Opinion

Time enough to learn about 'code cities'

The question of whether to reorganize Port Orchard as a “code city” isn’t yet resolved, but now there is plenty of time to decide.

Port Orchard’s City Council called a timeout to allow them to consider how to change to “code city” status without the extra expense of a special election.

Their resolution in late May stating the intent to change the city’s status made it possible for a timely referendum petition to arrive too late for the question to be put on November’s ballot.

The allowed 90-day period for gathering signatures on a referendum petition extended about 30 days past the deadline for getting on the November ballot.

It appears that enough signatures were gathered well before the 90-day period ended, but not submitted in time to allow the city to put the measure on the general election ballot.

Instead of being on the general election ballot, the question would have to go to the voters in a special election in February at greater cost.

Murphy’s law applies to most human endeavors.  If something can go wrong, it will.

Missing the earlier deadline wouldn’t surprise Murphy at all.

By rescinding the May resolution, the Council negated the effect of the pending petition based on the idea that the initial submission of the petition with the promise of more signed pages to come was not the equivalent of filing the petition with the City Clerk.

When a petition is filed with the clerk, state law seems pretty clear in requiring the City Clerk to send it to the County Auditor to determine whether enough valid signatures have been gathered.

If the auditor finds the petition is sufficient, then the council has to adopt a resolution requesting an election to decide the question.

Calling timeout may cancel the need to take these two steps, but an election at some point seems inevitable.

Trying to start over again next spring, as though signatures had never been gathered this summer, would seem to be a violation of the spirit, if not the letter of the law.

If it were possible for a city to wear down petition organizers by starting over enough times to make them give up, the right to put this question to the voters could be negated by any council willing to risk offending a majority of voters.

Their own re-elections would be jeopardized if they misjudge the number of voters who would be sufficiently angered by such efforts to avoid a referendum, but a right that is respected only when the majority insist isn’t much of a right.

The Port Orchard City Council doesn’t seem to be looking for a way to avoid a referendum despite the statements of a few members that they really don’t want to spend money on an election.

So it seems likely that the matter will show up on next year’s November ballot.

In the meantime, the proponents of this change to “code city” status need to make every effort to inform as many city residents as possible, which is not an easy task.

When there is no apparent urgency or no serious problem that needs fixing, not many voters pay a lot of attention to what is under consideration.

This idea of becoming a “code city” was neither a solution to a serious problem nor an urgent matter, so few paid attention — until asked to sign the petition.

Then the typical response seems to have been a cautious desire to learn more and decide later, which is exactly what signing a referendum petition could accomplish.

There are many months in which to get the word circulating so even the least attentive will know what is involved before ballots are cast.

If it seems like a daunting task, just imagine what life would be like if Port Orchard becomes a “code city,” thereby making it possible to adopt the rights of initiative and referendum after the change in status.

This isn’t a “no-brainer.”

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