Snohomish County’s constitution is due for a diagnostic, and residents, not politicians, will decide whether adjustments are needed in their government’s motor.
To the cynic, that sounds too good to be true. But it is true.
This fall, voters will elect 15 people to the County Charter Review Committee, three from each of the five council districts.
Starting in January, they will inspect and contemplate alterations in the 21-page, 8,009-word charter that spells out the duties and powers of elected officials and citizens.
It will all happen in public. Nothing becomes law without voter approval.
This group will enjoy total independence. The county executive and county council members can try to persuade the panel but cannot touch the recommendations.
“We are talking about democracy at its best,” said Pam Pruitt, the former Mill Creek councilwoman and chairwoman of the 1995 committee. That panel debated and in some cases did what the politicians couldn’t or wouldn’t do.
Creation of the charter in 1979 grew out of a grand jury investigation of public corruption a few years earlier that resulted in indictments of 20 people and one corporation.
Citizens penned this blueprint of governance and voters approved it, ushering in immediate changes that included expanding the council from three to five members. The charter also called for reviews once a decade.
Campaigning for a seat on the Charter Review Committee is cheap and easy.
It is an unpaid, nonpartisan job. Candidates must be at least 21 and have lived in the county at least three years. There is no primary. The top three vote-getters in each district in November are the winners.
In 1995, with the county enmeshed in the tumult stirred by attempts to create Freedom County, some 90 people ran. They came from all walks of life and all points on the political spectrum.
The winners included former state lawmakers Jim Johanson and Art Sprenkle as well as Rep. Hans Dunshee, who was out of office at the time. Also included were citizens such as Cynthia Chadwick, a single parent with five children.
That widespread interest is testament to why this collective is so important.
Ten years ago, the committee called for adding a performance auditor and making the offices of sheriff, auditor, clerk, assessor and treasurer nonpartisan. Voters agreed. A measure to expand the county council to seven members failed.
Today, leaders of the county’s Democratic and Republican parties are actively recruiting candidates. Both parties want the elected offices to be partisan again.
They have designs on other areas, too; they may want to tinker with term limits, enlarge the county council and pursue elections by mail-in ballot only.
Opportunity abounds for all comers in this race. Filing opens July 25.
“Every registered voter brings fresh eyes to the process and should consider herself or himself qualified to run,” Pruitt said. “This is a time where they will be able to hold an intelligent conversation on how best to run the county.
“That is no less important today than it was 10 years ago,” she said.
Reporter Jerry Cornfield’s column on politics runs every Sunday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.