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King County proposes amendments to charter

Metropolitan King County Council members met June 16 in Federal Way to discuss amendments to how the county is governed.

The council discussed King County Charter changes, some of which focus on anti-discrimination, the budget, elections and collective bargaining, among other things. Comments and suggestions from the county’s residents were also taken.

King County Charter

The charter is a constitution by which the county is governed. It was adopted by King County voters in 1969 and outlines the county’s core values of checks and balances, accountability and merit, according to the county’s Web site at www.kingcounty.gov/exec/charter/about.aspx/.

Once every 10 years, the charter is reviewed by a commission of citizens. Recommended changes to the charter are then forwarded to the county council for approval. If the council passes the amendments, they are voted upon by the county’s citizens.

Since its adoption, only 19 amendments to the charter have been embraced, said Rebecha Cusak, Metropolitan King County Council liaison to the King County Charter Review Commission.

The 21-person 2008 commission finished its review of the charter in May, following 55 meetings in the past year. Its members found 12 areas in which the charter could be improved. Ten of these are in the form of amendments and two were made as recommendations.

Proposed amendments

• Anti-discrimination: This would prohibit excluding a person from county employment based on disability, sexual orientation, gender or expression. The charter already includes non-discrimatory language, but this amendment would expand upon those efforts, commission member John Jensen said.

• Budget review timeline: This would extend the time, by 20 days, the county council has to review the county executive’s proposed budget. The review period would be altered from 45 days to 65 days.

• Citizen initiative amendments: This would better clarify the process by which county citizens could amend the charter through an initiative. It would require citizens to gather the signatures of 20 percent of King County voters.

“(Amending the charter) shouldn’t be an easy thing to do because the charter is essentially the constitution of the county,” said Tara Jo Heinecke, King County Charter Review Commission member.

At Monday’s town hall, audience member Michael Nelson questioned the logic on requiring a large number of signatures to introduce a change to the charter.

“Making it difficult to bring a citizen amendment (to the charter) is very undemocratic,” he said.

• Elections deadlines: This would authorize the county to adopt an ordinance to establish a deadline for submitting ballot measures to the county’s Elections Division.

• Elected officials and collective bargaining: This measure would require the executive to encourage and allow more involvement of elected officials, including the sheriff, in collective bargaining.

• Open space protection: This would provide protection for more than 100,000 acres of open space in which the county owns an interest.

• Regional committees: This amendment would reduce the number of county council members serving on regional boards and committees. It would also establish a vice-chair position to be filled by a non-council member and increase the authority of committees to initiate legislation. A need for this arose when the council was decreased from 13 positions to nine, commission member Allan Munro said.

“They were just breathlessly running from one meeting to another one and were unable to respond to citizens’ complaints,” he said.

• Unincorporated representation: This would designate a position within the Office of the Executive to represent the interests of the county’s unincorporated areas. The commission received abundant feedback from citizens in unincorporated areas, Munro said. They want better representation, he said.

The county is growing too fast for the County Executive and council to handle representation of all areas and people, said Richard Bonewitz, who resides in unincorporated King County near Maple Valley.

“I was glad to see the charter review (commission) leave (the amendment) in despite some opposition from executive people,” Bonewitz said.

The county and council members walk a fine line between attempting to offer unincorporated residents representation while also providing them a desired lack of city regulations, said county council member Pete von Reichbauer, who represents the Federal Way area.

County council members and other officials need to redouble their efforts to represent residents in unincorporated areas, he said.

• Commission procedures: This would streamline the commission appointment process.

• Qualifications: This would allow the council to establish a set of qualifications to be met by elected officials who head charter-based departments.

Public input:

The council will decide no later than mid-September which of the amendments will appear on this November’s voters pamphlet. The council has the authority to decline to send any of the amendments to the voters. Additionally, it may choose to phase in the changes over the coming years.

Contact Jacinda Howard: jhoward@fedwaymirror.com.

Check it out:

Learn more about the above mentioned amendments or the commission’s recommendations by visiting www.kingcounty.gov/exec/charter.aspx.

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