Freeholders still split on district-only council election options

An option under consideration--ask voters to decide if county council members should be elected in district-only or country-wide elections. Public comment is invited at the board's next meeting on Oct. 11.

The 21-member board charged with proposing a new county charter still hasn’t found consensus on how to elect the five members of an expanded county council.

But after a “straw vote” of the Kitsap County Board of Freeholders on Tuesday, Oct. 2, the charter likely will call for a nonpartisan council.

The freeholders voted 16-0, with two abstentions, in favor of nonpartisan council positions. Though the vote doesn’t officially change any language in the proposed charter, the freeholders appear ready to reverse an earlier decision to retain partisan labels for county council members.

“The council is now nonpartisan,” freeholders Chair Linda Webb said after the vote. A proposed new county executive, however, would remain partisan.

The apparent switch to a nonpartisan council came after several freeholders said they would be more comfortable supporting district-only council elections if partisan labels were removed.

The freeholders spent most of Tuesday’s meeting debating the council election issue. Several freeholders expressed support for letting voters decide the issue, either on the same ballot as the February election on the charter or in a later referendum.

Freeholder Jim Avery called the option a “Solomon decision.”

“It’s a great compromise,” said freeholder Marcus Hoffman of Silverdale. “It allows us to come out with a charter with all the things we want … and put the one issue that we have trouble with to the voters.”

Others saw the ballot option as an abdication of responsibility, and said the issue could confuse voters.

“For the last three to four years, I’ve seen the Legislature reject their responsibility by putting referendum after referendum on the ballot,” said freeholder Sherry Appleton of Poulsbo. “From that we’re seeing a transportation crisis it will take years for us to come out of.”

Rob MacDermid said voters “are not going to vote for something unless they know what they’re getting.”

The freeholders plan to take testimony on possible ballot options at their next meeting, set for 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 11, at the Island Lake Community Center. They could make a decision at that meeting, or at another set for 8:30 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 13, at the Givens Community Center.

When they make their decision, it likely will include a compromise. Several said that if the board can’t reach a consensus on elections, the charter is doomed to ballot-box failure.

Freeholder DeWayne Boyd of Bremerton pointed out that several Kitsap residents have testified that Bainbridge Island wields too much power under countywide council voting. If that’s true, Boyd said, Bainbridge voters also have the power to kill the charter.

“If we’ve alienated Bainbridge Island, then we’re sunk,” Boyd said. “So I think we need to come up with some alternatives in order to save this.”

Freeholder Matt Ryan said his informal polling at places like the Winslow ferry terminal has found support for district-only elections on Bainbridge.

“I believe Bainbridge Island will vote two-thirds, at least, for by-district,” said Ryan, an Illahee resident. “I’m not worried about how we approach this, so long as we get people elected by district.”

Freeholder Andrew Maron, a former Bainbridge city councilman, disagreed with Ryan’s assertion that Bainbridge would support district-only elections.

“That just proves that the survey is not valid,” Maron said. “Bainbridge Island voters I’ve talked to, and I think I know them well, are against this.”

At the end of their meeting, the freeholders voted on section 2.15 of the proposed charter. That’s the section which calls for district-only election of five council members.

Nine voted to keep district-only election, eight voted against it, and one abstained. Freeholders Gordon Walgren, Ron Rada and Sharon Shrader were absent.

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