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Measure on Port of Manchester term lengths headed to ballot
A measure to reduce the length of terms for Port of Manchester commissioners is still slated to be on a special election ballot in April, against the wishes of many involved.
The ballot measure, aimed at reducing the three commissioners’ terms from six years to four, will cost the port somewhere between $6,000 and $10,000, an amount much higher than the $800 cost to run the measure in a general election, according to Kitsap County elections manager Dolores Gilmore.
Manchester activist David Kimble filed the petition in late January. He said it was never his intention to increase the cost for the port by running a measure in the April 17 special election.
“It wasn’t my goal to do that,” he said. “That’s not the purpose of this.”
Kimble filed the petition in January under the assumption the measure would be held for the primary election Aug. 7 or the general election on Nov. 7. He said under his reading of a state law — which he said was confirmed by Gilmore — turning in the petition in January wouldn’t set the election date in stone.
After turning it in, though, he received a different response.
“Because it was turned in, they can’t change the file,” he said.
Kimble has tried to retract the petition in order to not cost the port a sizable chunk of its $100,000 annual operating budget. But Alan Miles, a Kitsap County senior deputy prosecuting attorney in the civil division, said one person can’t retract a petition once submitted.
“There is no mechanism for it to be withdrawn once it has been submitted,” Miles said. “(Kimble) is one person. The petition is from each of the signers suggesting that this matter appear on the ballot.”
The petition was submitted with 341 signatures and was verified as meeting the state’s requirement of 10 percent of the number of port district voters in the last general election.
Submitting a petition is one of two “triggering events” that can get a measure on the ballot, Miles said. Once a successful petition is submitted, the measure will go on the first special or general election 60 days after the submission. Since the deadline for the April 17 special election ballot is March 2, the measure needs to go on the April 17 ballot by law.
Both Kimble and Ronald Thompson, attorney for the Port of Manchester, have urged the county auditor to postpone the election in order to save the port money, Miles said. He checked with the Secretary of State and three elections officials from other counties to see if he was correctly interpreting an RCW that said the measure must go on the April 17 ballot. He concluded that it has to go on the upcoming ballot in order to be lawful if passed.
“It’s unfortunate, but the problem with trying to bend the rules is if they try to put it on a different ballot, it would make the measure invalid,” he said. “There isn’t anyone with the discretion to pick and choose the date.”
Gilmore said the port’s cost will drop with each other measure filed for the April ballot. A South Kitsap Fire & Rescue levy, along with a potential state ballot measure, could bring the cost of the election down for the port.
The other triggering event that could place the measure on the ballot, Miles said, would be the port commissioners submitting a resolution.
Kimble asked the three commissioners — Jim Strode, Dan Fallstrom and Steve Pederson — in August to put the four-year term measure on the November 2011 ballot, but they said there wasn’t enough time to consider the issue before the filing deadline.
“The Port could have drafted a resolution and set the time and place for the vote but they refused to take up the matter,” Kimble said in an email to the Port Orchard Independent. “They have indicated they were never interested in reducing the term of service, so that pretty much explains why they now have no control over what happens.”
Kimble ran for Port of Manchester commissioner in the November election and lost to the incumbent, Fallstrom. He has made several unsuccessful runs for the office, including in 1996 when his race against Strode ended in a tie and was decided by a coin toss.
Strode has been a port commissioner for 26 years, and that’s a primary motivation for why Kimble wants the change to four-year terms.
“As long as Jim is in there, we need to reduce the length of the term for the next time he runs,” Kimble said in an interview before the November 2011 election.
Of the state’s 75 port districts, 10 have four-year terms for commissioners.
Fallstrom said if the issue is destined for the special election ballot, the port will have to take a look at where to cut the operating budget in order to pay.
“We’re going to have to sharpen our pencils and see what we can do without this year,” he said.
Kimble noted that vast confusion between himself and the elections department has been an experience he won’t soon forget.
“It’s been quite a civics lesson,” he said.