Pierce County voters easily passed a charter amendment to restore the sheriff to an elected office and approved another one to adopt an instant runoff voting system for 10 county positions.
They were among nine changes to the county's guiding document proposed by an elected Charter Review Commission.
"Wow, IÕm pleasantly surprised," said former Pierce County Councilman Kevin Wimsett, a proponent of the elected sheriff amendment. "Honestly, I thought it would be a very close vote."
Pierce County moved to an appointed sheriff in 1980 following a scandal in the late 1970s when the last elected sheriff, George Janovich, was indicted on federal racketeering charges but wouldnÕt step down. Janovich later served six years in federal prison for accepting payoffs to protect illegal gambling and prostitution at night clubs.
Backers of proposed amendment No. 1 argued that an elected sheriff is more accountable to citizens, and noted that Pierce County is the only Washington county with an appointed sheriff and one of only 14 counties in the nation.
The argument apparently resonated with voters, who were approving it by a wide margin late Tuesday.
Wimsett, who tried unsuccessfully to push the idea when he served on the County Council, said itÕs time to move beyond the Janovich scandal. The sheriff should be accountable directly to the people, not to a small group of politicians, he said.
"Residents put that in the past and are ready to elect their sheriff again," he said.
Opponents, including Executive John Ladenburg, said appointed sheriffs don't have to worry about campaigning and are more likely to be professional and qualified.
Proposed amendment No. 3 would make 10 Pierce County positions Š executive, the seven-member council, auditor and assessor-treasurer Š decided by instant runoff voting. Instead of having a primary to nominate candidates and a general election to decide between finalists, voters would pick one candidate, regardless of party, in a single election. They would have the option of also selecting second- and third-choice candidates.
Passage of the amendment Š which was ahead late Tuesday Š would make Pierce County a model for other Washington counties, and be a first step toward the end of the disliked pick-a-party elections, said Kelly Haughton, a charter review commission member and proponent of the amendment.
"It will likely lead to more voter participation and that's good for democracy," Haughton said.
The system is used in Burglington, Vt., and San Francisco, and is on the ballot in Minneapolis; Oakland, Calif.; and Davis, Calif.
Critics said IRV would be costly, and warned against making Pierce County a "guinea pig."
HereÕs how other amendments were faring:
„ No. 2, Performance Audits: requiring performance audits of county government. Passing.
„ No. 4, Initiatives: reducing signatures needed to validate an initiative from 10 percent to 8 percent of votes cast in the last county executive election. Failing.
„ No. 5, Referendums: reducing signatures needed to validate a referendum from 8 percent to 4 percent of votes cast in the last county executive election. Failing.
„ No. 6, Budget Presentation: requiring the executive to present the annual budget and other items to the County Council 25 days earlier. Passing.
„ No. 7, Executive Appointments: requiring the executive to select appointments to certain boards or commissions from a list of candidates supplied by the Council member from specific council districts. Passing.
„ No. 8, Balance of Power: reducing the administrative power of the County Executive over other elected executive departments. Passing.
„ No. 9, Eminent Domain: limiting the use of eminent domain to "stated public uses" and restricting taking of private property for private economic development. Passing.
Jason Hagey: 253-597-8542
Support Amendment 3
Tell us why on the Replace the pick-a-party primary blog
We Need Your Help!
We need volunteers to distribute 20-30 lawn signs