County commissioners review responses on charter proposals

Clallam County commissioners have reviewed a draft response to a series of recommendations from the Charter Review Commission.

Board Chairman Mark Ozias received feedback on Aug. 9 about his proposed replies to Charter Review suggestions to regulate the 5G industry, advocate for ranked-choice voting, hire a forester, do more to address the housing crisis and commission a third-party review of the Department of Community Development (DCD).

Commissioners Bill Peach, Randy Johnson and DCD Director Mary Ellen Winborn said they would provide written comments for Ozias to incorporate into a final report.

Commissioners are expected to approve a formal response to the Charter Review recommendations next month.

A 15-member Charter Review Commission is elected by Clallam County voters every five years to propose changes to the county’s home-rule charter.

Last November, county voters approved three of six proposed charter amendments that the Charter Review Commission placed on the ballot.

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 DCD director’s position 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 forwarded as recommendations to commissioners.

Each commissioner held sparsely attended town hall meetings in their respective districts on four of the five recommendations.

Here are the five recommendations with a summary of the proposed responses. The full text of Ozias’s draft response is available in the Aug. 9 work session packet beginning on Page 250 (websrv7.clallam.net/forms/uploads/bocc_worksession_packet.pdf).

• Recommendation 1 — “The BOCC shall take all required and necessary legal actions to ensure that any franchise associated with new radio frequency devices or systems operating in the micro or millimeter wave frequency range be accompanied by a scientific study determining that such law, regulation or franchise is in compliance with the National Environment Policy Act (NEPA) prior to the enactment or granting of any franchise.”

This recommendation was promoted by citizen concerns about the effects of 5G wireless technology.

Clallam County does not have the authority to regulate 5G, Ozias wrote in his draft response.

“The commissioners will continue to follow this topic closely should the regulatory environment change in the future in such a way as to allow local jurisdictions more authority,” Ozias wrote.

• Recommendation 2 — “Pass a resolution calling on the state Legislature to pass legislation, which would enable the county (and other jurisdictions in the state) to adopt ranked-choice voting for local elections, if they so choose.”

While no commissioner is opposed to asking the Legislature to allow for ranked-choice voting, recent bills to allow the voting system in Washington have gained little traction with state lawmakers, Ozias said.

The ranked-choice voting system could replace the top-two primary in local elections.

“Since there is no clear mandate from Clallam County voters, the commissioners believe there would be little to no impact in forwarding such a resolution at this time,” Ozias wrote.

• Recommendation 3 — “That Clallam County increase monitoring of the DNR’s (state Department of Natural Resources) management of its trust lands by hiring a forester.”

Rather than hiring a forester, Clallam County officials will continue to work with other timber counties on ways to improve the state’s timber-management system, including as improved inventory assessment.

“Should a broader vision for county trust lands be developed, this visioning process should be led by the elected Director of Community Development as indicated by our County Charter,” Ozias wrote.

Johnson and Peach, both of whom are retired foresters, said they would provide additional comments for the board’s final response to the recommendation.

• Recommendation 4 — “(Commissioners) immediately take active leadership to reclaim and renew their primary leadership role in engaging a group of public and private organizations and businesses to creatively increase affordable housing availability, apply forward-thinking ideas proven to be successful in communities that have reduced the experience of homelessness effectively, and report progress back to the community every six months.”

While housing falls under the auspices of DCD, commissioners are “highly engaged” in housing issues given their importance and the community’s perception about the board’s role in the issue, Ozias wrote.

“Maybe there’s an opportunity for us to increase awareness of the hard work that goes into addressing this issue,” Peach said in the work session last week.

“I did not get the sense that the Charter Review committee spent a lot of time to understand that hard work.”

Johnson, who serves on the county’s Homelessness Task Force, took umbrage with the phrase “immediately take active leadership” on housing.

“It’s not like things aren’t happening,” Johnson said.

Winborn offered to provide additional language about what her office is doing to address the housing issue.

• Recommendation 5 — “The BOCC and the DCD shall 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 the DCD. The BOCC will consider, after public review and hearings, any proposed ordinances for adoption within 120 days of the commissioned report. BOCC shall place on the November 2022 ballot, if needed, any necessary charter changes to clarify the powers and duties of an elected DCD Director.”

Meanwhile, commissioners have agreed to meet individually with Winborn in mediation sessions hosted by Peninsula Dispute Resolution Center.

“The commissioners believe there would be value in engaging in the third-party review as suggested by the Charter Review Commission and plan to work with Director Winborn to identify an appropriate ‘third party’ to review county ordinance after the completion of these mediations,” Ozias wrote in his draft response.

Clallam is the only county in the nation to have an elected DCD director.

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