Charter review set for next year

Clallam County residents will have a chance to suggest revisions to the county charter when a 15-member board will conduct a review process that takes place every five years.

Clallam is one of the seven counties in Washington state to have its own home rule charter — similar to a constitution for the county government — and this November, voters will elect 15 people to sit on a Charter Review Commission which will vet the document starting next year.

“That means that we can make certain rules and regulations that govern us, the citizens of Clallam County,” said Andrew May, who served on the 2020 Charter Review Commission.

“It means that we’re not strictly beholden to Olympia to help decide our course.”

May, former Clallam County Undersheriff Ron Cameron and former county commissioner Jim McIntyre said June 4 at a meeting of the Port Angeles Business Association the process was a chance for the public to suggest changes to how the county government is run.

The charter impacts only the county government — it has no impact on cities or special purpose districts such as the port — and all amendments proposed by the review commission must be approved by county voters at the ballot box.

“The county charter cannot go beyond the (state) constitution or the body of state laws that describe all of the functions of county government,” McIntyre said. “You can’t not do what state laws say counties must do. You can say who does it.”

Clallam County’s charter was initially adopted in 1976 by a vote of the people.

Changes that have been made through the charter review process include making certain county elected positions, such as the prosecuting attorney and the sheriff, non-partisan and having the director of the Department of Community Development (DCD) be an elected rather than an appointed position.

The charter review process previously had been held every eight years, but it was changed to every five years in 2015.

May said the issue of moving the DCD director back to an appointed position typically comes up during each review process, but voters have ultimately chosen to keep the position elected.

Last week’s speakers emphasized the review is meant to look at the structure of county government and not policies or functions. A lawyer from the prosecuting attorney’s office is present at all review commission meetings to ensure the process stays within its proper jurisdiction.

“The functions are described in all the general laws that apply to all counties,” McIntyre said. “The government has to do certain things and those are not optional, so the charter describes who does it and how that’s to be organized in county government.”

While the commission’s main job to review and propose possible amendments to the charter, commissioners are also able to make recommendations on policy to the Board of County Commissioners. Recommendations made to commissioners in the last review process included the consideration of hiring a county forester to monitor Department of Natural Resources management of state trust lands and writing a letter to state lawmakers urging the adoption of ranked-choice voting statewide.

Five commissioners are elected for each of the county commissioner districts for a total of 15. Candidates for the review commission have already registered and will appear on the general election ballot in November.

Charter review commissioners are non-partisan and the position is unpaid, although commissioners do have the ability to submit reimbursement requests for travel.

Once commissioners are elected, the review process will begin in January, and revisions and recommendations are due by June if they’re to appear on the ballot in November 2025.

The review process includes multiple public meetings, including listening sessions in each district, where members of the public are allowed to provide input.

“That’s kind of the purpose of the charter review commission is to hear from the public on their county government,” McIntyre said.

“This is as close as it gets to the old traditional New England town meeting. The charter review commission is the voice of the people, and that’s a thing of beauty in my opinion.”