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Pierce Charter Review Commission picking ballot measures this week

The 21-member elected commission is expected to send a few amendments directly to November’s ballot and others to the Pierce County Council for further consideration.
The 21-member elected commission is expected to send a few amendments directly to November’s ballot and others to the Pierce County Council for further consideration. sbloom@theolympian.com

Pierce County’s Charter Review Commission plans to decide Wednesday which changes to the county’s basic governing document voters will consider this fall.

After months of commission meetings to discuss dozens of possible amendments, 10 proposals remain. Among them are a ban on county officials holding multiple public offices, a lower signature threshold for referendums and initiatives, and a public notice requirement for proposed amendments to county ordinances.

The 21-member elected commission is expected to send a few amendments directly to November’s ballot and others to the Pierce County Council for further consideration.

Wednesday’s meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. at the Pierce County Annex, 2401 S. 35th St., Tacoma.

The charter review process is part of a once-a-decade look at the charter first adopted in 1980. The charter functions like the county’s constitution, setting basic rules for the conduct of government in Pierce County.

Among the more substantive changes the commission will consider:

▪ A measure that would prohibit Pierce County office holders from simultaneously holding more than one elective office. That measure may be aimed at State Sen. Pam Roach of Sumner, who has filed for the Pierce County Council seat being vacated by Republican Joyce McDonald. Roach has said she might hold on to her state Senate seat.

▪ Reducing by half the number of signatures required for a referendum, from 8 percent of the number of votes in the last election for county executive to 4 percent. A similar adjustment to the county’s initiative procedures would decrease the number of signatures needed for an initiative to make the ballot from the present 10 percent in the last executive election to 8 percent.

▪ Requiring that all proposed amendments to ordinances be posted online 24 hours in advance of a council vote. Such a provision would allow the county executive and the public an opportunity to draft comments on the proposed changes.

▪ Allowing a judge to award legal fees to referendum filers whose measures are challenged in court by the county if the referendum writer prevails in court. That amendment also would halt the signature gathering period during the legal challenge period.

▪ Making the proceedings of the county’s ethics commission subject to the same open public meetings requirements as other public bodies.

Several of the proposals are technical adjustments and clarifications to the way the county does business.

Among those are new procedures for filling elective office vacancies when the previous office holder was not a member of a major party, clarifications of terms used in charter provisions for initiatives and a proposed new requirement that a current printed copy of the Pierce County Code be kept on file in the Pierce County Law Library. Yet another proposal would change requirements for competitive bids on contracts.

At previous meetings, commission members have suggested that such technical amendments be forwarded to the County Council for possible inclusion on the 2017 ballot rather than in this November’s election. Pierce County Auditor Julie Anderson has warned against crowding the ballot with too many proposals.

John Gillie: 253-597-8663

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