Whatcom Charter Review
Voters to Decide in November
After six months of meetings, a Whatcom County Charter Review Commission majority has approved eight charter amendments for voters to decide in the November election. The County Council must officially vote to place them on the ballot by August 4.
All registered voters in Whatcom County will have the ultimate opportunity – and responsibility – November 3 to approve or disapprove changes in what is, in effect, the county’s constitution.
In a surprise move on June 23, County Council scheduled four new amendment proposals for a public hearing at its July 7 meeting (7 p.m. in Council chambers). According to Council members, they were presented to them by “independent citizens.”
To read the new amendments proposed by the independent group see
Three of the new proposals affect how Whatcom voters elect their Council and how the charter can be changed. Here is a brief comparison of the commission-adopted and new proposals:
Election of County Council
The Commission approved a ballot proposal to elect six County Council members by district rather than the current system of countywide voting. (The seventh council member would still be elected at-large.) It was the first amendment to be approved by a vote of 8-6 on February 23. Opponents contend this change will produce conservative Council majorities.
Before the Council is an amendment that would divide the county into five districts with five Council members elected by district and two elected at large (countywide). This proposal failed 11-4 in an April 27 commission vote. Proponents argue this is a fairer representation of the county’s population than district-only voting or the current three districts.
Amending the Charter.
Two Commission-approved amendments (2 and 10) would prohibit County Council from placing on the ballot any charter amendment that would affect how members are elected. Council did this is in 2008 and voters reversed district-only voting that the electorate had approved three years before.
The amendment set for Council hearing “reaffirms” the right of the Council to place charter amendments before the voters under Article XI of the State constitution. Whether the Council would refuse to place that amendment on the ballot on constitutional grounds is a question for the lawyers.
Another new amendment before the Council would change the way Charter Review commissioners are elected. Currently, there is no primary and five commissioners are elected in each of the three districts. The new amendment proposes a countywide vote. The Commission did not address this issue.
The Commission has already approved one of the new proposed amendments. It would lower the number of signatures required to place an initiative on the ballot from 15% of the county vote in the last gubernatorial vote to 8%.
Other amendments proposed by the Commission include term limits for Council members and the County Executive, changing the composition of the committee that determines voting district boundaries from two parties to multiple parties, and lowering the number of signatures to place a charter amendment on the ballot from 20% to 15% of the county vote cast in the last gubernatorial election.
For the wording of the Commission proposed amendments as they would appear on the ballot and full charter text see http://www.whatcomcounty.us/1651/Agendas-Minutes-and-Audio
. Proposals that the majority of the commission rejected are also on this website.
Among many League members who have attended these meetings, our two designated Observers, John Turnbaugh and Jo Collinge, have submitted brief reports as part of the League’s longtime commitment to voter information. You can find the reports on our website
We will do our best to inform you and the voters about these important issues at our election forums and on our website.
A final few words from us...
We are now at the end of our two years as the Co-Presidents of the League and we are so proud to have had this opportunity to serve the membership. As we get ready to turn the reins over to your new leadership team, we are reflecting on the joy, rewards and accomplishments of the past two years, and they are many.
Most recently, we got to join over ninety of you in celebration at our annual meeting at the Bellwether to hear our guest, Congresswoman Suzan DelBene. One year earlier we had agreed to study Women's Economic Security in our community. In the intervening twelve months, we investigated the challenges faced by the more than 25,000 women in our community living at or below the federal poverty guidelines, created and prepared a report on the subject and then presented this information to our membership, the community and our elected representatives.
At our annual meeting, Congresswoman DelBene gave us a perspective on how these issues are being addressed on the National stage and her part in working on improving the economic health of families in our community.
We also got to celebrate and honor four of our members who have been a vital part of the League for more than 50 years. Each of these women has made contributions to our mission and been a part of that hands-on work that makes the League an important voice in our community. You can read more about Harriet Spanel, Rosemary Flora, Rosemary Hostetler and Lorene Lewis below.
We also had the chance to acknowledge the extraordinary contributions of our member Georgia MacGregor with the first Carrie Chapman Catt award. Georgia has been a leader in every aspect of the League's work including voter registration, membership development, election forums, community outreach and so much more. At every turn, she is the person who says 'yes' and helps with tasks large and small and there is not much that we accomplish that has not had the benefit of Georgia's work and wisdom.
We gratefully acknowledged the work of Kay Ingram and the members of her team who created the study on Women's Economic Security. The Study is an example of how much our League can accomplish with leadership, teamwork and a focus on the issues that are important to Whatcom County. And we thanked members of the Observer Corp and all our volunteers who continue to make our league so vibrant!
Of course, we also took care of the business of the League, adopting a new position on Women's Economic Security, adopting program goals for next year along with a budget and a vote on the new board of directors and officers for 2015-2016.
We close with a big thank you to our board members and to each one of you for this opportunity to work with you as this League continues its work in strengthening democracy.
Jill Bernstein and Annette Holcomb, Co-Presidents
LWVBW 2015-2016 Board
Back row: Riley Abel, Rebecca Johnson, Tanya Baumgart, Janice Keller, Allison Aurand, Susan Mancuso
Front row: Naomi Bunis, Jayne Freudenberger, Jean Carmean, Donna Packer, Judy Hopkinson, Judy Corliss, Caroline Correa
A time to network - A time to learn
Eight board members attended the LWVWA Biennial Convention in Yakima, WA, June 11-13. Here are some impressions from Rebecca Johnson and Judy Hopkinson.
Attending the LWVWA convention was a great way to find out about League activities outside of Whatcom County and we learned that our League has outstanding partners around the state.
While we clearly lead in membership growth, other leagues are starting to grow as well. Moreover, some other leagues are working on similar programs including poverty, housing, and climate change. Several will be working on money in politics as part of the national study.
We had excellent presentations on water issues in Central and Eastern Washington that featured two speakers - one from Ecology and one who was a public-interest lawyer.
The forum on Carbon Pricing featured two other excellent presentations: Erika Shriner from Carbon-WA provided a clear and compelling case for moving forward with Carbon-WA’s tax-swap initiative (I-732). Carbon-WA is currently gathering signatures for the initiative and intends to have ready for presentation to the legislature in January 2016.
A delightful young man from the Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy with membership from many progressive, environmental and labor groups, urged caution in approaching the 2016 election. The Alliance is planning to bring something to the voters in November as well but have yet to determine the best route for an initiative. He seemed to be saying that we need to do more research to find out what is likely to get approval from voters. The fact that the Alliance had no alternative program to offer was disconcerting for many people who attended the Climate Change Caucus the evening of the presentations. The good news is that the Alliance has promised to either offer an alternative or throw their support behind Carbon-WA by the end of the summer.
The League's new state-wide Climate Change Committee will, presumably help League decide whether to endorse one or the other of these programs by summer’s end. (Our members, Jayne Freudenbeger and Judy Hopkinson are part of the committee.)
Judy Hopkinson was personally grateful for the insight she gained into two of League’s excellent programs: Vote411, and the civics textbook, The State We're In: Washington. She is excited about the potential both of these programs have for improving our democracy!
Rebecca Johnson attended the voter forum presentation and appreciated the thoughtful information on “the empty chair” rules, i.e., what to do when a candidate declines an invitation or doesn't show up at a forum. The “empty-chair” rule does not apply to ballot measures, only candidates. Members of other leagues expressed concern about candidates using our empty chair rule as a tactic for limiting debate. Simply not attending the LWV’s forums limits the public’s access to voter education. Fortunately, our voter service committee was able to get commitments from local candidates.
All in all this was time well spent getting to know one another as we carpooled over to Yakima, and meeting members from around the state. It will be fun collaborating with other leagues on important issues!
What About Water?
Eric Hirst, a member of our League, has sent a thoughtful assessment of water issues in the county which we are sharing in this issue of the Voter.
Whatcom County seems like an unlikely place for a drought. Bellingham gets almost 40” of rain a year. Glacier, close to Mt. Baker, gets about 100”. (By comparison, Phoenix gets only 8”.) But very little snow this winter led the Governor to declare a drought emergency.
The water supply and quality problems we face are long-term and enduring, not just a temporary hiccup. We get lots of rain and snow in the winter, but our water use (especially for irrigation) peaks in the summer, leading to inadequate summer flows in streams and rivers. Salmon and steelhead trout are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act because the Nooksack River and its tributaries have too little water each summer. Fish are also harmed by water-quality problems and habitat loss. Fecal coliform bacteria from failing septic tanks, livestock, and wild animals pollute some streams and bays. Fertilizers and pesticides harm other water bodies.
Here are the key challenges in my view:
(1) agriculture dominates water use, especially during the critical summer months;
(2) the Lummi Nation and Nooksack Indian Tribe claim water under their 1855 treaty rights but these amounts are not yet specified;
(3) much local water use is illegal;
(4) the county lacks markets and price signals that could help solve problems by encouraging greater efficiency, allocating water to sectors that value it highly, and stimulating new supply projects;
(5) state laws and regulations are largely unsuited to resolving these problems;
(6) water problems will likely get worse because of population growth and climate change;
(7) lack of water-use data (especially for agriculture) complicates understanding and resolution of water problems.
about the range of water quality and water supply problems in Whatcom county and how private and government interests can possibly contribute to solutions in the full report: Whatcom Water Problems and Possible Solutions.
Rosemary Hostetler, Rosemary Flora, Harriet Spanel, and Lorene Lewis, May 6, 2015
Honoring New 50-Year Members
We honored four long-time members for their outstanding dedication to the League at our Annual Meeting on May 6, 2015. These members set a high mark with their exceptional dedication to the league and their commitment to improve their communities. We are grateful for the work of League members over the years and for their passion for studying issues, educating the public and advocating in a non-partisan manner.
Rosemary and her husband were living in Indiana raising three young children in the 1960s, when she heard about a great organization called the League of Women Voters. She joined the Michigan City, Indiana League and dived into the action. Rosemary served as President of that league at one point and then joined our local league when she and her husband moved to the Northwest in 1997. She served on the board for many years and was a faithful member of the observer corp - attending and reporting on County Council meetings. She has a keen interest in local and national issues and she continues to be a vibrant member extending her welcome at meetings as part of our membership support team.
Rosemary Flora joined our league in the1960’s when it was organized as the Bellingham LWV. She was very interested in land use planning and local governance issues and has been an advocate for preservation of our agricultural land. In 1978 she was secretary on the Board of Freeholders who wrote the first Charter for Whatcom County. Rosemary served as Treasurer and President of our local league and was involved in the leadership guiding the Bellingham LWV to become the LWV of Bellingham/Whatcom County. Later she stepped up to leadership roles in the LWVWA and she continues to lend her skills to our local league by recently chairing our budget committee.
Harriet joined the Bellevue, WA League in 1965 after she received League information in her Welcome Wagon basket. She quickly got involved working on the King County Home rule charter and transportation issues in the area. When her farily relocated to Bellingham she continued her membership and registered voters, organized forums, and advocated for the Whatcom County Charter. She cranked out the Voter newsletter on her basement mimeograph machine and served as president of the local league for 3 years. Harriet credits her league training for helping her to see all sides of an issue - a skill that served her well during 6 years in the WA State House and 4 terms in the WA State Senate.
Lorene joined the League in the 60’s when she was working on neighborhood issues and she has served on the board wearing many hats including that of the Secretary. She worked on our observer corps for five years which led to her involvement reporting for the Whatcom Watch. She is concerned and knowledgeable about a number of environmental and social policy issues found satisfaction working on studies of these issues in the past. Recently as a member of the Women’s Economic Security study committee she researched health care issues and kept the committee informed about relevant reports on the topic.
Join us in honoring these members who have been so generous with their time and talents.
Legislative Advocacy Team
Still at Work
During the last month, in addition to offering support for various bills still alive in their interest areas, local League advocacy members have been following the lead of the Washington LWV and advocating with their representatives in the legislature AGAINST cutting essential services and FOR NON-REGRESSIVE new revenue. Some legislators want to continue to cut programs to the most vulnerable among us instead of raising new revenue in order to comply with the Washington Supreme Court's ruling to fully fund K-12 education. Currently, Washington has the most regressive tax policy in the nation, depending primarily on sales and excise taxes and on an inequitable B&O tax. (The lowest 20% of households pay 16.8 % of their income in state taxes and the upper 1% pay 2.4% )
Local advocates have joined the state League in support of a capital gains tax, a carbon pollution tax and an earned income credit to fully fund education and to avoid cutting services (DSHS and Parks, for example) which have already been gutted. At the same time, these new revenue sources will move Washington towards a fairer tax structure.
Unless the legislative impasse has suddenly been overcome, we invite all who are interested to contact your representatives with this request.
Over the summer we will be revising the advocacy interest lists to better reflect new and/or expanded League focuses, such as Revenue Sources, Global Warming, and Infrastructure, so I will be contacting those of you who are on current lists to check on your continued interests and commitments. I will also be in touch with members who have joined the League in the last few months to learn whether or not you want to be involved in advocating with elected officials or simply want to receive information about your interest areas.
If you have any questions pertaining to advocacy, please call Jean Carmean at 733-2308.
A special thanks to those of you who have contacted officials and attended hearings/ meetings this year. As many of you know, we have been told by a local official that ten letters on a given subject constitute a tsunami. Hopefully your letters and calls have created several tsunamis.
Jean Carmean, Advocacy Co-Chair
Smart Justice - Fair Justice
Members and guests hear Mark Cooke's presentation at our Smart Justice, Fair Justice program on June 10th.
If you missed this program, you may watch the recording here:
The power point presentation and references on our website.