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Governance Center hearing set

Kitsap County and Port Orchard could resolve their long-standing dispute over the $33 million joint governance center proposed for downtown Bremerton by the end of this year.

Thurston County Superior Court Judge Daniel J. Berschauer could decide by mid-December wether the county’s plan to shift hundreds of jobs and several offices to the proposed governance center amounts to transferring the county seat from Port Orchard to Bremerton.

A Dec. 7 hearing date has been set.

Port Orchard attorney Loren Combs doesn’t anticipate the city or county will appeal the judge’s ruling once it’s handed down, primarily because both parties want the dispute resolved quickly.

“The chances of an appeal occurring on either side are minimal,” Combs said Monday. “I don’t anticipate that happening.”

To that end, Kitsap County deputy prosecutor Sue Tanner and Combs have been reaching an agreement on a statement of stipulated facts, which will be submitted to the Thurston County Superior Court once drafted.

The statement is basically a list of facts agreed upon by both parties, which the Thurston County judge can use to review the case and use as a basis for his ruling.

Following the county’s split agreement in May to move forward with additional planning efforts for the government center, which involves design work and land acquisition, Port Orchard grew more and more uneasy about the joint governance center proposal.

Kitsap County commissioner Jan Angel, who represents Port Orchard and parts of Bremerton, didn’t approve of the next planning stage, while county commissioners Chris Endresen and Tim Botkin approved of the move.

County officials have since talked about shifting roughly 265 county jobs along with several county offices, in whole or in part, from Port Orchard to Bremerton. County departments slated for some type of move include the offices of administrative services, administrator, assessor, auditor, county commissioners, community development, personnel and human services, prosecutor and treasurer.

Not long after, talks of a friendly lawsuit between the city and county surfaced.

“Port Orchard isn’t trying to stop the placement of county satellite offices in Bremerton,” said Combs. “The city isn’t opposed to that because it helps people.”

Instead, he said, the crux of the city’s case hinges on the state’s constitutional requirement that the heart of county government should remain within the designated county seat.

The fear now is that the county’s proposal for the joint governance center involves a de facto move of the county seat from Port Orchard to Bremerton because the offices and personnel listed for the shift are integral to the primary operations of county government.

While any county across Washington State can have satellite offices scattered throughout its jurisdiction, the heart of it must remain within the county seat by law, Combs explained.

In a complaint filed by Port Orchard in Thurston County Superior Court earlier in September, the city basically stated a judge should decide whether the county is, in fact, proposing to transfer the county seat. If that’s the case, the city argues the county should be ordered to cease and desist planning for the joint governance center until there’s a vote of the people in Kitsap County.

If that’s not the case, then the county can move forward with the planning for the regional governance center proposed for downtown Bremerton within the parameters established by state law.

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