Every 10 years, King County is supposed to review its charter, sort of a county constitution. Beginning in the spring of 2007, 21 people, including


Charter Review: Sheriff Stays Status Quo, No Ranked Voting

Every 10 years, King County is supposed to review its charter, sort of a county constitution. Beginning in the spring of 2007, 21 people, including business leaders, politicos, and a former Governor convened to make the process happen. They've got a report to be released to the public on April 1 for comment. It's headed for the King County Council by the end of May. The council decides which changes make the cut for a vote, likely this November.

They met tonight for final debate on the public report. Most of their proposed amendments to the Charter have widespread, if not unanimous, support across the commission. An amendment protecting just over 100,000 acres of King County land was met with some skepticism by Sarah Rindlaub of Mercer Island, who feels it may be inappropriately specific for a constitutionalesque document like the charter, but most items were met without question--save one.

Possible changes to the role of the Sheriff' in employee contract negotiations have stirred up the most controversy among commission members. Sheriff Sue Rahr wants control over negotiation of the employee contracts in her department. She says the management structure that gets negotiated by the Executive's office ties her hands, especially when dealing with problem deputies, but the voting public holds her responsible for their conduct. Ron Sims' staff, on the other hand, came into one commission review session asking that they take a shot at returning the Sheriff's office to an appointed position. The commissioners came up with an anemic compromise, inserting language requiring that the Sheriff have effective participation in the bargaining process. The Executive would be required to create a written note any time he or she chooses to ignore the Sheriff's priorities in contract negotiations.

Seven councilors sent a note to the commission asking for clarification on what exactly "effective participation" means. But the commission members can't even agree on that. Seattle attorney Allan Munro says it doesn't go nearly far enough in giving the Sheriff authority to negotiate the management structure she is ultimately responsible for. On the other end, Tara Jo Heinecke, of the International Association of Theatrical and Stage Employees Local 15, says it goes too far in requiring the documentation of Executive decisions in labor negotiation. Ultimately the charter language was approved in its essence with four commissioners voting against it. Several of the yeas noting that they plan to sign a minority decision saying they think the change is a step in the right direction, but far from the kind of changes that are needed. Rahr says she's disappointed by the final decision on the recommendation, but not surprised.

And of course, it's just that, a final recommendation on something that still has to go through a public hearing process, before its submitted to the King County Council, who gets to decide if they want to let it go before the voters, who have to decide if they want it at all.

Here's the rest of what's made the cut so far:

* Adding "sexual orientation" to the list of prohibited employment discrimination practices.

* Giving the council an additional 20 days to review the Executive's proposed budget.

* No more quarterly spending estimates, we should expect that information to be readily available in the digital age.

* Raising the number of citizen signatures required to get a Charter amendment on the ballot to 20 percent of the voting turnout in the most recent King County Executive race.

* Make the process for appointing the 2017 Charter Review Commission more clear.

* Require the County Council to take action on all the Commission recommendations that ultimately get there. (Former King County District Court Judge Darcy Goodman feels the Council just ignored a lot of the last Commission's recommendations.)

* Match the deadline for filing local initiatives with the state deadline.

* Give the rural citizen committees more clout.

* And finally, White Center pay attention, add a high-level position in the Executive's Office to represent the interests of rural and urban unincorporated areas.

Sorry, Krist, no ranked choice voting this time around though the Commission plans to include in its report a recommendation that King County monitor the success of the system in Pierce County in the coming election and revisit the issue in 2009.

Want to weigh in? You can contact them here.

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