Politics & Government

Election Views: Charter commission candidates Bob Burr, Kate Blystone and Karl Uppiano

District 1: Bob Burr

I will represent you, not special interests, on the Charter Review Commission. I am not a part of a “party slate.” I am running for charter review, along with Nancy Metcalf and Stoney Byrd, because we place people above parties and partisanship. We believe in power to the people. To us, that is far more than a slogan. It is a vision.

If there is controversy on the commission, as is inevitable, then my answer is simple: Put the issues on the ballot and let the voters decide! To me, that is the essence of democracy. I am not an elitist. I don’t fear you. I have faith in the system and the voice of the people.

I perceive myself as an activist. In turn, I define an activist as a lobbyist for the people. Thus, other than a simple bias to let all of us, not just me or the commission, decide, I do have an agenda — a people’s agenda.

What the Constitution is to our country, the charter is to our county — with one giant exception. The charter has no Bill of Rights. We need to add a community bill of rights to make the county more accountable to its people and respectful of our rights to privacy and to a clean, safe and healthy environment.

Can you imagine a county where the voters make key decisions. I can. I believe that initiative and referendum signature requirements should be relaxed. And, no local government should ever be able to go to court to block a vote on a legally qualified initiative. At a county level, we can build that into the charter.

Have you ever voted for “the lesser of two evils,” and bypassed somebody you believed in, because that person did not have the financial or party backing to win? I certainly have. That’s why I would like to let you vote on putting ranked choice voting into the charter. You could vote for your first choice, second choice, third choice, etc. If your first choice finished last, it would go to your second choice, etc. until there was a first and second place finisher. Such a system would encourage more people to run and save the taxpayer a bundle because there would be no need for primary elections.

Elect Bob Burr to the Charter Review Commission. He will allow you to decide on the key issues.

District 2: Kate Blystone

Once every ten years, our county has a remarkable opportunity. We take a look at our constitution – the Whatcom County Charter – and see if it still makes sense. Does it meet our needs? Have circumstances changed? Are we suffering as a county from any provision in our charter? What’s truly remarkable is that 15 of our peers are elected to examine this document and chart a course for the next 10 years. This election is pretty special and it’s an honor to be considered to serve our community.

I am running for Charter Review Commission for a number of reasons. First, I’m a natural-born collaborator. I have the skills and experience necessary to work with my fellow commissioners, regardless of their political perspectives. It is our job to put aside political differences to give our charter a thorough review and offer carefully crafted amendments to you, the voters. These amendments should be written in the best interest of all community members, not just a few.

Second, I’m a policy wonk. As a land use planner and public engagement professional, I have become skilled at writing the language of “code.” From my work in the private sector, I have a first-hand understanding the implications of poorly written law. And, as a former planner for Whatcom County, I am one of the few candidates who have actual experience working directly with our charter.

Finally, I’m running because I love our community. When I came here, nearly half my lifetime ago, I knew I’d found my forever home. Whatcom County’s strong agricultural heritage and Bellingham’s vibrant downtown were all this small-town, farm girl from Eastern Washington needed. I’ve spent every day since I came here pitching in where I can, doing my best to ensure that our community grows wisely and that our resources are conserved so that future generations may see the same prosperity we enjoy today. I see running for the Charter Review Commission as one more thing I can do to give back to this community I love so much.

This commission needs people that are interested in working towards a better Whatcom County. If you vote for me, I will put my skills and experience to work for you. I will also work hard to ensure proposed charter amendments are in your best interest. I would be honored to have your support this November.

District 3: Karl Uppiano

“Hello, my name is Karl Uppiano, and I’m running for Whatcom County Charter Review Commission from Council District 3.” I repeated that line dozens of times last month at the fair. The blank stares made it obvious that messaging for the Charter Review Commission candidates is more complex than your typical stump speech. Before we can even begin to discuss the issues, we have to familiarize people with the Whatcom County form of government:

In 1978, Whatcom County adopted a home rule charter, which is like a “constitution” that defines the structure and operation of Whatcom County government. The charter specifies legislative and executive branches, elections and the configuration of each branch. It also specifies that every ten years, in the general election, Whatcom County citizens shall elect a commission to review the charter, and if needed, to propose amendments for the citizens to ratify in the next general election.

This fifteen member commission consists of five members from each of the three County Council districts in Whatcom County. This time, there are 46 candidates total, running for this commission. District One has 19 candidates! Your ballot will contain only the candidates from your district; you can vote for five. The top five vote-getters from each district will be elected to the Whatcom County Charter Review Commission.

Now we can talk about the issues. Based on my informal review of the charter on my KarlU4CharterReview Facebook page, I think our charter is worth preserving. Some people have been waiting a decade to fundamentally transform the charter, but I think that would be a mistake. The charter should focus on the structure and operation of county government only. It is no place for an agenda.

One structural change that the review commission will no doubt be discussing involves “at large” elections for County Council seats. Whatcom County has a very diverse culture. I believe elections and representation must reflect the needs and preferences of the people living in their respective districts. People from both ends of the political spectrum believe that gerrymandering the districts will give them an advantage (one way or another, based on recent elections). However, I believe this is not a valid reason for favoring a particular voting scheme. Equitable representation is.

If you agree, and you live in District Three, vote Karl U for charter review.

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