the county, as citizens have testified.

Dave Cummins of Sequim, an elected freeholder, spoke against the decision to return the position to an appointed one.  “Five years ago, by a vote of 57 percent, Clallam County went out on probably one of the biggest adventures they ever had to take control of management of the DCD office,” declared Cummins. He said people want to work with someone who does not have an agenda. The local surveyor said he has worked with that office for over 28 years and is more pleased now with the process of electing the director, as the people have expressed. 

The two elected DCD directors had spoken in favor of the appointed process. There is a difference in salary for the two processes. The appointed director had received about $100,000 a year including benefits.  Although he is just a manager, according to Cummins, the elected DCD is now paid $55,000 with benefits.

Jim Pickett of Sequim, who also serves as a freeholder, made his plea for the appointed position again.  He used for his argument the opinion of a local home-builder president, who Picket believes speaks for 95 builders. This was Pickett’s only point for the matter.

Sue Forde, elected HRC member, objected to Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) Charter Amendment 1, while an appointed speaker Nelson Cone of the Green Party spoke in favor of IRV or “rank choice” voting.

Forde listed several reasons for opposing IRV. She said IRV is not tested and would be expensive, according to Patty Rosand, elected Clallam County Auditor. Rosand said there would be costly additional computers and new software would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.  Forde stated that State Auditor Sam Reed is also skeptical about the voting method. “It is very costly and complicated to implement,” declared Forde.

Cone, who spoke at numerous HRC meetings, is chair of the Green Party, works with Veterans for Peace, and is also involved with the Unitarian Fellowship. He is a strong advocate for IRV. 

Cone lists his reasons for IRV, such as: encourages voter turnout, reduces negative voting, gives more choices, problems now in the system, and eliminates money in election campaigning.  

Cone agreed about cost and said, “it would be costly because we are first, but not later, if we use it.”

Forde declared that IRV sounds intriguing, but it is complicated and untested.  “Once tested and litigated, it might soar like an eagle or crash and burn on its first flight,” Forde said.

Protection of county citizens from abusive eminent domain, which is represented by Amendment 2, was debated by Sue Forde, who originally submitted the proposed amendment to the commission (for) and Ken Wiersema, elected charter member (against).

Forde explained that “eminent domain” is the government's right to appropriate private property for public use, with compensation to the owner.  She noted that the problem was in a recent U. S. Supreme Court ruling which changed the meaning of the term "public use".  Before, public use meant roads, infrastructure, etc.  The ruling expanded the term to include "economic development", allowing property to be taken from private owners and given to private developers.

Forde related that Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, one of the dissenting votes, said this has effectively caused a “Robin Hood in reverse” – “take from the poor and give to the rich, which would become the norm, not the exception”.

“The ruling essentially gave a blank check to cities and counties across the nation.  People were outraged over the ruling, and 30 states have since passed laws to correct the problem.  Washington, unfortunately, is not one of those”, Forde explained.
Forde stated: ‘The proposed amendment would protect county citizens from abuses in the eminent domain law.  It would limit the meaning of the word "use" and clearly define economic development.  It would provide:
“That private property shall be taken by the County only for public use only as necessary;
““Public use” means property use by the general public or the County.  It could include the County’s use of land for public utilities or railroads, and infrastructure.
“The taking of private property by the county for economic development does not constitute public use.
“The taking of private property for economic development means taking private property from one private party and transferring that property within 10 years to another private party for the purpose of increasing the county tax base, the number of jobs in the county or for general economic development.”
“Let’s not allow our Commissioners to heist your piece of the American dream for their economic development dreams.  Vote Yes on Amendment No. 2”, she urged the listeners.
Wiersema of Sequim argued, “This is unstructured and vague and we don’t have a problem with it right now.”  He also said, “it provides little protection for you to solve problems we don’t really have.” He stated it does not address federal or future uses. He said national programs focus on other areas.  Wiersema said county government has worked with property owners, as he gave the local trail as an example.

Wiersema said eminent domain should be on the state or federal level, or small agencies or transportation agencies. “Don’t put it on our charter, “ pleaded Wiersema.

“This is about people,” announced Forde, who cited the plight of 75-year-old widow Lovey Nichols in Bremerton.  “The city took her property by eminent domain under the guise of a sewage treatment plant, then turned around, changed the zoning, and sold the property at a huge profit to a new car dealership. Lovey sued, but lost the court case – the WA State Supreme court stood behind the city, citing the “economic development” aspect”, Forde stated.  She against urged a “Yes” vote on the amendment.

Charter Amendment 5 was debated by Dave Cummins (con) and Ken Wiersema (pro).  The amendment asks for the Home Rule Charter to be revisited in 8 years instead of five years as it is now in place.

“Every five years is an opportunity for people to get your government changed,” said Cummins. He said this matter was tackled 13 years ago.  Cummins has served three times on the HRC commission. He mentioned three problems. 
1.     Go to the commissioners and make a proposal. If they are friendly it may go to the ballot.
2.  Go out and put ballot proposal before the citizens, according to 10 percent vote of the citizens in the last gubernatorial election.
3.      Make proposal by freeholders every five years. “This five year opportunity is the only opportunity by the people to get your government changed, “ affirmed Cummins.
Wiersema remarked, “I agree---citizens need to participate.”  He recommended a function rather than a political referendum for personalities.

Wiersema stated that the other five counties have ten-year cycles.  “Why are we so different,” he asked. Cummins answered, “Because we are Clallam County folks.  That’s why!”

Home Rule Charter Amendments will go on the ballot November 6. All mail- in ballots will be sent October 17.



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