By Chris Henry, February 28, 2013, Kitsap Sun
A 2012 ballot measure that cost the Port of Manchester nearly 7 percent of its annual budget has inspired a bill to limit port term-reduction measures to general elections only.
State Rep. Sherry Appleton, D-Poulsbo, is prime sponsor of HB 1078, which advocates say would save taxpayers unnecessary election costs.
Manchester resident Dave Kimble in January 2012 submitted a petition to reduce port terms to four years from six. The more frequent turnover would foster fresh ideas in the port, Kimble said.
The date Kimble filed the petition, Jan. 24, triggered an April 2012 special election date, costing the port roughly $9,000. The estimated cost to run the measure in the November general election would have been about $400, due to there being more measures and more jurisdictions to share the cost.
Appleton said she was approached on the proposal by the Washington Public Ports Association, whose members took Manchester’s election as a cautionary tale. At a public hearing on the bill, now on second reading in the House Rules Committee, the ports association testified in favor; no one opposed the bill, Appleton said.
Eric Johnson, executive director of the ports association, said his membership had been unaware of a vagueness in state law that ultimately resulted in the Port of Manchester incurring the extra election cost. The law states, “The ballot proposition shall be submitted at the next general or special election that occurs sixty or more days after the adoption of the resolution or submission of the petition.”
Kimble believed the measure could be held until the general election, but a Kitsap County attorney, who was asked for an interpretation, concluded the measure must run at the next election at least 60 days from the petition filing, which was April.
“If this bill had been in place, it would have saved (the port) thousands of dollars,” Johnson said. “It was unfortunate they had to spend so much for an election, where if they had just waited, they could have done it a lot cheaper.”
Johnson said other advantages of forcing the term-reduction question onto the general election ballot are participation and voter education.
Kimble’s proposal passed, with nearly 65 percent of those who voted approving the term reduction. Out of 3,732 eligible voters, 1,523 (41 percent) participated in the election. That’s typical for a special election, said county Elections Manager Dolores Gilmore.
“Turnouts are generally higher in general elections,” Gilmore said.
Johnson said running such a measure in November also would be preferable because information on the proposal would be available in the voters’ pamphlet, which is not published during a special election.
Kimble’s petition was signed by 341 eligible voters. A minimum of 212 valid signatures — a total equal to 10 percent of those who voted in a port commissioner race in the previous general election — were required in that case.
Jim Strode, chairman of the Port of Manchester Board of Commissioners, said he had shared news of the election cost at a quarterly meeting of the port association. The decision to propose the bill came not from Manchester but association lobbyists, Strode said.
Johnson described the proposed bill as a “housekeeping” measure intended to avert future unintended consequences.
“It’s really a tiny little bill,” he said. “It’s just something that frankly I don’t think many people had paid much attention to.”