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What is the King County Charter and what does it do?

As the constitution for King County government, the Charter provides the basic long-term structure reflecting core values of checks and balances, accountability, and merit, to promote an effective, efficient and responsive government.

What are charter issues?

Not every issue regarding King County government is a charter issue. In fact, most concerns of the King County public can best be addressed through ordinance (County law) or administrative action. Most of King County's services and regulations are established through ordinances, public rules, and administrative policies and procedures.

The King County Charter provides the essential direction or condition for these actions. The charter does not deal with specific details of the County's operations, which are largely handled by (1) Council-approved ordinances which establish law and (2) administrative measures including (a) formally adopted public rules and administrative policies and (b) procedures established by the director of the department or office responsible for the program. While any problem could theoretically be solved by amending the Charter, which requires voter approval, most problems can be more effectively and easily solved through ordinance or administrative changes. It is also important to remember that many County services and regulations are required by federal or state law, not the Charter.

So what is a Charter Issue?

The following criteria generally describe a Charter issue:

  • Charter-Only Solution: The problem can only be solved by changing the Charter.
  • Long Term: The problem exists or will exist over the long term and is not the result of a specific, immediate problem. The solution will hold up over the long term and through changing circumstances.
  • Core Values: The problem concerns the Charter's core values of checks and balances, accountability, and merit.
  • Process, Not People, Oriented: There is an appropriate distinction between the details of a process and how people carry out the process (e.g. the charter requires a comprehensive plan, but cannot ensure that the plan is a good one-that depends on all those who are part of the plan's development, from citizen to staff to Executive and Council.

What is the Process for Reviewing the Charter?

Every ten years a charter review commission is appointed by the Executive. The last commission was convened in 2007 and in 2008 presented the County Council with a final report and recommendations for amending the Charter. The Commission then dissolved. The next charter review commission will convene in 2017.