Angel favors at-large vote

"Reaction was unanimous among all three Kitsap County Commissioners when the freeholders last week released the first draft of their proposed new county charter.Crafted over the last several months by the 21-member board of freeholders, the proposed charter, among other things, provides for the election of a five-member county council by district, rather than countywide.Put another way, the newly organized five-person county council would be elected exclusively by the voters of their respective districts in both the primary and general elections.The current system, which would be revamped if Kitsap County voters pass the proposed charter sometime next spring, allows for each of the county's three commissioners to be nominated by their respective districts in the primary election. In the general election, however, they are voted on by the entire county. I thought a lot about this and decided that for all of Kitsap County to benefit, the positions must be elected at-large. It should stay the same, said Kitsap County Commissioner Jan Angel, a Republican who represents South Kitsap. It's a hard way to go, but I think it's the right thing to do. If the county council represents just one district, then there will be range wars going on, and the council won't be making the best decisions for the county.In fact, Angel would prefer the county council seats become non-partisan positions. Her argument is that regional issues aren't tied to political parties. I think the people would vote for the best candidate, she said.County commissioners Tim Botkin and Chris Endresen, both Democrats, echo Angel's concerns.I'm disappointed the freeholders went that way, since it would represent a bit of a harsh change, said Botkin, who represents Central Kitsap. There are times when representatives keep their district's specific issues in mind but, more often, commissioners are asked to represent the county as a whole.I think it's a mistake, agreed Endresen. The charter should be about making Kitsap County government better. Council members should be held accountable to everyone in the county. In my eight years on the Poulsbo City Council, representatives were elected at large.Endresen worries that if council members are elected by district only, then citizens and voters will ultimately be short-changed.If you want anything done in your district, you'll have to get at least two other representatives, probably three, who aren't beholden to you at all to vote for what you want or what you oppose, she said.At present, the current system could come under fire as early as next year. The freeholders - 13 of which are in favor of the proposed charter - will vote on the document next month. At that point, the charter will go to the county commissioners in November. The commissioners then plan to schedule a special countywide election on the proposed county charter for February or March.The current system we use works pretty well, said Botkin. Nominations are made at the district level and then the general election is at-large. It makes a lot of sense.Botkin, who was quick to say that the proposed new county charter as whole is a well-thought out, professional document, worries that by-district elections could divide the county.In terms of transportation or development planning, commissioners are asked to make decisions that would benefit the county as a whole, rather than specific districts. Necessarily then, commissioners should be held accountable by the entire county.Botkin theorized that perhaps the two additional council members could be elected by district only, while the election processes surrounding the three original county council positions remain the same. The idea of a five-district county council makes sense to Botkin, since the county has grown at such a rapid clip in recent years.Angel agreed, saying the business of the county is a lot of work for only three people. "

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