1. Why are you pursuing a Home Rule Charter? Those of us who are working toward a Jefferson County Home Rule Charter, do so to advance health, safety, and government efficiency for future generations. We seek a more “participatory” form of government. As many of us say, “I’m doing this for my grandkids.”
2. Why would a county want to charter? The original 3-commissioner form of county government set forth in the State Constitution was an arbitrary system put into place when Washington became a state. As populations grew and county governments became more complex, the State amended the Constitution in 1948 to allow for counties and/or cities to change their form of government to fit their needs. In addition, the State provided the powers of Initiative and Referendum to the citizens. In this way, the Commissioners can receive additional input from citizens and additional support from voters. An Initiative puts the onus of a measure squarely on the voters rather than on the Commissioners. It makes the government more flexible. An Initiative also allows the citizens to protect themselves from harm by smaller, but more powerful special interests.
3. What do you mean when you say that chartering makes things more flexible? When counties charter, they are able to design a government that works for them. Some counties have changed from a 3-Commisssioner Board to a County Council of 9 members, some have chosen to add county administrative officers, some have proposed initiatives to change their original charter in one way or another. If the citizens WANT something, they have the power through the Initiative and Referendum process to make that happen. You can’t get any more flexible than that!
4. What County offices could possibly be changed with a charter? Titles and duties of officials may be changed. However, Prosecuting Attorney, Judges and jurisdiction of the Courts, and School Superintendent may NOT be changed by charter. Some counties choose to keep their structure of government. See #7.
5. Which form of government will this charter require? The elected Freeholders, using Open Meetings, Town Meetings and citizen input as a basis for decisions, will design the form of government to go on the ballot: *Commissioner Form, *Home Rule Form, or *Combined City-County Form. The form will then be adopted by voters.
6. Who is running for Freeholder? Once a valid petition for Home Rule Charter has been submitted to the Auditor, it is placed on the ballot and a “Call For Freeholders” is announced publicly. At that time, anyone who has been a resident of the County for at least 5 years and is a registered voter can pay the fee to be placed on the ballot as a Freeholder.
7. Which counties adopted a charter and CHANGED the 3-commissioner system, and why? King County adopted a 9-member council, Pierce and Whatcom Counties adopted a 7-member council, San Juan County adopted a 6-member council but went back to 3-member, and Snohomish County adopted a 5-member council. Clallam County kept the same 3-commissioner system. Larger counties increased the number of officials because of the larger population they serve.
8. How can we guarantee a charter will give us a bigger voice? The Washington State Constitution, in its very first sentence states, “All political power is inherent in the people, and governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, and are established to protect and maintain individual rights.” This guarantees our right to exercise our power both as an electorate and as individuals.
9. How would my issue … be handled if this county were chartered? If elected officials choose not to address an issue, under Home Rule Charter, the ultimate option is for the public to propose an initiative that, if passed by the voters, results in a legally binding ordinance. Furthermore, if a law is proposed by elected officials, and a segment of the public opposes that law, they can use the Referendum process to put it to a public vote. Neither of these things can happen without a Home Rule Charter.
10. What are the costs associated with chartering? The cost of transitioning to Home Rule Charter is dependent upon the changes voted on by the people. Additional elected officials chosen by larger counties have meant additional salaries. Smaller counties which opt for the current number of officials would not incur additional salary costs.
In addition, a CTED study shows that Home Rule “…could improve efficiency and effectiveness” of current government. This means that a Home Rule Charter could streamline government.