Charter Review and District Only Voting

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Thu, Apr 17, 2014, 9:40 am  //  Riley Sweeney

District Only Voting Trends

“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?

Charter Review and District Only Voting

Thu, Apr 17, 2014, 9:40 am  //  Riley Sweeney

A simple explanation of the Charter Review and analysis of District only voting

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Johns Repair

Specializing in German vehicles...

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0 comments

City Controls Chuckanut Park - Not New Park District

Fri, Feb 22, 2013, 2:47 pm  //  John Servais

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1 comments; last on Feb 23, 2013

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0 comments

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Rep. Jason Overstreet’s Record

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We have met the enemy and [s]he is…

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... the person who recently had this to say about the Sunnyland Neighborhood rezone application

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0 comments

Video of port commissioners is posted

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Riley at The Political Junkie attends a forum of Congressional Candidates, and a town hall meeting in Lynden

0 comments

UPDATE: City of Bham Moonlighting Issue - More Documents

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Riley updates us on the latest facts coming to light about City of Bellingham employee moonlighting

2 comments; last on Feb 01, 2012

Sam Crawford Faces Ethical Concerns . . . AGAIN

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UPDATE: City’s response focused on favoritism, not lost revenue

Wed, Nov 30, 2011, 6:51 pm  //  Riley Sweeney

More on the city employee moonlighting issue

0 comments

TPJ Exclusive: Little Documented Oversight for City Employee Moonlighting

Mon, Nov 28, 2011, 5:29 pm  //  Riley Sweeney

The Political Junkie breaks a story of employee moonlighting within city of Bellingham

7 comments; last on Nov 30, 2011

CameraGate:  Red-light safety or city revenue?

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With budget woes, Bellingham passes on safety in favor of cash. Starting in 2008, Bellingham officials were coached by ATS on how to get Red Light cameras through…

26 comments; last on Nov 30, 2011

Padden Trails Rezone – You Should Be Worried

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Riley Sweeney does a public records request on Sam Crawford

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At the mid-session townhall meeting, Doug Ericksen would rather threaten the press than have his words recorded

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Riley Sweeney talks about the Jail Meeting

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Wikileaks is serving Democracy

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Updated Dec 3. I support WikiLeaks and their release of government documents so citizens can vote intelligently.

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Lummi Ferry Petition is Linked

Wed, Sep 01, 2010, 2:40 pm  //  John Servais

A petition to the federal government online at skookum.us. It asks they step in to resolve the impasse between the Lummi and Whatcom County.

2 comments; last on Sep 06, 2010

Cooperation no substitute for small libraries

Sat, Aug 07, 2010, 9:18 am  //  John Servais

A library card from any Whatcom County library can now be used at any library in the county

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Wed, Aug 04, 2010, 9:12 am  //  John Servais

Bellingham Planning Department is giving quiet extensions to the Chuckanut Ridge developer - propping up the property value.

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From a Political Junkie: R-71: Citizen votes or citizen legislation?

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Is the referendum/initiative process about being a citizen legislator, or more like voting to put something on the ballot?

0 comments

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Lummi officials and Lummi Island residents meet -Village to Village

2 comments; last on Feb 07, 2010

State legislators propose fees for public info

Wed, Feb 03, 2010, 4:39 pm  //  Guest writer

By guest writer Marilyn Olsen. A Bill seeks to impose fees on those requesting access to public documents.

2 comments; last on Feb 07, 2010

The Way I See It - Death by Secrecy

Wed, Jan 27, 2010, 5:59 am  //  Ham Hayes

Issues are no longer relevant when secrecy is the name of the game.

1 comments; last on Jan 27, 2010

The Lummi Blockade

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The Lummi Nation appears prepared to implement a threatened blockade of Lummi Island commencing February 14th

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Paul de Armond's recent article about Leonard Zeskind's new book, "Blood and Poli

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The Port of Chmelik

Tue, Nov 24, 2009, 5:12 am  //  John Servais

Seems like the offices of Frank Chmelik, the attorney for the Port of Bellingham, are becoming our defacto Port offices. Instead of conferences and meetings at the Port,…

2 comments; last on Nov 25, 2009

Lummi - Port agreement needs state approval

Wed, Aug 05, 2009, 10:28 am  //  John Servais

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4 comments; last on Aug 07, 2009

Is Whatcom County Government ‘Frugal’?

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3 comments; last on Jul 24, 2009

 

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