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City declines to back charter

The Port Orchard City Council Monday evening rebuffed the attempts of a former freeholder to gain the council’s endorsement of the newly drafted Kitsap County Home Rule Charter.

One-time Kitsap County Commissioner Matt Ryan, who gave the presentation detailing the main tenets of the charter, met with interested questions from many councilmembers. However, at the end of the presentation, the council declined to vote on the matter, instead moving onto the next article of business.

“The council in the past has been reticent as a whole to speak on election issues,” said Councilman Warren Van Zee.

Despite that, some on the council seemed surprised the matter was never offered for discussion. Previous political matters, such as the Fire District annexation and the school levy, were hotly debated before the council voted not to give an endorsement either way. There was a significant pause when Ryan finished speaking in which the council members seemed to be unsure as to what to do.

Van Zee said he, at least, was waiting for Mayor Jay Weatherill to offer the matter up for motions — which never happened.

“He usually turns to the council and says, ‘What’s your pleasure?’” Van Zee said. “But he didn’t do that, and it died right there. It wasn’t mentioned again that evening.”

Van Zee, who said he supports the charter and has even signed a petition to that effect, said he perceived no opportunity in which to request action. He added that the lack of action Monday night probably means there will never be any action on the matter.

Weatherill came out very strongly against the idea of voting by district, one of the cornerstones of the charter. He said he felt district-elected county county councilmembers would be likely to deadlock on issues and get bogged down in in-fighting.

“My feeling is that an elected official is for everyone — not this district or that district,” Weatherill said.

Other councilmembers, however, felt they were playing it safe by not even bringing the matter up for discussion. Councilwoman Carolyn Powers said she would not have made the motion for discussion, mindful of past advice from the city attorney about the council as a whole not taking sides on political issues.

“I think it’s just being leery of getting ourselves into hot water,” she said.

Nevertheless, Ryan was not wholly disappointed by the council’s inaction.

“I was very pleased to see the reaction of the council itself,” he said.

Ryan said he saw many of the council members respond positively to the charter. Although none of them came forth with those opinions Monday night, he still hopes action may be taken sometime in the future.

Ryan and other former freeholders are in the process of requesting endorsements from all the county taxing districts, from cities to water and sewer districts. He acknowledges the charter is a lot to process all at once, and said he didn’t expect them to be able to make a decision right away, anyway.

“They have to have time to digest it,” Ryan said.

The proposed Home Rule Charter calls for five county councilmembers, which would replace the current three county commissioners, to be elected by district. It also calls for an elected county executive which would perform the majority of the executive and administrative duties currently handled by the commissioners. All elected offices would be non-partisan.

The charter also gives the right of referendum — similar to the state right of initiative — to Kitsap County residents. With it, private citizens can propose changes to county ordinances and petition the county council to take action on the proposed changes.

The by-mail election in which voters will decide whether or not to adopt the charter will be held Feb. 5.

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