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Council rescinds 'code city' resolution to avoid election cost

Port Orchard’s City Council members faced a decision Tuesday that Councilman Jim Colebank equated with “blackmail” or “coercion.”

They could reverse a decision they made for citizens that they believed to be right, or they could incur a cost of up to $30,000 to let the citizens vote on the decision themselves.

The council members opted for the cheaper option, but they weren't happy about it.

They wanted to give city government the authority to operate in a less restricted manner, by changing the city’s operating status from “second class” to “code,” and voted to do so in late May after several sparsely attended public hearings on the issue.

But Gil and Kathy Michael, who run the Cedar Cove Inn on Seattle Avenue overlooking the waterfront, collected about 550 signatures to put the issue before citizens in the next election.

They got the signatures within 90 days of the City Council’s vote for the status change — a deadline that the council and city attorney mentioned several times at public hearings and council meetings about the issue.

But the Michaels missed a deadline to get the measure placed on the November regular election.

As a result, the next opportunity to vote on the issue would be in a special election in February.

The price tag for letting citizens vote on the issue jumped from $5,000 for adding a ballot measure to the November election, to up to $30,000 for a special election if no other districts shared the cost.

The City Council reluctantly voted to retain the second-class status, for now, to save money.

“If the question tonight is, ‘if you rescind the resolution to become a code city we’ll drop the petition,’ it amounts to blackmail,” Colebank said. “If the question is to rescind the resolution until it can be put on the ballot in a regular election, it’s at least coercion.”

Councilman John Clauson said he felt the council had no choice.

“I certainly will not support spending $30,000 (or more) on the special election,” he said.

Several other members echoed Clauson’s comments.

“I’m looking at it also from the financial end,” Carolyn Powers said. “There’s no way the City Council should pay $35,000 or $40,000 (for the special election), when there are many other things that we’ve deferred, that we haven’t been able to pay for.”

But all of the council members except Fred Chang staunchly defended their decision to change the city’s 120-year-old system of government in favor of the popular code city model.

“Even if we get it on a general election (ballot), we’d be spending $5,000, for a no-brainer,” Councilman Jerry Childs said. “All but 10 or 11 (cities in Washington) have switched; none have switched back.

“Spending that money even in a general election, I think is distasteful,” he added. “I think that the petitioners should do the right thing and withdraw their petition.”

But several citizens who spoke at Tuesday's meeting urged the council to let them learn more about the issue and make the decision for themselves.

“When the citizens are noticed, they do want to participate,” Kathy Michael said. “Getting it on the ballot would open up dialogue, so they know the changes that would take place.”

Bob Geiger, who served on the City Council for 42 years, defended the second-class status.

“A few years ago, another council considered this in depth,” he said. “There was no compelling reason for us to do that at the time, so we rejected the idea, and put it on the shelf.”

Geiger added that he’d like to hear the issue expressed in terms of “dollars and cents.”

Tim Matthes, a member of the city's planning commission who's also a candidate for mayor, said he supported putting the issue on the ballot.

“I think it will save us a lot of money and give the public the opportunity to find out more,” he said.

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