Propositions 1, 2, 3, 9 & 10: For and Against

Proposition No. 1
Method of Electing Council Members
Proposed by the Charter Review Commission

Official Ballot Title
The Whatcom County Charter Review Commission has proposed an amendment to the Whatcom County Charter concerning the method of electing County Council members. This measure would amend Charter Section 2.13 to provide for election of County Council members by voters only from within the council district from which the candidate was nominated, except for the at-large position which would continue to be selected by voters from the entire county.

Proposition No. 2
Limiting Power of Council to Amend Charter
Proposed by the Charter Review Commission

Official Ballot Title
The Whatcom County Charter Review Commission has proposed an amendment to the Whatcom County Charter limiting the power of the Council to propose Charter amendments. This measure would amend Charter Section 8.23 to prohååibit the County Council from proposing Charter amendments to previous Charter amendments that have been approved by a 2/3 majority of voters, except if the Council adopts a proposal for such amendment by a 7-0 vote. :

Proposition No. 3
Limiting Power of Council to Amend Charter’s Election Provisions
Proposed by the Charter Review Commission

Official Ballot Title
The Whatcom County Charter Review Commission has proposed an amendment to the Whatcom County Charter limiting the power of the Council to propose Charter amendments. This measure would amend Charter Section 8.23 to prohibit the County Council from proposing any Charter amendment to Charter Sections 2.12 or 2.13, which pertain to the method of nominating and electing County Council members, except if the Council adopts a proposal for such amendment by a 7-0 vote.

Proposition No. 9
Number of Council Districts and At-Large Council Positions
Proposed by the Whatcom County Council

Official Ballot Title
The Whatcom County Council has proposed an amendment to the Whatcom County Charter concerning the number of Council districts and at-large positions. This measure would amend Charter Sections 2.11 and 2.12 to create five districts of equal population. If passed, there would be one council position in each of the five districts plus two at-large positions that would be nominated without regard to district.

Proposition No. 10
Amendments by the Charter Review Commission and the County Council
Proposed by the Whatcom County Council

Official Ballot Title
The Whatcom County Council has proposed an amendment to the Whatcom County Charter concerning voting thresholds to place charter amendments on the ballot. This measure would amend Charter Sections 8.21 and 8.23 to require any amendment proposed by either the County Council or the Charter Review Commission to have a supermajority vote of the Council or the Commission in order to be placed before the voters on the ballot. If passed, this amendment would supersede Ballot Propositions No. 2 and No. 3.

Approve Prop 1,2,3 and Reject Prop 9,10

by Karl Uppiano

Karl Uppiano is a libertarian-leaning independent. He is chairman of DOVE Whatcom Committee, a PAC campaigning for approval of propositions 1, 2 & 3 and secondarily, the rejection of propositions 9 & 10. Karl serves on the GOP Executive Board and has been active in the Whatcom Tea Party. Karl is a software and electronics engineer by trade. He lives with his wife and three sons in Ferndale.

I support Charter Propositions 1, 2 and 3. Proposition 1 restores District Oriented Voting (DOV) for electing our County Council representatives. Propositions 2 and 3 make it harder for the County Council to put amendments on the ballot to overturn DOV, as they did about eight years ago.

District Oriented Voting should not be a partisan issue, although the left has lined up against it, and the right has lined up behind it. I think DOV really is about more responsive local government. Here’s why I like it:

  • The principle of DOV is well established throughout the nation. Most legislatures are elected by district. Many other charter municipalities (including the city of Seattle, and King County) use representation by district.
  • With DOV, you are more apt to actually meet your own council member, who is three times more likely to knock on your door than if she is canvassing the whole county.
  • District oriented representation makes elections more affordable, lowers barriers to entry for a wider diversity of candidates, and it takes some of the big money out of our local politics.
  • In so doing, DOV better reflects the diversity of citizens, interests, needs and preferences of all of Whatcom County.

Some people object that DOV takes away their right to elect all of the county council. But other people resent the fact that people from other districts want to elect their representatives. In reality, it’s a wash, because you either concentrate your vote on the two seats from your district plus one at large, or you dilute it across all seven seats. In contrast, the five district plan (Proposition 9) would only allow you to vote for one councilperson every four years, in addition to the two very dilute at large positions.

Two councilmembers spearheaded the move to overturn DOV eight years ago. One of them was a conservative, facing re-election from District 1. I don’t need to tell you that conservatives elected from District 1 are as scarce as hen’s teeth. This person stood a much better chance of being re-elected in a countywide vote. Hmmm…

The other councilmember didn’t like the council dynamic under the district oriented model. I have a good relationship with this councilperson, but we disagree on this issue. We the People elect council members to represent us, under the terms and conditions we specify. Maybe we want the council dynamic that DOV creates.

Which brings us to Propositions 2 and 3. The Charter Review Commission (CRC) introduced these amendments to make it harder for the County Council to overturn Proposition 1 — should it pass –— to avoid a repeat of eight years ago:

  • Proposition No. 2 prevents County Council from proposing changes to the Whatcom County Charter without a 7-0 vote, that would override the wishes of the voters, when they pass an amendment with a 2/3 majority.
  • Proposition No. 3 prevents County Council from proposing changes to the Whatcom County Charter without a 7-0 vote, that would affect how citizens would vote on their positions; a conflict of interest, if not outright corruption.

These two amendments were intended to be as narrowly focused as possible, to address only these two very specific issues. If these amendments don’t pass, or don’t work, the people can still get out and campaign vigorously for or against council amendment propositions they like or don’t like, in future elections.

In response to the CRC actions, County Council proposed their own amendments. I am opposed to amendments 9 and 10. I believe that Proposition 9 (the five district amendment) should not have been presented to the voters in its current form. If approved, a number of crucial unspecified elements may only be resolved by the courts and unelected committees. For example:

  • How will we transition the council to the new system?
  • We have Port of Bellingham and PUD #1 commissioners who are elected from the three council districts. Are we to change the number of commissioners, or have two overlapping districting systems? At what cost? What would the ballots look like?
  • Will we redistrict right away, or will we wait for the next census? How will this be funded?

What’s more, there are very serious questions being raised about whether the County Council acted in good faith and with due process, when introducing this amendment. The council ordinance that introduces Proposition 9 defines districts, limiting the options of future bipartisan (or multi-partisan) districting committees.

I don’t think our current three district system needs to be thrown out. Future redistricting committees can improve it with far less expense and upheaval. They have already made great strides in unifying communities of interest. Thurston County has devised an ingenious way to preserve and enhance fairness, equality and community with just three districts. It can be done.

Lastly, Proposition 10 is supposed to equalize the authority of the CRC and the County Council, by raising the bar to a supermajority required for the CRC to submit any charter amendment proposal to the voters. These bodies are not equivalent, nor are they meant to be. The purpose of the CRC is to review the charter, and recommend changes, but it cannot pass legislation. The County Council is a legislative body. The CRC meets once per decade. The County Council meets every two weeks.

The reason that the council needs a higher bar to propose charter amendments, is to reduce the amount of chaos and churn from a body that meets so frequently. A body that meets once per decade hasn’t the capacity to create the same frequency of chaos; they are addressing long-term issues. The proper way to check the CRC is to get out and campaign for or against their propositions during the campaign season, like the rest of us mere mortal citizens.

Reject Prop 1,2,3 and Approve Prop 9, 10

by Richard May
Richard May is a local business owner, was elected to the Charter Review Commission, is a planning commissioner in Blaine, sits on the Whatcom County Appeals Board, and is on the board of directors of Communities in Schools Whatcom, an affiliate of a national dropout prevention organization.

Whatcom voters face three choices about how we elect our county government:

A.    No action: Continue to treat the county like one big community, or
B.    Propositionosition 1: Let our poorly drawn three district parts vote separately, or
C.    Proposition 9 : For the first time ever, divide districts correctly, based on the real divisions of geography and community in our county.

So three choices from: countywide, or badly unfair districts, or smart fair districts.
The voting choices are:

A.    Say no to both 1 and 9 and leave our current system in place (countywide voting where every voter can vote to hire or fire each of the seven council members),
B.    choose Proposition 1 (each district could vote for only three of the seven council members, divided by the current, awkwardly drawn districts that mix parts of Bellingham and outer county into each district), or
C.    choose Proposition 9 (district voting in sensible, fair, rational districts that reflect our voters’ real communities and regions). So choose either no to both, or approve just one of Proposition 1 or Proposition 9.

Proposition 2 and 3 are just ways to prevent changes to the charter, limiting your chances to vote. Proposition 10 would require better consensus from the once per decade charter commission.

Proposition 1 pretends to be a noble idea of more localized consensus by letting each third of the county pick two council members. But the current three district divisions of our county are a lazy relic from our old commissioner system, arbitrarily drawn to divide up Bellingham into three, as an easy way to get equal population sized districts. These are not suitable as stand alone voting areas, as they stick one section of Bellingham city together with rural Lynden and another part of Bellingham with Custer, and then elections would ask these mixed bag district co-residents to reach a consensus as to who should represent their diametrically differing values for local government.

Districting law for Washington State has specific rules to avoid cutting up cities or communities into smaller pieces split into separate districts. Dividing likeminded voters is how gerrymandering is done so that an actual majority is separated into smaller pieces that can be beaten in elections.

Proposition 9 is a proposed amendment to our county charter that would finally fix our county election system to give it fair and equal districts.

Currently Whatcom votes county wide for all seven of our council members, no matter which district you live in, you get to pick all seven. Popular council members right, indie, and left can win every single election (Sam Crawford, Barbara Brenner, Carl Weimer), but in 2009, the rural voters had heavy turnout and outvoted Bellingham, and in 2013 the Bellingham voters had heavy turnout and outvoted the rural areas. Whoever is more excited and bothers to vote in greater numbers, wins. The potential for a “winner take all” result is volatile and does not guarantee that each of our local areas gets to elect someone tailor made for their part of the county in each election. Many Lynden area voters want to elect Lynden area type people, and many Bellinghamers wants to elect Bellingham type people, without the other area’s voters weighing in. Proposition 9 can help that.

The solution for this is NOT what Whatcom Republican operatives want, which is to vote by each district separately, but in our current awkward three boundary lines that divide the power of Bellingham’s active voters into three more beatable parts. That’s not fair.

Proposition 9’s five district Propositionosal is a great compromise, separating Bellingham’s voters into two districts that are all Bellingham, then the remaining county is divided into a Western coastal district, a central farm and Lynden district, and then an Eastern and mountain area district for five total districts. Then there would also be two seats elected by the whole county. So, politically, that’s two blue, one purple, two red, and two that go to whoever is more excited and turns out to vote. If approved, our bipartisan county redistricting committee would be reconvened to sort out the new boundaries in accordance with state law.

Finally Lynden could stop complaining that Bellingham voters stuck them with someone they don’t agree with, and likewise, Bellingham wouldn’t have Lynden picking who represents them on county council. Each part of the county could be guaranteed to elect one of their own likeminded people to represent their local concerns to the council.
Added bonus: Campaigning would be easier and less costly for the five of the positions on council that each represent just one fifth of the county population. The whole plan is as fair as could be.

Proposition 2 and 3 would stop the council from asking if the voters wish to change the charter, for the next ten years, unless the council is unanimous. But state law makes it a condition of home rule that a county council can Propositionose changes to the voters as the need arises. Our county attorney originally determined these two Propositions to probably be illegal if it fully prevented the county council from being able to put charter amendments to the voters. So the charter review chair waited until the lawyer and some other commissioners were out of town, canceled the originally later scheduled meeting, and held an emergency meeting with a weekend’s notice so a fraction of the commission could pass this to the voters.

Proposition 10 would ensure that future charter commissions require a two thirds majority to Propositionose amendments to the voters. This would reduce unilateral partisan charter amendments being pushed through.

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