Politics Blog

Whatcom Council could undo charter review work

The conservative majority has had its way on the Charter Review Commission this year, and it is on the verge of moving several rural conservative-friendly recommendations for voters to approve in November.

The proposed charter amendment that has gotten the most attention, district-only voting, is intended to put more rural residents on the seven-member county council. District 2 especially, which includes Lynden and the small cities in the northeast county, would have a good chance of electing two conservatives to a council that presently has no bona fide right-of-center members.

Two other amendments seek to limit if not stop altogether the council’s ability to undo this switch from countywide to district-only voting. Council did just this in 2008, putting countywide voting on the ballot that year after the 2005 charter review commission got the voters of that year to approve district-only voting.

Today, the council has served notice that it isn’t going to sit back and watch this happen. Proposals being introduced tonight, that were provided to the council by “independent citizens,” might undo much of the commission’s work.

Council will take no meaningful action on the four new charter amendments tonight. They are being introduced to the public only; public hearings for all four are scheduled for July 7.

The Charter Review Commission has rounded out its eight amendments for the ballot and will meet one more time to finalize them after these hearings, on July 13.

The four amendments were distributed by the council office after 3:30 p.m. today:

▪ Redistricting. Replace the three existing county districts with five districts, two containing Bellingham. Five council members would come from each of the five districts, and two would be elected at-large. This proposal was considered and rejected by the commission. Conservatives said it could tip the balance to favor progressives, given the two Bellingham and two at-large seats.

▪ Reaffirm council’s right to amend charter. This is a direct attack on the two commission-recommended amendments that would limit the authority of the council to amend the charter. The relevant language is in Article XI of the state constitution.

▪ Countywide election of charter review commissioners. This one would change the current practice of district-only voting for the commission, which arguably is what created the 9-6 split on the body, with conservatives in the majority.

▪ Lowering the threshold for a citizen to put a charter amendment on the ballot.

All proposed amendments can be read in full here.

Whatcom Republicans caught wind of the council’s proposed action and took to Facebook to excoriate council members:

With only four hours notice the Progressive Whatcom County Council amended their agenda for tonight's meeting with four Charter Amendments that do an end run around the duly elected Charter Review Commission and that countermand each proposal that the Commission has decided to put forth to the voters in Whatcom County. To heck with the 6 months of hard work by the voter elected Charter Review Commission. The Council has decided that they and only they will make decisions for voters in this County. Please show up this evening if you can and let the Council know you expect them to respect the voters in all of Whatcom County....not just Bellingham. 7pm County Council Chambers, 311 Grand Avenue.

Council member Ken Mann, in an interview around 6 p.m. on Tuesday, said some “independent citizens” initiated the charter amendments and emailed them to council that same day.

“Of course Republicans are upset,” said Mann, after being told of the party’s Facebook post. “They are seeking to undermine the constitution, and citizens are rising up to oppose that.”