Opinion

Charter amendments flirt with controversy

The citizen-based King County Charter Review Commission under the co-leadership of former county council member Lois North, a Republican, and former Gov. Mike Lowry, a Democrat, referred 10 amendments to the King County Council for review — and recommended that they be forwarded to the voters.

Of those 10 amendments, five will go to the ballot.

The most controversial proposal transferring collective bargaining for the sheriff’s deputies to the sheriff from the county executive didn’t make the final list and probably shouldn’t have.

Also, establishing additional open space didn’t make it — not because it didn’t have the support, but because the government constitution, the charter, isn’t the venue for the issue.

New election deadlines didn’t make it either. Neither did requiring the council to discuss charter review procedures and decide their recommendations in public.

Good government junkies were really disappointed with that one.

Another controversial amendment of adding a highly-paid staff position in the county executive’s office to represent un-incorporated King County didn’t make it either. Some of these could be considered in the future, but observers feel that is unlikely.

What will you see this fall? As you might expect, they are relatively non-controversial yawners. One amendment takes a council ordinance regarding anti-discrimination and elevates it to a charter provision. Another changes the representation of the regional policy committees that includes King County, Seattle and suburban elected officials. This will help city officials with a little stronger role in establishing the committee work program.

You will also see a provision to add 20 days to the council’s budget deliberations, which moves the process sooner in the budget cycle. These are good recommendations and will likely receive voter approval.

However, there are two provisions that are interesting that voters may want to take a closer look at. The first authorizes the county council to establish additional qualifications for separately elected officials who head charter-based executive branch departments. This is allowable already with the sheriff. The prosecuting attorney is considered a state position and would have to be changed by the state Legislature.

The other position, assessor, isn’t particularly interesting to the council right now with a Democratic council and a Democratic assessor. But it might be in the future.

The real target is a position that doesn’t currently exist. That is the director of elections.

In the August primary, the public voted to change the position from appointed to elected. It will now go before the voters in November to finalize that vote as a charter amendment.

The council is justifiably concerned about who might get elected to the new position. A politician rather than a trained manager seems likely so they would like to upgrade the credentials. Most observers agree with the concept, but wonder if the county council is the right body to handle the issue.

On the other hand, many would like to see the issue defeated and avoid the whole thing. With a 60 percent primary showing, that seems unlikely.

Lastly, the council sent to the voters a provision to require a signature threshold of 20 percent of the votes cast for county executive in the most recent election for citizen initiatives.

This stems from a belief that the process has been hijacked by special interest groups rather than true citizen reform. The issue was in court recently as initiative proponent Tim Eyman wanted the wording changed. He was successful, so the wording will reflect the increase is from 10 percent to 20 percent.

Those are the items for today. We’ll cover more later.

Federal Way resident Bob Roegner, a former mayor of Auburn, can be reached at bjroegner@comcast.net.

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