Charter review board seeks term limits for Whatcom council

Whatcom County voters likely will decide in November whether to impose term limits on County Council members.

The county Charter Review Commission, which meets for six months every decade and is currently in session, has voted so far to put five charter amendments on the November ballot. The charter, essentially a constitution for Whatcom County, dictates among other things how elections are conducted and what powers are held by elected officials.

A recommendation to voters to limit council members to three four-year terms passed the commission 9 to 5 on Monday, March 9. If voters approve term limits for council members, terms already served won’t count against them.

The original proposal, introduced by commissioner Ken Bell, was to restrict all nonjudicial county elected leaders, including the executive, assessor, auditor, sheriff and treasurer, to two terms.

Members of the public and elected officials who spoke to the commission on Monday opposed term limits on the executive branch of county government. Council positions are part time, but administrative positions such as executive are full-time jobs that require expertise, they said.

Good candidates won’t step forward if they know their tenure will be short, Sheriff Bill Elfo and Auditor Debbie Adelstein told the commission on Monday.

Former Auditor Shirley Forslof, who served six terms before retiring in 2011, said writing term limits into the county charter takes the decision away from voters.

“If the citizens of Whatcom County don’t like what you’re doing, you have term limits. They don’t re-elect you,” Forslof told the commission.

Commissioners may change or revoke their recommendations before the commission’s last meeting in July. So far, four amendments in addition to term limits are headed to the ballot:


District-only voting

: Council members would be elected by voters in their county district rather than countywide.


Initiative and referendum titles

: 40 words allowed instead of the current 20.


No override

: Council wouldn’t be able to alter a charter amendment approved by at least two-thirds of voters.


Signature requirements

: Fewer needed for initiatives and referendums.

Other amendments under consideration:


Diversity statement

: The charter preamble would include a phrase about respecting different cultures and traditions.


Explanatory ballots

: The county assessor and auditor would appear on the ballot as “property assessor” and “auditor and elections officer.”



: Change the number of county districts from three to five, and the number of at-large council members from one to two.


Limits power

: Council would not be allowed to change how its members are elected.


Rural representative

: The election for the at-large council member would be held within only the unincorporated county.


Open meetings

: Would require training for county officials on the state Open Public Meetings Act and create a $500 fine for violations (submitted Wednesday, March 11).

The next meeting of the Charter Review Commission is 6:30 p.m. March 23 at Lynden City Hall Annex, 205 4th St.