Politics Blog

Whatcom council takes another shot at charter commission

Apparently unconcerned about reaction from conservatives, the Whatcom County Council tonight (Tuesday, July 7) will introduce two more charter amendment proposals to foil efforts of the Charter Review Commission.

The late addition to tonight’s council agenda was announced by the council office in an email at 3:46 p.m. today, barely three hours before the start of the meeting.

Both amendments only get introduced tonight; they go to a public hearing on July 21.

Four other council-led charter amendments will have a public hearing before the council tonight; they were introduced two weeks ago. Conservatives blasted the council for undermining the six months of work the commission went through to come up with its eight amendments, which just received final commission approval yesterday (Monday, July 6).

The commission amendments and any charter amendments that make it through the council will go to the voters in November for final approval.

The first four amendments under council consideration seek to reverse or minimize the changes the commission has proposed; the two new ones go even further to limit the impact of commission amendments.

The new amendment most fatal to the commission’s cause is listed second of two scheduled for introduction tonight: It would require countywide voting for council members. It is in direct conflict with the first amendment passed by the commission, which would have council members elected only by voters who live in their district.

Conservatives and progressives have aligned on either side of the district-only voting debate. Conservatives like district-only voting because it should increase rural representation on the council. Progressives prefer countywide voting, or district-only voting under an alternative districting scheme (five districts rather than three) that would give Bellingham better representation.

The other new council-driven charter amendment would require the commission to propose amendments with a supermajority vote, similar to the way the council now passes amendments to the ballot. The council must get supermajority approval (five out of seven) to put a charter amendment on the ballot. The new amendment would require the commission to get 10 votes at least out of 15 to send an amendment to voters.

This proposal calls out the commission directly for its partisanship:

“Charter Review Commission amendments have been proposed with limited or no opportunity for public comment and without broad support, achieving only a simple majority vote,” the council’s proposed amendment reads.

Elsewhere, it says, “achieving a supermajority agreement on proposing charter amendments requires a greater effort to set aside partisan agendas and achieve bipartisan consensus than a simple majority vote.”

In an hour from the time of this writing, conservatives are expected to assemble in a rally against the first four amendments proposed by the council. It will be interesting to hear what they think of these latest two.