Politics & Government

Headed to Pierce ballot: Ban on county elected officials holding second public office

Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn, is applauded after being elected as President Pro Tempore in the Senate at the start of the 2015 legislative session.
Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn, is applauded after being elected as President Pro Tempore in the Senate at the start of the 2015 legislative session. AP

Pierce County voters will decide this fall whether to allow county elected officials to hold a second public office.

The county Charter Review Commission made the decision an 11-9 vote Wednesday night after a lengthy, spirited discussion.

The ballot measure was one of four the 21-member commission approved for the November general election ballot. The other three concern changes to the referendum and initiative processes at the county level.

The elected charter review body, which has been meeting weekly since mid-January, also sent four proposed charter amendments to the Pierce County Council for possible inclusion on a ballot next year. The commission killed two other proposals.

The four proposals sent to the council dealt largely with technical changes to governmental processes including bidding, amendments to proposed ordinances before the county council, filling vacancies in nonpartisan offices and changes to county auditor procedures.

The ban on holding second offices elicited the longest and most passionate arguments from the commission members and the public.

While the rule against holding two offices simultaneously would apply to all Pierce County officeholders, it most immediately could affect state Sen. Pam Roach of Sumner.

Roach’s legislative district covers parts of both King and Pierce counties, and Roach, known for her outspoken stands on governmental issues, has filed for the Pierce County Council seat now held by Joyce McDonald. Roach’s son, Dan, is a Pierce County councilman. Dan Roach is campaigning to become Pierce County executive.

Pam Roach previously had not ruled out holding both offices at once. Earlier this week, she told The News Tribune that if elected to the County Council, she plans to resign her position in the Legislature but only after the 2017 legislative session is over.

Several Roach supporters testified before the Charter Review Commission on Wednesday.

Auburn City Councilwoman Yolanda Trout, in a prepared statement read to the commission, said that Pierce County voters should not be allowed to decide whether Roach should continue serving King County voters who had repeatedly sent her to the Legislature to represent them.

“It’s not hardly fair to them,” Trout said.

Juanita Carson told commissioners that many office holders have full-time private jobs. Public officeholders shouldn’t be treated differently, she said.

Charter Review Commissioner John Ladenburg, a former Democratic Pierce County executive, said he originally had been inclined not to vote to send the office limitation measure to the ballot, but he had changed his mind during the commission’s deliberations.

The public deserves the chance to make its own decision on the issue, he said. Ladenburg said he himself will likely vote against the measure at the ballot box because he doesn’t believe in undue restrictions to the public’s right to pick their representatives.

The two-office amendment was proposed by commission co-chairwoman Martha Lantz, the daughter of Pat Lantz of Gig Harbor who served as a Democratic state representative for 12 years.

Other measures sent to the ballot Wednesday would reduce the number of voter signatures required to place an initiative or referendum on the ballot in the county. If voters approve, the number of signatures needed for a referendum would drop to 4 percent of the number of votes cast in the last county executive’s race. The present requirement is 8 percent.

For an initiative, the percentage would decline to 8 percent from the present 10 percent cast in the last executive’s race.

The proposed percentages would align Pierce County’s petition requirements with those of the state, supporters said.

Another ballot proposal would allow a court to award legal fees to citizens filing referendums if they prevailed before a judge after the county challenged their referendum.

Jerry Gibbs, the Gig Harbor activist who led last year’s fight to put the county’s proposal to build a new general services building on the ballot, said his organization spent $16,000 fighting legal challenges.

Voters approved the referendum, rejecting the proposal for the new building at the site of the former Puget Sound Hospital.

The charter commission also killed two proposals: one to require the county’s ethics commission to comply with the state’s open meetings law and another to require the county to keep an up-to-date master copy of county ordinances in the county law library.

Opponents of those noted the County Council has already taken action to open up the ethics commission meetings. The requirement for a printed copy of the ordinances, critics argued, was not weighty enough to merit inclusion in what is essentially the county’s constitution.

John Gillie: 253-597-8663