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On November 4, 2008, King County voters allowed more time for review of the annual County budget, reduced the number of elected officials on certain regional committees, permitted the establishment of additional qualifications for some county elected officials, and strengthened bans on unlawful discrimination.

These proposals were among amendments to the King County Charter recommended by the 21 citizens who served on the 2007-2008 King County Charter Review Commission.

Every ten years a commission is appointed to review the King County Charter, the “constitution” for the county, and recommend charter amendments for the King County Council to put before voters.

Of the five proposals from the Charter Review Commission that the Council placed on the 2008 ballot, four were adopted by voters:

Anti-Discrimination: Elevating to Charter status the existing prohibition in the King County Code against discrimination based on disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity or expression in county employment and contracting – joining such other prohibited grounds as sex, race, religion and age.

Regional Committees: Reducing the number of County Councilmembers on the Council’s three regional committees, establishing a vice-chair position to be filled by a non-Council member, authorizing the committees to initiate legislation, and authorizing the Regional Policy Committee to adopt its own work program without the need for Council approval.

Qualifications: Permitting the Council to establish additional qualifications for separately-elected officials who head charter-based executive branch departments, as is currently permitted for the office of Sheriff.

Budget Timeline: Providing the Council with an additional 20 days to review the Executive's proposed County budget, for a total of 65 days for review, in recognition of the increased scope and responsibilities of County government from the time the review period was originally established 37 years ago.

A fifth proposal to streamline the process for amending the county charter by citizen initiative and increase the signature threshold to 20 percent did not receive a voter majority. A successful charter amendment to establish an economic forecasting council for King County was proposed by the County Council, and amendments to elect the position of elections director and to make most countywide offices non-partisan were put forward by citizen initiative.

The Commission presented its Final Report and Recommendations to the Council in May 2008. To avoid overloading the ballot in any one year, the Commission proposed a schedule for phasing in its proposed amendments over three general elections. Seven of the Commission's proposals remain that the County Council may place on the ballot in 2009 or 2010:

Elected Officials and Collective Bargaining: Require the Council to provide by ordinance for increased involvement of separately elected county officials, including the Sheriff, in collective bargaining.

Open Space Protection: Establish additional protection for over 100,000 acres of open space properties of high conservation value in which the county owns an interest. Review the list of the properties that would be protected by the amendment, with links to detailed information about each property.

Unincorporated Areas Representation: Designate a high-level position and a structure within the Office of the Executive to represent and serve the interests of rural and urban unincorporated area residents, and amend the Charter Preamble to reflect the county's commitment to unincorporated areas.

Commission Procedures: Clarify the Commission appointment and confirmation process, and require the County Council to review all charter review commission recommendations and decide at an open public meeting how to proceed on each recommendation.

Elections Deadlines: Authorize the county to establish deadlines by ordinance for submitting local ballot measures to the Elections Division, in response to an Elections Division request for addtional time to process such measures.

Budget Allotments: Remove the outdated requirement that county agencies submit estimates of spending to the Executive.

Transitory Provisions: Remove obsolete charter language pertaining to the County’s transition to a home rule charter government and consolidation with Metro.

Voters in 1968 first adopted the King County Charter, the foundation for county government that serves the same role that the U.S. Constitution does for the federal government. The Charter calls for a citizen commission to be assembled once every ten years to review the Charter and recommend proposed amendments to the County Council for consideration for the general election ballot.

Members of the 2007-2008 Charter Review Commission held 55 meetings over more than a year in preparation of their final report and recommendations. The Council began its review of those recommendations on June 2 and held a special Town Hall meeting in Federal Way on June 16, which brought more than 75 people to the Federal Way Community Center.

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