Home Rule Chartering Initiative

democracy hands with borderCommunity Chartering information.

The Chartering initiative of the Jefferson County Community Rights Coalition is being organized by a CRC Chartering workgroup.  On June 10th members of the CRC Chartering workgroup began actively gathering the 2500 registered voter signatures that would begin the process of helping Jefferson County gain “Home Rule”.

Chartering or “Home Rule” is a process set forth in the State Constitution that allows for local citizens to have a greater say in their own governmental system.  A “Charter” helps to balance the power between government and its citizens and provides every part of the community a forceful voice.

press release clipartPress Release- July 23, 2013

2100 signatures and counting!  The needed 2100 signatures plus have been gathered and will be presented to the county auditor next week. If we have enough valid signatures to put the issue of Home Rule Chartering on the Jefferson county ballot in November. We are continuing to collect signatures so that we have a cushion of valid signatures.  Once the county auditor validates the signatures there will be a call for Free Holders who will spend a year or two interviewing county residents about the type of government we want and what the new charter should say. Home Rule Chartering will bring direct democracy to Jefferson County. Please help us get the word out.  Please help us circulate the petition or sign the petition so that we have a cushion of signatures to hand into the county auditor next week. We have until August 6th to turn in the 2100 needed valid voter signatures.

Home Rule Charter allows local government to be updated.

People balancing2Home Rule Charter (for counties or cities) was provided for in 1948 as an Amendment to the State Constitution, Article XI, Section 4.  It allows citizens to update their local form of government. It allows counties to go beyond the “cookie-cutter” 3-commissioner form assigned to counties when we became a state in 1889.  Most importantly, it allows citizens a greater voice in their local government by providing the option of Initiative or Referendum to the citizens.  It truly allows citizens a voice that can become binding law.

Six counties and ten cities in Washington State have Home Rule. Some changed their form of government, some did not.  But all have used the Initiative and Referendum process by citizens to address issues in their counties or cities.

Our petition would ask that an election be held to elect “Freeholders” who would then using Open Meetings,Town Meetings and citizen input as a basis for decisions, 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.

How you can help

There are three ways to support this project to create Home Rule in Jefferson County Washington.

  1. Sign our petition.  If you are a register voter please sign our petition.  Go to the Port Townsend Food Coop Thursday through Monday – 11:00 AM to 3:00 PM and sign our petition. We will also be at the Port Townsend Saturday Farmers Market (near the street) and the Chimacum Sunday Farmers Market as well as other public events till August 6
  2. Circulate the petition in Jefferson County.   If you would be willing to circulate the petition contact us or come to the Port Townsend Food Coop and pick up petitions.   The CRC Chartering Workgroup is actively seeking other local citizens to collect signatures on our petition. Please read the following FAQ and definitions for further information on the important direct democracy action that is taking place in our county.
  3. Come to the next Community Rights coalition meeting July 13th at the Quimper Unitarian Universalist Fellowship  2333 San Juan Avenue, Port Townsend, Washington.  The meeting starts at 9:30 AM.  Find out more about our effort to bring direct democracy to our county.

salmon mt overlayHome Rule Charter FAQ’S

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-commissioner 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.



  • Charter – The Washington State Constitution was amended in 1948, allowing counties to adopt “home rule” charters to provide their own form of government (Article XI, § 4). This home rule provision does not change the role and authority of counties, but it does allow counties to provide for a form of government different from the commission form prescribed by state law. By adopting a home rule charter, county voters can provide for appointed county officers to perform county functions previously performed by independently elected officials and can change the names and duties of the county officers prescribed by the constitution and state law. Home rule charters may not, however, change the elected status and duties of the county prosecuting attorney or superior and district court judges, or the jurisdiction of the courts. Cities or counties can also adopt a home rule charter to provide the powers of initiative and referendum to the citizens.
  • *Home Rule Form – After adoption of a charter, the powers, authority, and duties of county officers provided for by state law, except for the prosecuting attorney, are vested in the county legislative authority, unless the charter expressly assigns powers and duties to specific officers. The original Board of Commissioners and their duties may remain as is, or,their duties and duties of other elected officers may be modified. Or, the commissioners and other elected officers may be entirely replaced, subject to certain restrictions. Home rule charters can also provide the powers of initiative and referendumto the citizens of the county. All charter counties in the State of Washington have adopted initiative and referendum powers.
  • Initiative – In political science, an initiative (also known as a popular or citizens’ initiative) is a means by which a petition signed by a certain minimum number of registered voters can force a public vote (plebiscite). The initiative may take the form of a “direct initiative” or an “indirect initiative.” In a direct initiative, a measure is put directly to a vote after being submitted by a petition. In an indirect initiative, a measure is first referred to the legislature, and then put to a popular vote only if not enacted by the legislature. The vote may be on a proposed statute,constitutional amendment, charter amendment or local ordinance, or to simply oblige the executiveor legislature to consider the subject by submitting it to the order of the day. It is a form of direct democracy.
  • Referendum – The referendum allows citizens, through the petition process, to refer acts of the Legislature to the ballot before they become law. The referendum also permits the Legislature itself to refer proposed legislation to the electorate for approval or rejection. The initiative and referendum process guarantees Washington’s electorate the right to legislate. Sponsors of initiative or referendum measures must, however, obtain a substantial number of petition signatures from registered voters in order to certify their measures to the ballot or to the Legislature.
  • *Commissioner Form – Often referred to as the “plural executive” form of government, the commissioner form county governing body consists of a three-member board, elected on a partisan basis. They serve as the county’s legislative body and perform executive functions. Counties with populations over 300,000 can increase the size of the commission from 3 to 5 members. While the county commissioners establish the budget and act as the county legislative body, they share administrative functions with several other independently-elected county officials, including a clerk, treasurer, sheriff, assessor, coroner, and auditor (or recorder). The county prosecuting attorney and the judges of the superior court are also independently elected, but names or duties cannot be modified by Home Rule Charter.
  • *Combined City-County Form – In addition to providing for an alternative form of county government, a city-county charter may also merge the county with cities and other municipal corporations within its boundaries. Consolidated city-county governments have been proposed as a way to improve local government service provision by eliminating conflicts between competing levels of local government. Although a few Washington counties have explored this option, no combined city-county governments have yet been formed.
  • Representative Democracy – A variety of democracy founded on the principle of elected people representing a group of people, as opposed to direct democracywhere the powers lie in the hands of the people.
  • CTED Washington State Department of Community, Trade, and Economic Development (now part of the Washington State Department of Commerce) is a diverse state agency with more than 100 programs that address a wide range of community and economic development objectives. The 2007 study (referred to earlier) was requested by the Washington Legislature. CTED was directed to develop a report and recommendations related to county government fiscal health and governance.
  • Direct Democracy – A democracy in which the power to govern lies directly in the hands of the people rather than being exercised through their representatives.
  • Freeholder – The term is rooted in the colonial period when only men with land (then called a freehold) were permitted to vote or serve in elected office. Two“freeholders” from each municipality served on the county governing body. In Washington State, freeholders are a part of the “chartering” process. If a petition for Home Rule charter is considered valid (enough signatures based on total registered voters), the county auditor holds an election where freeholders are chosen. By statute, the number of freeholders in any Washington county can be no less that 15 and no more than 25. Freeholders must be residents of the county for at least 5 years preceding their election, and be registered voters. Freeholders convene within 30 days after their election to prepare and propose a charter for their county. That charter is then submitted to the voters. After a charter is adopted, it becomes law, and the freeholders are disbanded. Freeholders are unpaid.


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