On Tuesday the executive board of the Kitsap Regional Coordinating Council voted 8-4 to maintain the status quo in determining how best to develop countywide policy when it comes to voting. This concluded, according to Poulsbo Mayor Becky Erickson, 16 months of disagreement primarily between representatives from Kitsap County and the city of Bremerton. It’s possible that vote could spell the end of Bremerton’s membership in KRCC. Greg Wheeler, Bremerton City Council president, said this is sure to be a big topic at the council’s May 13 study session.
And in the end, no matter what happened Tuesday or what happens in the future, no one besides those in government might notice a tangible difference. This is a bigtime inside baseball dispute we in the newsroom were not sure was worth covering, because it was potentially inconsequential no matter how the board or the city council voted.
Under the existing interlocal agreement among the KRCC members, for any policy measure to pass there must be a quorum present and two county commissioners must vote “yes” and at least two cities must have a majority voting “yes” as well. All three county commissioners are members of the board. Bremerton has three members, Bainbridge Island, Port Orchard and Poulsbo each have two and the Port of Bremerton has one.
At Monday’s KRCC meeting Bremerton City Council President Greg Wheeler said the Bremerton City Council was not comfortable with what he called the county controlling the process. He made a motion to change the voting requirement to a regular quorum. In that situation, if no county commissioners were in favor of a proposal but everyone else in the room was, motion carries.
Rob Gelder, county commissioner, said the county was the one agency in the room representing every resident of the county. And even if all the incorporated areas were taken out of the county’s resident count, it still represents two-thirds of the county’s residents, those who live in unincorporated areas. Furthermore, he argued, the county can’t act unilaterally, because two cities have to be on board for any measure to pass.
KRCC acts as a local conglomerate of interests designed to coordinate pursuit of state and federal funding. The group sets priorities and then acts more or less in unison with the Puget Sound Regional Council or the Legislature. It’s not always exactly like that, because as Wheeler said every member of either KRCC or PSRC is there to represent their government’s interest, but for the most part the group operates as if working as a team nets better results than trying to go it alone.
Wheeler said the issue first arose when in response to KRCC Executive Manager Mary McClure’s decision to retire. She was working for KRCC as a contractor and there was some talk of hiring staff instead. As part of that consideration the way local agencies paid for membership also came up. Wheeler said the cost of having a staff went up a lot, and the reconfiguration of the funding formula hit Bremerton pretty hard.
KRCC pulled the funding question, but the board voting formula remained an issue for Bremerton.
That’s not universal. Patty Lent, Bremerton’s mayor, said Tuesday she was against the motion forwarded by her city’s council and voted against it.
Port Orchard Mayor Tim Matthes, Port Orchard mayor, supported it, saying he didn’t think anyone would take advantage of the process. “We’ve been so cooperative, so I don’t see this little change making a difference,” he said.
Erickson disagreed, saying the KRCC board had been arguing these issues for 16 months. “We don’t get along very well,” she said. She said the change could eliminate the county’s voice completely, even though it represented everyone.
A hybrid proposal would have kept the current quorum requirements in place for major policy issues, but gone to a more simple quorum process for smaller matters.
Ed Wolfe, county commissioner, said he applauded the steadfastness and passion of Bremerton, but voted against the proposal. His biggest argument was that the issue has to stop taking up any more time. “It’s time to put this to bed and get on with the people’s business,” he said.
The “yes” voters included Wheeler, Daugs, Matthes and Axel Strakeljahn, Port of Bremerton commissioner.
The “no” votes came from Gelder, Wolfe, Lent, Erickson Poulsbo City Councilman Ed Stern, Bainbridge Island City Council members Anne Blair and Wayne Roth and Port Orchard City Councilman Jeff Cartwright.
Charlotte Garrido, county commissioner, was absent from the meeting.
Wheeler said Bremerton leaving KRCC is on the table, but said even if the city does leave it doesn’t mean it won’t still work in cooperation with the county’s other agencies. Should the city decide to quit its KRCC membership, it would take six months under the KRCC agreement to completely sever the tie, so the organization and the city wouldn’t be free of each other until the end of the year at the earliest.