A New County Constitution

by: Posted on: October 08, 2013

Editor’s Note: On Nov.5 citizens of Jefferson County, WA will vote on if they want to “charter” their county. To charter is tantamount to writing a county constitution. The Jefferson County Community Rights Coalition is supporting the effort, along with an unlikely bedfellow: the county’s Republicans. Democrats have come out in opposition. If the county votes ‘yes’ to chartering, the battle over what to put in it will proceed.

By Val Phimister

PORT TOWNSEND, WA – On July 30, 2013, history was made in a small county on Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula. Members of the Community Rights Coalition of Jefferson County submitted a petition for Home Rule Charter to the County Auditor, the first of its kind ever certified to appear on the county’s ballot. Until now, citizens in Jefferson County had no power to put an initiative or referendum on the ballot because their county is not “chartered.”

Home Rule Charter in Washington State allows a Board of Elected Freeholders from all corners of the County to write a “charter” that spells out the provisions for county government. With a charter, voters in the county can change or keep county officials, determine whether officials should be elected or appointed, make certain offices partisan or non-partisan, determine veto power, term limits, eminent-domain provisions, and a myriad of other factors specific to the county.

But, the big advantages to Home Rule Chartering are the powers of initiative and referendum. Voters in Jefferson would finally have the right to put an issue on the ballot, or to challenge acts of the governing body before they become law. These powers allow citizens to go beyond the three-minute comments allowed at public meetings, the fruitless letter writing, and the discouraging lack of voice that sometimes becomes apathy. It allows citizens the right to participate in the decisions that ultimately affect the entire community.

In more than 150 communities across the nation, citizens are coming together like those in Jefferson County to assert their rights to determine their own local government and to protect their own communities. The Community Rights Coalition of Jefferson County is part of that larger nationwide community-rights movement and just one of the many constituents in the county joining forces for more democratic control, and the chartering of the county. But, Home Rule is just the first step for voters. An ideal charter would include a simple Bill of Rights that can be the foundation for “rights-based” legislation for the community.

The decision to Charter will come before Jefferson voters this November 5th. The ballot measure will ask voters two things: 1. Should a Board of Freeholders be elected to prepare a Home Rule Charter for Jefferson County? 2. Vote for five (5) Freeholders from within your Commissioner District.

The Community Rights Coalition will be working to include a County Bill of Rights in the new charter.

For more information, visit the following website: http://communityrightsjeffersoncountywa.org

 

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