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Past Issues

Whatcom Watch Online
Twenty Years Ago

July 2015

Looking Back

Twenty Years Ago

To celebrate over 20 years of publishing Whatcom Watch, we will be publishing excerpts from 20 years ago. David M. Laws has been generous enough to volunteer to review the Whatcom Watch for 20 years ago to find suitable material to reprint. The below excerpts are from the July 1995 issue of Whatcom Watch.

Charter Review Commission Approves Local Version of I-164

Electorate Will Probably Vote on 19 Proposed Charter Changes

by Mary Cutbill

The Commission will shortly be submitting its proposed charter amendments to the County Council. Although The Bellingham Herald reported that the Commission will hold public hearings to allow for comment on these amendments, I am skeptical that this will happen since, to my knowledge, the amendments need to be submitted to the County Council by roughly the 10th of July.

While everyone is well aware of the proposal to cut County staff by approximately 140 workers, nothing has been mentioned regarding the compensation clause that was approved at the June 21st meeting of the Charter Review Commission. Section 1.11, as introduced by Joe Elenbaas, reads:

“The rights of the individual citizen shall be guaranteed under the Constitutions of the United States and the State of Washington. No regulation or ordinance shall be generated without consideration of and provisions for compensation to those unduly burdened.”

… Barring some unforeseen circumstance, we will, therefore, be voting on this I-164 lookalike measure in the November election. [I-164 restricted state government in land use regulation and required state government to pay for property value reductions attributable to certain regulations. It was passed by the Legislature on April 19, 1995. Referendum Measure #48 placed Initiative #164 on the November 7, 1995 general election ballot. Referendum #48 was rejected by 59 percent of the voters. As a consequence, I-164 did not become law.]

What dumbfounded me during the course of the discussion were statements made by Commission members that demonstrated their complete ignorance of how such vague and ambiguous language is to be practically applied. At an earlier meeting, there was consensus that the language needed to be significantly clarified and improved upon … audiotapes of the earlier meeting [contained] quotes from [Commission members] in which they admitted the language was ill-defined and open to all kinds of radically different interpretations. And yet, I witnessed at the June 21st meeting these very same people claiming that they had “no problem” with the language and that it would certainly suffice. Perhaps they don’t have a problem with it, but my sympathies go out to those county employees who will be put in the position of defining the term “unduly burdened.” In fact, the question that immediately arises in my mind is: who should have the authority to make such a determination — the Prosecuting Attorney’s office, the County Council, the author of the regulation or ordinance?

One final general observation: despite the fact that this Commission has now been meeting for almost six months, the meetings are poorly run … For the layperson, trying to accurately follow the labyrinthine and convoluted discussions, motions, amendments to motions, and amendments made to amendments to motions is a challenge of monumental proportions.

Moreover, at this juncture there are 19 proposed charter changes on which the electorate will be expected to vote in the November election. It’s interesting to note that while a majority of the Commission members espouse a strongly conservative, anti-government ethic, they have succeeded in micro-managing how government operates in Whatcom County and saddled the voter with an onerous — if not impossible — task: namely, that of familiarizing oneself with the intent, pros and cons of each of the 19 proposed amendments. Good luck! While Commission members should be commended for the time and energy they have invested in reviewing the Charter, I can’t help but conclude that the process of doing so has been seriously flawed from the outset and substantially undermined by personal agendas and philosophical, rather than practical, issues.

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