Charter Review and District Only VotingPermalink +
Thu, Apr 17, 2014, 9:40 am // Riley Sweeney
“Treasuring the many wonders of our unique environment and realizing that the power and duty to govern and protect this region is inherent in its people, we, the citizens of Whatcom County, in order to have a government which advances justice, inspires confidence, and fosters responsibility, do adopt as the foundation of our government, this Charter.” -Whatcom County Charter, Preamble
This year, Whatcom County voters have a unique opportunity. They will be able to rewrite the constitution of our county government. This process is called a County Charter Review.
Most counties in Washington state do not have a charter. They use the standard setup outlined by the State Constitution and the legislature, where three county commissioners are elected by the voters, and they appoint a county manager to serve as the executive branch. This setup works just fine in say, Adams County (pop. 19,200), where the most debated subject is resurfacing the main road that runs through the county to handle more truck traffic.
But this setup runs into trouble when it is applied to say, Thurston County (pop. 260,100). Three full-time commissioners simply cannot handle all the duties of a county government when it gets to be that size, so Whatcom County (pop. 205,800) found a different solution.
In 1978, the voters approved a “Home Rule Charter” which means that the citizens of Whatcom were seizing the power to reorganize their government, as provided for in the state constitution, making us the third such county to do so in the history of Washington.
Our County Charter serves as our county constitution. You can read it in its entirety here. It outlines who is elected (county executive, sheriff, treasurer, auditor, prosecutor, assessor and council) and who is appointed (county clerk, medical examiner, board of health, etc). It defines the powers of each office, lays out the procedure for elections and defines compensation and concepts like conflict of interest.
According to our charter, every ten years the citizens will form a commission to, “review the Charter to determine its adequacy and suitability to the needs of the county and may propose amendments.” They will serve without salary and usually attend a series of meetings that span six months. The commissioners are elected by council district, with the top five vote getters in each district being seated for a total of fifteen commissioners. All the amendments proposed by the commission must be put to a vote in November 2015.
The Charter Review Commission has the power to drastically change the way we operate as a county. Just to pick one drastic example, they could strip the County Council of its ability to approve land use permits, a major blow for Gateway Pacific Terminal opponents. Alternately, they could turn the county executive into an appointed position and give that power to the County Council, raising the stakes for council races to ridiculous levels.
However, the most likely battleground this year is over district-only voting. Charlie Crabtree, chair of the Whatcom Republicans and confused newspaper reader, has made it crystal clear that his priority for the Charter Review is district-only voting. As he wrote in his emails to disheartened Republicans after they lost control of the Council last year,
"In 2005, voters in Whatcom County voted to elect their councilmembers by the district where they reside instead of an “At-Large” County-wide Election. The first election to be “district only” was 2007. Five weeks after the 2007 election, led by Barbara Brenner, the council passed an ordinance to reverse the people’s decision. This ordinance was passed without hearing. It was placed on the ballot and an uneducated public put “at large” voting back in place. The November 5th election shows the “Brenner effect” of Ken Mann and Carl Weimer not getting a majority vote in the district they will end up representing."
Right now, council candidates must live in their district, pass a primary in their district and then be elected county-wide. In 2013, a majority of the Democratic votes came from the 1st District, which includes south Bellingham because that’s where the Democratic ground game focused their efforts. This increased turnout helped reelect Weimer and Mann.
Crabtree has been beating this drum for many years. He wrote the PRO position in the 2005 voters pamphlet for district only voting, however this may not be a winning strategy for the Republicans.
Here is the breakdown by district of the Democratic votes for the last four years. As you can see, the Democratic total of votes continues to grow in all three districts. This is especially telling since the last redistricting (2012) added more conservative precincts to the 2nd District, and moved more liberal precincts into the 1st. Even with that boost, the Republicans are losing ground county-wide.
If we move to district-only voting, it would go into effect in 2017. If these trends are to continue, that would put the 3rd district at 48.3% Democratic and the 2nd at 44%. With Carl Weimer most likely retiring from council in 2017, it would mean a competitive race in the 3rd, and Ken Mann staring down a difficult situation in the 2nd. Except by this point, Mann will have served for 8 years, and every year he does better than the year previous. The incumbent factor is hard to shake (see Brenner, Barbara).
No matter how the issue of district-only voting is resolved, the Charter Review Commission is a vital pivot point for elections in Whatcom. If you are interested in serving, reach out to whichever party you identify with and let them know.
For more “Keep it Simple, Sweeney” explanations of local political issues, check out some of these articles: Bellingham Waterfront 101, what is the Growth Management Act, and why can’t we pass gun legislation?
Thu, Apr 17, 2014, 9:40 am // Riley SweeneyA simple explanation of the Charter Review and analysis of District only voting
Wed, Mar 19, 2014, 9:32 am // Riley SweeneyRiley digs into the county's plan to buy the county morgue
3 comments; last on Mar 24, 2014
Fri, Mar 14, 2014, 9:47 am // John ServaisFukushima radiation has been found 20 miles from Whatcom County farmland along the Fraser River in British Columbia.
1 comments; last on Mar 17, 2014
Mon, Mar 10, 2014, 9:51 am // Riley SweeneyRiley digs into an unusual hiring decision at the County Planning Dept
1 comments; last on Mar 10, 2014
Tue, Feb 25, 2014, 8:29 pm // John ServaisThe full text of Craig Cole's threatening letter of libel against the Whatcom Watch. And the emptiness of the threat.
16 comments; last on Mar 20, 2014
Wed, Feb 19, 2014, 4:48 pm // John ServaisCraig Cole, the local contact for the proposed Cherry Point coal port has threatened the Whatcom Watch with a libel lawsuit.
6 comments; last on Mar 20, 2014
Mon, Feb 17, 2014, 7:26 am // Riley SweeneyRiley digs through court data and discovers the real impact of privatization and legalization
Fri, Dec 06, 2013, 11:03 pm // Wendy HarrisThe county will be required to consider water quality and water quantity when planning rural growth.
3 comments; last on Dec 10, 2013
Mon, Nov 18, 2013, 10:59 am // Riley SweeneyThe county takes two big steps forward on the new jail, while still missing the point
Tue, Nov 05, 2013, 8:21 pm // John ServaisWith lots of outside county money flowing in to our local races, this election is weird. But real - and we county residents have spoken.
11 comments; last on Nov 09, 2013
Wed, Oct 02, 2013, 5:40 am // Riley SweeneyRiley uncovers how the Coal Industry is funding conservative candidates in Whatcom County
11 comments; last on Oct 03, 2013
Thu, Sep 19, 2013, 6:08 am // Riley SweeneyRiley examines who is donating to which candidates
Mon, Aug 19, 2013, 7:08 am // Riley SweeneyRiley whole-heartedly urges Doug Ericksen to run for Congress in 2014
2 comments; last on Aug 19, 2013
Tue, Aug 13, 2013, 11:31 pm // Wendy HarrisThe City of Bellingham memorandum of agreement with Lynden does not make sense. What is going on?
4 comments; last on Sep 10, 2013
Sun, Jul 14, 2013, 10:25 am // John ServaisThe explosion of hate and racist rhetoric is the saddest aspect of the verdict. The evidence was complicated and the verdict difficult to make.
2 comments; last on Jul 16, 2013
Fri, Jul 12, 2013, 8:29 am // John ServaisRiley Sweeney has a short but important expose over at the Political Junkie today.
1 comments; last on Jul 12, 2013
Fri, May 31, 2013, 4:43 pm // John ServaisLuba Pekisheva has been given a confusing run around in our Whatcom County courts for over three years. Judges, prosecutors and clerks have all participated.
Thu, May 30, 2013, 11:01 pm // Guest writerJeffrey Margolis urges us to request the Nooksack South Fork Valley be included in the Coal Port environmental study.
3 comments; last on Jun 02, 2013
Fri, May 24, 2013, 12:18 am // Guest writerMarian Beddill provides a general guide for the public, with a look at the history of water rights in Washington state.
4 comments; last on May 26, 2013
Wed, May 22, 2013, 10:12 am // Guest writerBy Guest Writer Nicole Brown. This is a call to action for county citizens as the county tries to ram through the slaughterhouse rezones.
7 comments; last on May 26, 2013
Fri, May 17, 2013, 4:44 pm // John ServaisTuesday morning and nothing in today's Bellingham Herald. Nor online. We provide the basics to fill in this latest omission by our "daily" newspaper.
9 comments; last on May 23, 2013
Mon, Apr 22, 2013, 5:52 am // Riley SweeneyRiley attends Tea Party training and runs afoul of Rep. Overstreet
1 comments; last on Apr 22, 2013
Mon, Mar 11, 2013, 6:37 am // Guest writerGuest writer Shane Roth writes in favor of the reconveyance of Lake Whatcom land back to the county.
1 comments; last on Mar 11, 2013
Tue, Feb 26, 2013, 6:39 am // Riley SweeneyRiley details upcoming merger between PeaceHealth and a much more conservative entity
1 comments; last on Feb 26, 2013
Wed, Jan 30, 2013, 12:09 am // Wendy HarrisThe planning commission no longer serves its purpose due to Council's poor appointment choices
2 comments; last on Feb 10, 2013
Mon, Jan 28, 2013, 1:52 am // Wendy HarrisImproving ecosystem functions holistically is the best form of protection for the Lake Whatcom.
1 comments; last on Jan 28, 2013
Tue, Jan 22, 2013, 6:19 pm // Wendy HarrisLinks to a few noteworthy GPT scoping comments .
1 comments; last on Jan 22, 2013
Fri, Jan 11, 2013, 1:35 pm // Wendy HarrisA proposed amendment to the Lake Whatcom watershed moratorium will increase water quality degradation
1 comments; last on Jan 12, 2013
Sun, Jan 06, 2013, 11:49 pm // Wendy HarrisWatch the Whatcom County Council wiggle its way out of the latest round of GMA compliance requirements for Lake Whatcom
1 comments; last on Jul 27, 2013
Fri, Jan 04, 2013, 11:37 pm // Wendy HarrisCouncil majority willing to spend, and spend, and spend public funds defending development rights
2 comments; last on Jan 05, 2013
Wed, Dec 19, 2012, 11:12 am // John ServaisA dramatic video of yet another mudslide near Everett - and what will be coming down on coal trains. Amtrak service to Bellingham is shut down.
4 comments; last on Dec 20, 2012
Sat, Dec 08, 2012, 1:43 pm // John ServaisA giant coal freighter went right through the long dock early Friday morning. Nothing in print edition of Herald
3 comments; last on Dec 11, 2012
Mon, Dec 03, 2012, 3:26 pm // Tip JohnsonWherein citizens must hold their representatives' feet to the fire
6 comments; last on Dec 09, 2012
Sat, Nov 10, 2012, 9:53 am // Riley SweeneyRiley examines why the new jail site was selected without public input
1 comments; last on Nov 12, 2012
Sat, Nov 03, 2012, 1:21 pm // Tip JohnsonAn letter to the County Council on opening the county to the slaughter industry
8 comments; last on Nov 08, 2012
Wed, Oct 31, 2012, 7:29 am // Riley SweeneyHere's your shot at fame and glory as a political pundit
4 comments; last on Nov 02, 2012
Tue, Oct 02, 2012, 8:22 am // Riley SweeneyRiley examines Rep. Vincent Buys' legislative record
1 comments; last on Dec 02, 2012
Fri, Sep 21, 2012, 8:53 am // John ServaisBellingham Business Journal breaking story - Lummi's to hold meeting today at noon to speak against the Cherry Point project.
7 comments; last on Nov 04, 2012
Wed, Sep 05, 2012, 11:00 am // Riley SweeneyRiley patiently explains to the Whatcom Excavator what a flowchart should look like
Mon, Aug 20, 2012, 6:24 pm // Guest writerDavid Maas, a retired college prof, asks why the city of Bellingham is supposedly powerless to stop the development of a private project that will reshape our community?
5 comments; last on Aug 26, 2012
Mon, Aug 20, 2012, 8:00 am // Riley SweeneyRiley sits down with Matt Petryni with Power Past Coal to get the latest scoop
Thu, Aug 09, 2012, 8:30 pm // Larry HorowitzQuestions raised by the Superior Court's barring of the Bellingham Community Bill of Rights initiative from being placed on the ballot.
21 comments; last on Aug 17, 2012
Fri, Jul 20, 2012, 4:44 pm // Riley SweeneyRiley gathers quotes, video footage and pictures from the recent tea party forum
1 comments; last on Jul 20, 2012
Tue, Jul 10, 2012, 8:45 am // Larry HorowitzWanted: Someone to interpret chamber president Oplinger's remarks
13 comments; last on Jul 13, 2012
Wed, Jul 04, 2012, 10:42 am // Riley SweeneyRiley interviews judicial candidates, reviews campaign tactics, and discusses fireworks
Sun, Jun 17, 2012, 8:52 am // Paul deArmondPort Commissioner Scott Walker and attorney Frank Chmelik get caught ballot-rigging again
20 comments; last on Jun 21, 2012
Fri, May 18, 2012, 10:27 am // Riley SweeneyA short plea for public involvement from Riley
Sat, Apr 28, 2012, 9:09 am // John ServaisA county wide initiative will allow voters to decide whether to expand the Port of Bellingham commission from 3 to 5 commissioners.
1 comments; last on Apr 28, 2012
Tue, Apr 24, 2012, 11:07 am // Riley SweeneyRiley attended the Whatcom GOP Convention and reports back
1 comments; last on Apr 29, 2012
Tue, Apr 24, 2012, 12:02 am // Guest writerDevelopers are gaming the system with help from the county government - and big changes are made in multiple small changes.
1 comments; last on Apr 27, 2012
Tue, Apr 10, 2012, 7:52 pm // John ServaisAn illegal serial Port Commission meeting should be investigated by the State Auditor, and two commissioners should be made accountable for their actions.
5 comments; last on Apr 11, 2012
Fri, Apr 06, 2012, 7:16 am // Guest writerKen Mann writes a guest article of his personal support for the Padden Trails development inside the Bellingham city limits.
3 comments; last on Apr 07, 2012
Wed, Apr 04, 2012, 2:16 pm // John ServaisState law allows us to pass an initiative and increase the number of port commissioners from three to five. Thanks to Harriet Spanel.
4 comments; last on Apr 05, 2012
Mon, Apr 02, 2012, 11:43 am // Larry HorowitzWhere to begin? Misinformation. Disinformation. Truths. Myths. Same old, same old. Paradigm shift. GMA. OFM. Growth pressures. Population loss. Growth subsidies. Proportionate share.
36 comments; last on Apr 11, 2012
Fri, Mar 09, 2012, 11:15 am // Riley SweeneyRiley gets to the bottom of this in a NWCitizen Exclusive
4 comments; last on Apr 01, 2012
Sat, Feb 18, 2012, 3:03 pm // Guest writerNo EIS - no real county planning concern about developing Squalicum Mountain and degrading Lake Whatcom water even further.
Tue, Jan 31, 2012, 8:36 am // Paul deArmondPort Commissioner Scott Walker and attorney Frank Chmelik get caught ballot-rigging again
Mon, Jan 30, 2012, 11:58 pm // Riley SweeneyRiley updates us on the latest facts coming to light about City of Bellingham employee moonlighting
2 comments; last on Feb 01, 2012
Wed, Jan 25, 2012, 10:42 am // Riley SweeneyRiley visits the local WorkSource center and interviews the regional director
Thu, Jan 19, 2012, 5:29 pm // Riley SweeneyRiley discusses the Jail, Jack Louws, and an impartial council with our new Council Chair
1 comments; last on Jan 20, 2012
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