Seven amendments to county charter on Nov. 8 ballot

EVERETT — Some issues on the Nov. 8 ballot will require a longer attention span than others.

You also might want a strong cup of coffee or two as you wade through seven proposed amendments to the Snohomish County Charter.

A group of elected commissioners spent months earlier this year winnowing down suggestions for changing the structure of county government. They made formal recommendations in June.

“We had an open process with some rigorous debate,” said Mukilteo Mayor Jennifer Gregerson, who served as the chairwoman of the Charter Review Commission. “The proposals that the commission put forward are all well-vetted and good steps to help the county government run smoothly.”

The county’s Human Rights Commission is the subject of the first proposal. The County Council created the commission in 2010 and recently renewed it, but it could be repealed by ordinance. Proponents say that enshrining the Human Rights Commission in the charter would establish it as a permanent body to help fight discrimination and protect civil rights. An opposition statement in voters pamphlets calls the proposal well-intentioned, but fatally flawed because it doesn’t define what human rights are.

The county ombudsman’s job is the subject of the second charter proposal. The ombudsman’s office was created in 2014 to address the public’s questions and complaints about county agencies. The ballot proposal seeks to rebrand the ombudsman’s post as the “office of public advocate” and to make it part of the charter. The office frequently addresses issues such as land use, code enforcement, law enforcement, public works and human services.

A third proposal would update the county’s nondiscrimination policies to better match state and federal laws. It would eliminate outdated references and substitute gender-neutral language for masculine pronouns.

A fourth proposal would tweak the process for appealing some county administrative land-use and environmental approvals. It would remove the County Council from its quasi-judicial role reviewing some types of hearing examiner decisions and send those matters instead to the Superior Court. Supporters say the change would make the process fairer and less political because council members typically lack any legal training to help guide their decisions about nuanced matters of law.

Opponents of the fourth charter proposal say everyone benefits when council members hear firsthand about appeals involving county policies. Sending appeals to the courts, they argue, would cost a lot more money and limit the process to those who can afford to shell out upwards of $30,000.

A fifth proposed charter amendment would mandate additional council meetings and hearings. It would require the council to schedule at least one evening public meeting every year in each of the five council districts, instead of just conducting them in council chambers in Everett. It also calls on the council to conduct evening public hearings on proposed budgets from the county executive as well as any proposed ordinance to adopt, change or repeal a county comprehensive plan.

A sixth charter proposal would add rules for the County Council to confirm or reject appointments by the county executive. The council would have to reach its decision within 60 days. A rejected nominee would be ineligible for appointment to the same position for one year. The changes would apply only to executive appointees, not to elected officials.

The seventh and final proposed county charter amendment seeks to refine the process for redrawing county council districts every 10 years, following the decennial census. It would revise deadlines for making appointments to the districting committee, clarify who can serve on the committee and what they can do. The amendment would extend the County Council’s deadline for adopting new districts, require a supermajority of four votes to approve the new boundaries, and would restrict the changes that the council is allowed to make to the committee’s plan.

The propositions require a simple majority to pass. Ballots are set to be mailed on Thursday.

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465; nhaglund@heraldnet.com. Twitter:@NWhaglund.

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