Charter commission works down list of issues

By Aaron Corvin
Published April 10th 2006 in The News Tribune

Should Pierce County elect its sheriff? How about having a nonpartisan chief of elections?

Those are just a couple of the questions the elected panel reviewing Pierce County government likely will put to voters come November.

The 21-member Charter Review Commission is more than halfway done with its work. So far, it has tentatively proposed three changes to the county’s constitution and has decided to analyze eight more issues.

Background: The commissioners, who are not paid, were elected last fall. They launched an examination of the 1980 home-rule charter – the county’s equivalent of the U.S. Constitution – in January. They have until June 30 to wrap up their work.

Why it matters: The voter-approved charter replaced the three-member county commission with an executive and a seven-member council. The idea was to balance power between them. The charter calls for the election of a commission to review the document’s adequacy at least every 10 years. Pierce County is one of six counties in Washington governed by a home-rule charter. The others are King, Snohomish, Clallam, San Juan and Whatcom counties. The rest are considered noncharter counties, which are guided more directly by state law.

How to get involved: The commission meets Thursdays at 6:30 p.m. at the Pierce Transit Training Center, 3720 96th St. S.W. in Lakewood. The commission collects public comments during its weekly meetings. For more information, contact Julie King, commission clerk, 360-802-3708 or jkingpccrc@yahoo.com.

Three proposals: The commission has tentatively proposed the following:

 • Changing the job of sheriff from an appointed position to an elected one.

 • Boosting the council’s term limits from two to three four-year terms, keeping the executive at two four-year terms and eliminating term limits for county prosecutor, auditor – the county’s elections chief – and assessor-treasurer.

 • Making the positions of prosecutor, auditor and assessor-treasurer nonpartisan but keeping the council and the executive as partisan offices.

Under consideration: So far, the commission has committed to examining eight more issues. Some are further along than others. They are:

 • Adopting “instant runoff voting,” an election system under which voters cast ballots that allow them to rank all candidates for an office in their order of preference, rather than casting a single vote. All votes would be counted in rounds until a majority winner is found. If there is no majority winner, then the candidate with the fewest No. 1 votes would be eliminated. Then, all ballots would be recounted using the highest ranked candidates still in the race, meaning the second choices for some voters would be considered along with the first choices for everybody else. This process would continue until a candidate had a majority.

 • Creating an “accountability office” or some other means to provide formal citizen oversight of county programs and spending.

 • Boosting the ability of voters to use the charter to file initiatives and to file referendums against enacted ordinances.

 • Increasing the time the council has to examine the executive’s proposed budget.

 • Granting the executive line-item veto authority.

 • Moving the county to odd-year elections.

 • Reviewing how the redistricting process divides up the county to make up council districts for elections.

 • Examining issues surrounding eminent domain.

Wrapping things up: The commission will review all of its proposals a second time in June before taking a final vote to submit measures to voters on the Nov. 7 ballot.

Any proposals by the commission will go directly to Pierce County Auditor Pat McCarthy who would place the proposals, each with its own ballot title, on the November ballot.

Aaron Corvin: 253-552-7058

aaron.corvin@thenewstribune.com