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Strong words fly over push for vote on city status change
By TIM KELLY
A local couple led an apparently successful petition drive seeking a public vote on the Port Orchard City Council's resolution to change the city's operating status, but the petitions were not submitted in time for a measure to be placed on the November general election ballot.
Petition circulators Gil and Kathy Michael accused the City Clerk's office of withholding information about filing deadlines, and the city attorney responded Tuesday with a scathing letter refuting their "baseless allegations."
If the petitions are verified as having the required number of valid signatures, a special election would be held on whether to approve the city's status change to a non-charter code city. The cost of the special election would be much higher for the city than if the measure had been on the November general election ballot.
Kitsap County elections manager Dolores Gilmore said the next special election date would be Feb. 14, and it would cost the city $25,000 to $30,000 if no other local government or district had a ballot measure for that election.
After the Michaels turned in their petitions Monday, they were informed by City Clerk Patti Kirkpatrick that Aug. 1 was the submission deadline to place a referendum on the November ballot.
The Michaels subsequently sent Kirkpatrick a letter that essentially blames her for not informing them earlier of the deadline. They wrote that "the City Clerks office appears to have intentionally withheld critical new administrative procedures and requirements from the public."
At the request of Mayor Lary Coppola, city attorney Gregory Jacoby sent a letter Tuesday responding to the Michaels.
"For you to suggest that the city clerk or any other City official has misled the public is patently false," he wrote.
Jacoby said in his letter that city officials have not opposed putting the code conversion to a public vote, and that "at any time in the past several months, you could have asked the city clerk to explain the special election process and she would have helped you. You chose not to seek her advice or guidance. I am astonished that you would now seek to blame the city clerk for your failures."
The Michaels, who own Cedar Cove Inn, said Tuesday afternoon they thought they were complying with the county's Aug. 16 deadline for getting measures on the November ballot.
But referendum petitions had to be submitted to the City Clerk by Aug. 1 to allow enough time for verification of the signatures and for the City Council to pass a resolution asking the county to hold a special election, as directed by state law that Jacoby explained in his letter.
Kathy Michael said she and her husband, who serves on the city planning commission, were "taken aback by the aggressiveness of the letter by the attorney and the city."
Gil Michael said their intent in circulating the petitions "was to ask the people do they want to vote on this decision," and that the response from people they talked with was overwhelmingly in favor of putting the matter to a vote.
Kathy Michael also said they "absolutely" did not want the city to incur the cost of an expensive special election.
"Our goal now is how do we resolve this without taking it to that point," she said. However, she added that "this could have been precluded by the city initially, by choosing to put it on the ballot at the very beginning."
The City Council approved the resolution to reclassify Port Orchard from second-class city status to a code city in May, after holding two public hearings on the issue that were sparsely attended.
Gil Michael spoke at those hearings, urging the council to put the resolution to a public vote.
The City Council will hold a study session this evening at 7 in council chambers at City Hall, and though the agenda does not include the Michaels' referendum and a possible special election, the matter could come up for discussion.