Why to vote no on the Jefferson County Charter Proposal

Yesterday, I received the following email from a long time friend and environmental activist, Fayette Krause. I am enclosing it with my thoughts, many of which mirror Fayette’s. Fayette’s letter spurred me to finish writing down my thoughts on the proposed Charter County proposals, as the county Democrats are going to hold an endorsement meeting on Sept 17th. I believe the Charter proponents are well intentioned, but ultimately proposing a fundamental change to the County structure that will not benefit the County, and in fact, may bring more problems. Here’s why.

I plan to vote “No” on the Charter for the following reasons. These are somewhat different and re-prioritized from Fayette’s.

1. This does not fix the root causes. It goes after the symptoms.

1A. Is the root cause of putting forward a Charter County a disconnect between the majority of voters and the elected officials? Jefferson County already has the highest percentage voter turnout in the State. We have elected both conservatives and progressives over the last couple of decades. The problem does not seem to be voter apathy to issues, or some kind of disconnect between the electorate and the County officials. Our county allows citizens to vote out incumbents and choose a candidate that more closely allies with our ideas/ideals. For progressives, the current County Commission has generally been very responsive, and was elected as a reaction to a previous more conservative group of Commissioners who approved such ill-conceived developments as the Pit To Pier project, which was ultimately was brought down by economics, and changes at a State level. On another issue, our current Commissioners spent a large amount of time to research and discuss the Shoreline Master Program and Critical Areas Ordinance for example. I don’t think that any of the progressives now supporting the Charter would argue that our elected officials’ stance on those were wrong. They have supported protection of special places, such as Dabob Bay. They have fought net-pens in our county, offering options to their deployment that the State refused to accept. They have supported numerous other progressive measures.

If the root cause is a lack of enough commissioners to guarantee more representation, the Charter does not necessarily accomplish that. Adding more Commissioners does not mean that things will be more representative. San Juan County voted in a Charter County, with 6 commissioners and found that it was too expensive and didn’t guarantee any better representation of the citizens, so they returned to 3 after great expense to the county.

1B. Is the root cause a lack of a initiative process to stop state mandated issues like net-pens?

The charter and initiative process, on a county basis, will not likely stop net-pens. I have heard it stated by the Charter County advocates that we can create an initiative to ban net-pens. I don’t see any legal basis for a local initiative to succeed at that. The root cause for the requirement for net pens is at the State level, not county. State DOE holds the authority to allow net pens on aquatic lands, and allows the counties to help write the rules to those lands, both for getting local input and saving the state money. DOE and the State reserve the right to undo any proposals, like these that they see fit. The only way I see to implement a ban on net pens in the State waters, is to implement a state wide initiative, and I believe that the charter advocates that want a net pen ban should take that route, rather than overhaul our county rules to achieve a goal that likely will do nothing to solve the problem.

2. I have no guarantee that the Freeholders that get elected are going to craft a better governance document!
The freeholder election has numerous very conservative candidates running for Freeholder positions. Should a majority of these candidates win, there is no telling where they may take the Charter. The law of unintended consequences looks to be very likely to happen if we don’t elect the slate that we want.

3. This is going to cost the county more money, not less.
We currently can’t afford to take care of our county parks, yet well meaning people want the county to spend money on the Charter. Even with a minor amount of change we will pay to implement that change.
Initiative challenges will cost us more money. This is not a revenue neutral proposal. (see below).

4. The Initiative process does not guarantee beneficial results.

While originally well intentioned, Tim Eyman’s manipulation of the initiative process has shown us that just because you create and vote to approve one, it will not necessarily get you the outcomes you expect. Much of our State Ferry rate increases that we have lived under here in Jefferson County, and affect us the most, were begun in the wake of Eyman’s I-695 initiative and it’s outcome on State highway revenues. (while it was declared unconstitutional it’s goals were implemented by elected officials afraid of opposing Eyman).

There is a belief that County initiatives supersede State and Federal law. I have seen nothing that makes me believe that, and would like to see backers support that contention. I see an outcome where local initiatives are challenged by the very corporations that you want to keep out, and cost the county money to challenge in court.

Standard variety initiatives will be challenged by those who lose, which has been the case with Eyman’s initiatives at the State level. Out of Eyman’s 19 initiatives and one referendum 12 failed or were voted out and 5 have been ruled unconstitutional! Many have been ruled unconstitutional after costly legal challenges. The cost to the State in challenges has never had a dollar figure placed on it. We in this small county cannot afford to spend money on court challenges like this, when we can’t even fund our existing county needs.

5. This idea has not had an appropriate amount of time for debating the issue.

For all these reasons, I hope that friends who are members of the Jefferson County Democrats can attend and vote no in this upcoming meeting. The meeting takes place at 7PM on Sept 17th. I hope all of you will vote no on Charter County at the upcoming election.

Al B. – Editor

From: Fayette Krause
Date: Sat, Sep 7, 2013 at 5:38 PM
Subject: Where are you?
To: “Undisclosed-Recipient:;”@userservices.net

Regarding the proposed Charter? I am contacting some Demos that I know re the special endorsement mtg on Sept. 17 at the Community Ctr in P.T. I plan to vote “No” on the Charter for several reasons:

1. The Freeholder election has numerous very conservative candidates running for the Freeholder positions. Should a majority of these candidates win, there is no telling where they may take the Charter.

2. The Charter idea is rushed and will lack a reasonable time frame for debate. Further, it is complicated and difficult to distill to a few soundbites — something we should avoid anyway.

3. Our state has seen where the Initiative has taken us recently. Originally this idea was a highly progressive instrument, designed to circumvent corporate-controlled state legislatures. It can still be used this way by progressives, but the Tim Eyman’s of Washington have also learned how to use this legislation effectively, to the detriment of state government.

4. What’s broken here? If there is a problem with county governance, we can vote out the incumbents and choose a candidate that more closely allies with our ideas/ideals. For progressives, the current County Commission has generally been very responsive, opposing ill-conceived developments, supporting protection for special places like Dabob Bay, fighting net-pens in the Straits and Hood Canal, and generally supporting other progressive measures.

5. There is a dollar cost to the County, for running the election, and an unknown and unpredictable cost should our current system be changed by adopting a Charter. The price tag could be relatively low, but any change is likely to require some additional costs.

These are only a few of the reasons that I am uncomfortable with the Charter idea, despite the fact that a number of progressive and very well-meaning people support it. While commending them for their work in raising the issue, I cannot support the Charter idea.

The endorsement vote will be taken at the 7:00 mtg on Sept. 17. Only members of the JeffCo Demo Party can vote, and the requirement for either a negative or positive endorsement is 2/3 of the voters, plus one. Consequently, it is important to have a large and informed turn-out.

I hope you can attend.


2 Responses

  1. There’s nothing to vote on, on the 17th? It’s whether the major political party in the county supports this idea or not, and that is a significant decision. Home rule is non-partisan? I think that you are being, at best, naive. The fact that free-holders work for free does not impress me at all. They are working on a document that can significantly impact all of our governance, so the fact that it’s free is of no issue. It damn well should be. But it’s not about it’s cost to work on it, it’s about their decisions, which could be seriously flawed. And could cost us later. The question is whether or not it’s worth embarking on this voyage. Sometimes if you aren’t prepared, you don’t leave the dock. In the 1970s, I dropped a friend off in Ballard to leave for fishing in the Bering Sea. I took one look at the ship he was leaving on, and begged him to reconsider. He sailed with it, and died that winter when the ship went down. It was unseaworthy, and perhaps the captain was too. But I look at the ship called Charter County, and look at the supposed Captains being asked to sail it, and my answer is, “no thanks.” I’ll wait for a better ship and crew if possible.

    To say that Legislators don’t make laws proves you need to go back and take a civics class. I’m not going to try and teach you how government works, but you need to reread your constitution. You fundamentally don’t understand our system of government. And you want me to trust you or someone you support with the task of rewriting the County governance? Please. Get real.

  2. There is another way to vote on the 17th. Vote to remain neutral, that is, take no position either way. Home Rule is non partisan. It’s more seemly if the party machines stay neutral. There is really nothing to vote on at this time anyway.

    At this point, the choice whether or not to elect freeholders will be on the ballot in November. Freeholders are FREE! They work for nothing. It seems pointless to deny citizens an opportunity to improve county government, for free. If voters approve, they will so indicate at the polls. If not, Home Rule fails. Taking a stand at this early date is little more than the power machine’s attempt to perpetuate itself in local government.

    Should freeholders be elected, they will design a charter.
    The time to take a stand is after the charter is delivered and voters get a chance to see it. It’s pointless to oppose the process at this time with nothing but presumption to go on.

    The attempt on the part of these authors to put reasons forward for Home Rule proponents, if not arrogant, is certainly misinformed. Each advocate has their own reason for wanting home Rule.

    Your statements that state decisions supersede local decisions is incorrect. State legislators do not make law, the courts do. That’s what they’re there for. Ask a lawyer, I did.

    When I was gathering signatures for this issue, I spoke to thousands of county citizens over a period of 7+ weeks. Their overriding concerns were those surrounding representation and control of government. You would have a difficult time persuading them that they were mistaken in their beliefs, and they are citizens too. You may not agree with their perceptions but they have a right to a voice in government.

    It then becomes your task, when a divisive issue comes up, to offer a vigorous debate on the subject, as we are doing now, and vote accordingly,. Home Rule requires us all to take part in government and gives us a voice to do so. What’s to fear, that the other guy won’t vote the way you want them to? It’s democracy.

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