Tag Archives: term limits

Port of Manchester race, truth and consequences

I’m checking in here, the day before Election 2011, on the issue of term limits, raised during this campaign season by Dave Kimble, a candidate for the Port of Manchester. Kimble has called for reducing the term of port commissioner from 6 to 4 years.

Kimble, if you remember, is making his fifth bid for the port commission. He has made it no secret he is gunning not so much for his opponent, incumbent Dan Fallstrom, but for longtime port commissioner Jim Strode, who beat him in the late 1990s in a race so close it was called on a coin toss.

Kimble, in an Aug. 15, Kitsap Sun story on his term limit proposal, noted that Strode will have served 30 years with the port when his term is up at then end of 2015.

“It sounds like it’s an election for me and Strode, but it’s not. It’s joined at the hip,” Kimble said.

Kimble has said that, if elected, he would make it his job to rock the boat and challenge the “good old boy network” he thinks has developed on the port commission.

Fallstrom has pledged to take a steady-as-she-goes approach and maintain what he describes as the fiscally conservative mindset that the board of commissioners has historically held over its modest budget.

Regardless of whether Kimble wins or loses, term limits would be a good first step, he said.

“I like the idea of stopping career politicians from serving on our port commission,” he wrote in a letter to the Kitsap Sun’s opinion page Oct. 25.

Sitting commissioners, including Fallstrom, have expressed concern that a four-year rotation could result in having two new commissioners on the three-person board in certain election years. That, Fallstrom and others say, could result in instability and loss of institutional knowledge.

Kimble says term limits would make the port commissioner position less daunting of a commitment, possibly attracting new candidates. It also would result in more dramatic change-ups on the board, which Kimble sees as a good thing.

Kimble inaccurately stated in his Oct. 25 letter that half of the state’s ports have already switched to four-year terms. According to a document on the Washington Public Ports Association website, only 10 of the state’s 75 ports have four-year terms. Five of those have five-member commissions, reducing the potential for major change-ups in any given election year. The other 65 have six-year terms.

The cost of the term limit election measure became an issue in early August. The situation bears some similarity to Port Orchard’s code city debacle.

If you recall, Port Orchard residents Gil and Kathy Michael challenged the city council’s decision to change its form of governance without putting the matter to a vote of the people. The Michaels submitted a petition to place the code city proposal on the ballot, but the timing of their submission meant the city would have had to pay up to $30,000 for the election, because they would miss the general election, when the cost could be shared with other cities, the county, ports and school districts. The council reversed its decision on becoming a code city, with the idea they will take it up again in the future, possibly putting it to a vote when timing would allow for a less costly election.

Kimble in early August asked the commissioners to put the term-reduction measure to voters, but they said there wasn’t time get it on the November ballot (the deadline was in late August) and hold a public hearing on the proposal, which the port attorney advised.

Kimble responded by launching his signature collection efforts. In an email copied Aug. 8 to the Kitsap Sun, he said failure to place the measure on the general election ballot could result in special election costs to the port of $8,000, for a shared election, up to $35,000. Kimble said he would ask the measure be placed on the February, 2012 ballot.

Port commissioners also believed the cost of the election would be high, according to Fallstrom, who said they discussed the issue at their October meeting. The port’s total operating budget is just more than $50,000. “It’d cripple us basically,” Fallstrom said.

In an email to Manchester resident Carol Kowalski, Fallstrom said he believed having to pay the $30,000 could lead to a decline in the port’s bond rating. That opinion made its way into a letter to the editor (not in the Kitsap Sun) by Kowalski that was critical of Kimble.

In an his Oct. 25 letter to the Kitsap Sun titled “Port of Manchester not the OK Coral,” Kimble said that the cost of the election could be as little as $800 and “some individuals” were spreading “misinformation.”

On checking with Kitsap County Elections Manager Dolores Gilmore, I found Kimble to be correct on the $800 cost. Gilmore, citing RCW 53.12.175, noted that the measure “must be submitted (to the ballot) at the next general election or special election that occurs 60 days or more from the adoption of the resolution (if the board were to initiate it) or submission of the petition.”

The law, in this case, appears to give the port the option to wait on submitting the measure until the next general election, when the port would share the cost of the election with multiple other jurisdictions, Gilmore said.

The words “in this case” are critical, said Gilmore, who emphasized that there are many types of petitions, each governed by different RCWs, depending on the type of government agency and the subject of the petition.

As with the code city issue, Gilmore said, the burden of understanding the consequences of the law is on the petitioner, because the burden of carrying out the law is on the city, county or port that receives the petition … at a cost to taxpayers that could range from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand dollars.

Fallstrom was delighted to learn (from me during the week of Oct. 24) that the port would have the option to delay Kimble’s term limit measure until the general election. “That’s good news to us. That’s the first I’ve head of it,” he said.

A couple other things both the petitioner and the port ought to know, if they don’t already: Kimble has up to six months from the date the first signature was obtained (Sept. 16, 2011) to submit the petition. That would be March 16, not February, as Kimble earlier believed.

Second, the law is unclear in this case on how the petition is to be submitted. The RCW says the petition “shall be submitted to the county auditor.” It doesn’t say whether it’s to go first to the port, which then is bound to submit it to the auditor, or if Kimble can and should submit it directly. Gilmore said she would want county attorneys to rule in on a definitive answer.

All this may seem like a lot of governmental geekiness, but a lack of attention to just such a detail is what tripped up the code city ballot efforts.

Kimble has multiple other complaints about the port. One that’s still hanging fire has to do with an interlocal agreement that, according to Fallstrom, allows the port to contract for small jobs without going out to bid. Kimble believes it’s a circumvention of public process and has lodged a complaint with the state Attorney General’s Office. A spokeswoman for the SAO told me her office will review the complaint, and I’ll keep an ear out for the results.

Check in with the Kitsap Sun tomorrow evening for the results of this and other local races.