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Voters Weigh In on Charter Amendments, Fireworks, Marijuana, and More

In case you hadn’t heard, there was an election recently! The results are now official, and while others will debate what it means at the state and federal levels, here at MRSC we’re focused on the governments closest to the people, which means we’ve got a lot of local ballot measures to sort through.

This post will focus on advisory votes, city and county charter amendments, and other non-financial measures. I’ll follow up with a second post discussing taxation and revenue measures. 

Mixed Results for Fireworks Bans

Voters got their say on proposed consumer fireworks bans in five cities across the Puget Sound region. A large majority supported a ban on fireworks discharge in Sequim, although fireworks sales would still be allowed. In Tumwater, voters barely favored a ban on fireworks sale and discharge, with an exception for small trick and novelty devices. But voters in Bothell, Duvall, and Snohomish opposed fireworks bans.

All of these votes are advisory: If the city councils choose to ban consumer fireworks, under state law such bans cannot take effect until one year after adoption.

Benton City Voters Narrowly Support Marijuana

In a Benton City advisory vote, voters narrowly supported allowing marijuana production, processing, and sales. The proposal to allow marijuana generated significant controversy in April. For more details on how each city and county statewide is responding to legalized marijuana, see our Marijuana Regulation webpage.

Kelso Eliminates City Council Districts

Voters in Kelso approved several charter amendments, including abolishing the city council ward system. That system was adopted 10 years ago, but local officials said it was hard to find candidates for districts with smaller populations. Clarification: Four of the seven city councilmembers had to reside in specific geographic districts for "liaison purposes," but all seven city councilmembers were elected at-large in both the primary and general elections.

Another amendment specifies that a councilmember vacates their seat after missing six regular meetings in one year. Previously, vacancy occurred after missing six regular and/or special meetings.

Everett Eliminates Archaic Language, Promotes Diversity

Voters in Everett easily approved three charter changes: requiring the city council to meet 48 times per year (instead of every week), replacing archaic terminology such as “thereof” and “heretofore,” and promoting diversity on city boards, commissions, and committees.

Pierce County Prohibits Dual Office-Holding, Rejects Making Initiatives and Referenda Easier

Voters in Pierce County overwhelmingly rejected proposed charter amendments to lower the signature thresholds for initiatives and referenda, while approving an amendment that would grant more time to clear up legal questions surrounding referenda.

Voters also overwhelmingly approved an amendment prohibiting county elected officials from holding any other elected office except for precinct committee officer. The issue arose this year when a sitting state legislator ran for a county council seat. Tacoma approved a similar ban in 2004.

Finally, Pierce County approved an amendment eliminating its $25,000 public works bid limit and requiring competitive bidding only when stipulated under state law or county ordinance.

Clallam County Clarifies Employee Suspension/Termination Process

Voters approved two amendments to the Clallam County charter, including one that will allow employees contesting their suspension or dismissal to choose either a hearing prescribed by county policies or a public hearing before the board of county commissioners, eliminating the possibility to pursue both.

Snohomish County Council Must Vote on Appointments Within 60 Days, Retains Role In Quasi-Judicial Appeals

Snohomish County voters approved six of seven charter amendments. Under the new changes, the county council is required to confirm or reject county executive appointments within 60 days. Rejected appointees may not be reappointed for at least one year. The county council must also hold additional budget and comprehensive plan hearings and at least one evening meeting each year in each of the county’s five districts.

Another charter amendment revised the redistricting process, giving extra time to the redistricting committee and requiring supermajority approval. Other amendments include adding the county’s existing Human Rights Commission and County Ombudsman (renamed the Office of Public Advocate) to the charter, as well as replacing masculine pronouns with gender-neutral language and updating nondiscrimination language.

The only amendment that failed was a proposal to remove the county council from the quasi-judicial land use appeals process. As it stands, hearing examiner decisions can be appealed to the county council, then to Superior Court. (For an interesting take on this subject, see our recent guest blog post on Should Legislative Bodies Conduct Quasi-Judicial Hearings?)

King County Makes Prosecuting Attorney Nonpartisan

In King County, voters approved amendments to make the charter language gender-neutral and make the prosecuting attorney a nonpartisan position. Previously there was some question as to whether a county could make the prosecuting attorney a nonpartisan office, but an AG opinion last year (AGO 2015 No. 6) indicated that home rule counties could choose to do so. All other prosecuting attorneys statewide are still partisan offices, but all countywide elected offices in King County are now nominally nonpartisan.

Close Votes on Changing Form of Government

Voters narrowly rejected a proposal to change form of government in Soap Lake (from mayor-council to council-manager). The proposal was opposed by the mayor and most councilmembers but got about 48% of the vote. Meanwhile, a vote in Snohomish to go the opposite direction (from council-manager to mayor-council) passed by just nine votes out of more than 4,400 cast, or 0.2 percent. Update: The mayor of Snohomish has requested a recount. Official results are expected on December 12.

Seattle Initiative Protects Hotel Workers

Voters in Seattle approved a union-backed initiative to protect hotel workers, including requiring hotels to give workers panic buttons, help with health insurance costs, and deal with cases of alleged sexual harassment against employees, as well as limiting the amount of floor area employees can be required to clean. The protections do not apply if the hotel has a unionized workforce with a collective bargaining agreement, but most hotels in the city are not unionized.

MRSC is a private nonprofit organization serving local governments in Washington State. Eligible government agencies in Washington State may use our free, one-on-one Ask MRSC service to get answers to legal, policy, or financial questions.

Photo of Steve Hawley

About Steve Hawley

Steve joined MRSC in July 2014 and is responsible for writing, editing, and conducting research for many of MRSC’s website resources, with a particular focus on local government finance, budgeting, ballot measures, and procurement. He has a broad communications and public policy background with over a decade of local government and nonprofit experience.