Clallam County Charter Review response expected this summer

Clallam County commissioners will respond to Charter Review Commission recommendations by the end of this summer.

Commissioner Mark Ozias, board chairman, agreed Monday to draft a response to five recommendations forwarded by the 2020 Charter Review on issues ranging from housing to ranked-choice voting.

Commissioners Randy Johnson and Bill Peach provided feedback for Ozias to use in his reply.

“I am hopeful that I will have this drafted by the end of July, and that will give us plenty of time to talk about it and adopt it by the end of August,” Ozias said in a June 14 work session.

Each commissioner held town hall meetings in their respective districts on Charter Review proposals to regulate the 5G industry, advocate for ranked-choice voting, hire a county forester and do more to address the housing crisis.

A fifth recommendation to commission a third-party review of the Department of Community Development was tabled at the request of DCD Director Mary Ellen Winborn, Ozias said this week.

Commissioners said the town halls were not well attended.

“I did not get overwhelming feedback that said here’s one particular issue, or two particular issues, that we must take action on,” said Peach, who represents the West End and District 3.

Johnson said he had a similar experience in central-county District 2.

Ozias said he had one person attend his Sequim-area District 1 town hall.

The 15-member Charter Review Commission was elected in 2019 to propose changes to the county’s home-rule charter.

Clallam County voters approved three of six proposed charter amendments in the general election last November.

Approved were measures to make the prosecuting attorney a non-partisan position, a housekeeping measure to clarify Article IV, Section 4.10 and an amendment to change the system of electing county commissioners to a system in which they will be nominated by their district and elected by the voters countywide.

Voters rejected charter amendments to change frequency of Charter Review elections from five years to eight years, change the office of the director of Community Development from elected to appointed, and lower the number of signatures required to file an initiative petition for repeal of the Clallam County Charter from 35 percent to 20 percent of the number of voters who voted for the office of governor in the last statewide election.

The remaining proposals were forward as recommendations to the three commissioners.

The recommendations were:

• Ensure wireless franchises comply with the National Environmental Policy Act. This recommendation was made in response to citizen concerns about the effects of 5G wireless technology.

Ozias said he would rely on a legal memo from the prosecuting attorney’s office that outlines the county’s legal authority.

Johnson said the county “really doesn’t have a lot of wiggle room” to regulate 5G.

• Ask the state Legislature to allow counties to adopt ranked-choice voting for local elections if they so choose. The ranked-choice voting system could replace the top-two primary in local elections.

Ozias emphasized that state law would have to change before Clallam County could ask voters whether they favored ranked-choice voting.

“Most of all, we want people to vote,” Johnson said.

Ozias said he had requested information from County Auditor Shoona Riggs on how ranked-choice voting would function in Clallam County.

Peach said there was not much traction for ranked-choice voting in the state Legislature.

“I agree with the message that there’s a genuine need for education,” Peach added.

• Increase monitoring of the state Department of Natural Resources’ management of county trust lands by hiring a forester. The county forester would work with DNR to ensure revenue for trust beneficiaries.

“It’s a good idea, but the timing is off,” Peach said.

Peach, who serves on DNR’s Board of Natural Resources, said the agency was in the midst of an internal review that would affect operations.

He added that a state Supreme Court ruling that deals with “very fundamental issues with regard to timber harvesting” was forthcoming.

“A lot of things are handled in Olympia, and we need for Olympia to change, at least that’s my opinion,” said Johnson, a retired forester.

“I believe the timber counties in unison going forward with the counties in general will certainly put forward to the Department of Natural Resources our recommendations and continue to follow up. I believe that we all working together will get us to where we need to be.”

• Meet all housing needs by creating more permanent housing in Clallam County. This recommendation was made in response to the county’s housing crisis.

“I think the three of us are pretty aware of the variety of things that we’re doing already in this arena, and so I thought that a large part of this response is going to be simply trying to capture what we are already doing,” Ozias said.

Johnson, who serves on the Homelessness Task Force, said the county was engaged in a “whole bunch of issues” related to housing and had recently completed a homeless gaps and needs assessment that will provide benchmarks for the county and its partners.

• Jointly agree to commission a third-party review of the county ordinances and solicit a report on proposed changes to ordinances and operating procedures to clarify the roles and responsibilities of DCD.

Commissioners did not hold town hall meetings on this recommendation.

“Director Winborn wanted to wait until we were a little bit past the COVID restrictions,” Ozias said in the work session.

“When we circled back around to that maybe six or so weeks ago, director Winborn was more interested in focusing on our interpersonal relationships than this third-party review.

“I’m not sure where that leaves us with regard to this recommendation,” Ozias added.

“We still have been asked to agree to commission a third-party review. I think that we ought to do that.”

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