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Local group hears explanation of Home Rule Charter process

By Lois Krafsky-Perry
for Citizen Review

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Port Angeles, WA – Elected Clallam County Home Rule Charter Commissioner (District 1) Sue Forde, spoke to approximately 45 attendees at the Phone Tree meeting on Saturday.  The event was held at Joshua’s Restaurant in Port Angeles.  Forde was elected as 1st Vice-Chair of the Commission and was invited  to explain the Home Rule Charter, its history, about the current elected commission and its work and issues, and to answer questions.

“I believe government should be from the bottom up and not top down,” declared the Sequim resident, who has lived on the Olympic Peninsula for 25 years.  “I want to look out for individual rights in this county,” she announced.

She gave the caveat that she was speaking as an individual citizen,  and any opinions and statements about the Charter and its issues were  her own opinions and not in any way to be considered representing the Charter Commission.

Forde gave an overview of the county charter and its history, discussing the differences between the county forms of government.

Thirty-two of the 39 counties in Washington State operate under the “Commission” form of government.  Only seven operate under the “Home Rule Charter” form.  Those are:  Clallam, Whatcom, Snohomish, Pierce, King, San Juan and Clark.

The Clallam County Home Rule Charter (HRC) provides for the powers of initiative, referendum, mini-initiative and recall.  It also includes an elected Director of Department of Community Development (DCD), the only one in the nation.

Forde explained that our Charter has been amended five times by the voters since it was established in November 1976.

The Charter is reviewed periodically by 15 elected commission members.

Prior to 2007, it was reviewed every 5 years; that changed, and now it is reviewed every 8 years, she said.  Five members are elected from each commissioner district, chosen in the general election.

Forde reviewed what had transpired so far in the Commission review process, from election of chair (Norma Turner), a first and second vice chair (Sue Forde and Barbara Christensen) and parliamentarian (Rod Fleck).

A schedule of meetings has been set up, including six public hearings, of which three have already been held (one each in Sequim, Port Angeles and Forks), to gather input from citizens.

There are also two public comment sessions held at each meeting, to allow citizens to further let the Commission know their thoughts and desires for change to the charter to better serve the people.  Written testimony is also being received by the Commission through the form at the county website (www.clallam.net) – click on Home Rule Charter on the left sidebar.

Forde explained that the elected officials plus the appointed county administrator were interviewed by the Commission, to receive their input about what they do, and how any changes could make government run more smoothly.

At this time, subcommittees have been established with several commission members serving on each, to review the Charter Article by Article (there are 13 Articles in the Charter).

Forde then talked about what will happen next:  The Commission will continue to receive public testimony while they formulate possible amendments to the Charter based on that input.  They will meet as the whole commission to present their suggested proposed amendments and to discuss and debate those as a whole Commission.

According to the calendar, the Commission should be ready to present proposed amendments that will go on the ballot by May 5th.

The Issues Under Discussion

Forde briefly reviewed some of the issues that were debated and sent to the ballot in 2002 and in 2007.

In 2002, the citizens voted to change the position of the Director of DCD from an appointed position to an elected one – the first in the nation.

While serving as an elected Commission member in 2007, she said she was brought a proposed amendment which had been presented to the commission by Kaj Ahlburg of Port Angeles which offered protection for citizens from  Eminent Domain where property acquired from owners would be resold for a profit.  The commission agreed to send it to the ballot, where  it passed.

The issue of whether to appoint, rather than elect, the Director of Community Development (DCD)  returned to the ballot in 2007, and the voters once again decided to keep the position as elected, rather than appointed.

Another amendment that passed changed the number of years between Charter reviews from five to eight.

Forde then reviewed some of the current issues under discussion, which are listed at her website:  sueforde.com.

She then entertained questions from the audience.

Several people asked questions and made comments. Several said they believed land ordinances need to be voter-approved.

Another determined that agencies must take into account our county economics.

Unfunded mandates was also a topic of discussion.

Pearl Rains Hewett asked how many non-partisan attorneys were on the charter commission.

Someone asked, “How many times can people run for the charter?”

Another said it would be good to have term limits.

Ed Bowen asked if issues not being sent to the ballot could be sent to the county commissioners. Many in the group agreed with that suggestion.

The issue of “coordinating” with state and federal agencies was raised, which would give the county an equal voice with proposed regulations.  Many agreed that it was a good idea.

All the proposed amendments will go to Prosecutor Mark Nichols for correct language, before being placed on the ballot.

For more information on the Home Rule Charter  go to www.clallam.net  (minutes) and www.sueforde.com.  Forde said she is available to speak to organizations about the Home Rule Charter.

The Phone Tree, led by Col. Don Roberts, will meet again May 16, at Joshua’s Restaurant in Port Angeles.

 

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