PORT ANGELES — A petition to change Port Angeles city government to second-class-city status has enough valid signatures to bring the question before voters, Clallam County Auditor Shoona Riggs said last week.
If voters approve what’s called for in the petition, the city would switch from a code city back to its pre-1971 second-class-city status.
The petition says the change would be “in order to elect a full new City Council.”
Riggs said Nov. 8 could be set as an election date if she receives a ballot title from city officials by Sept. 12. After that date, there would not be time to meet programming and printing deadlines.
However, the date for the election, instead of this November, could be as late as November 2017, according to Eloise Kailin of Sequim, who is president of Our Water, Our Choice!, which circulated the petition after fighting against fluoridation of Port Angeles city water.
She referred to a letter from City Attorney Bill Bloor to Riggs, of which she was sent a copy, in which he cited state law when he said: “An election on this type of petition shall be held at the next general municipal election” which would be in November 2017.
“In drafting a ballot title I will consider those statues,” Bloor said in the letter.
Said Kailin: “The election could be this year at the will of a city. The city can hold a special election whenever it wants.
“It would have to be held by November of 2017, but it could be held earlier if city wants to hold it earlier,” she added.
“I don’t know how that one is going to play out.”
Mayor Patrick Downie also said the election may not be held until late next year.
“It was my understanding that the election, if were to be one on this issue, would not occur before November 2017,” he said Friday.
“I haven’t heard any different on that.”
The petition effort was fueled by dissatisfaction with Downie, Deputy Mayor Cherie Kidd and Councilmen Brad Collins and Dan Gase.
They constituted the council majority that voted Dec. 15 to continue fluoridation of city water for 10 years until June 2026 and reaffirmed that decision Jan. 19.
In November 2017, the seats of three of those four council members — Collins, Gase and Downie — will be up for election.
Kidd’s term automatically ends in December 2019 under the city’s three-term limit for council members.
The votes were taken after the Dec. 8 release of the results of an unscientific fluoridation survey of city water customers who pay water bills — not all water users — in which 43 percent of those receiving the 9,669 surveys responded.
Of those, 56.64 percent were opposed to the continued fluoridation of the city’s water.
Council members who voted to continue the practice said the survey was one factor in their decision that included a City Council-sponsored panel discussion and three-hour public comment session at which proponents outnumbered opponents.
“The ratepayers let it be known what their choice was,” Kailin said.
“The city ignored it, and [the ratepayers] were disenfranchised as a result.”
Opponents say fluoridation of city water contributes to bone and other health problems and should be administered as a matter of choice, while proponents see fluoridation as an effective public health measure against tooth decay.
City attorney review
Bloor said Friday he will review the legality of the petition.
“I will look at it and go to the council and tell them what their options are,” Bloor said.
Bloor said he will be out of the office much of the time until June 16 and would inform the council of those options by mid-July.
Bloor has questioned whether a new election would be required in the event that second-class-city status is approved and has said residents have little to gain from the change.
“I don’t see anything in the statute that requires the entire City Council to be elected,” he said Feb. 9 at a Port Angeles Business Association meeting.
Riggs notified Gerald Steel of Seattle, representing Our Water, Our Choice!; Bloor; Kailin; and Port Angeles lawyer Craig Miller by mail last week that the petition had been certified “as to form.”
Miller is a former Clallam County prosecuting attorney who was the Port Angeles city attorney from 1979-83 and is on a mailing list to receive documentation about the petition, he said Friday.
“I can’t disclose whether I do or I don’t have a client who is interested,” Miller said.
“I have some interest, in addition to that involvement, in what happens to the city.”
Miller said state law is “very confusing” on whether a new City Council will have to be elected if voters approve going to second-class status.
He predicted a declaratory judgment may be required from Clallam County Superior Court to settle the question.
Second-class city status
Downie was blunt Friday in his opposition to a change in the form of city government.
“I think it would be a horrendous change, a step back for this community, for a change in governance to take place,” he said.
Code cities have “broad authority in all matters of local concern,” while second-class cities have “only those powers expressly or implicitly granted by Legislature,” according to the nonpartisan Washington Municipal Research & Services Center (MRSC), which fulfills research requests from government entities.
No city in the state has changed from a code city to a second-class city, according to the MRSC, which said the city would lose home-rule charter powers if the change is adopted.
However, Steel told the Peninsula Daily News no Feb. 28 that initiative and referendum powers could be retained, calling it “a legal question” that a court would decide after the petition is adopted.
Riggs said Friday that Our Water, Our Choice! submitted 1,012 signatures for review to ensure the signatories met requirements such as Port Angeles residency and valid voter registration.
Riggs’ office went through 493 signatures before reaching the 467-signature threshold to validate the petition.
Organizers said they wanted to submit enough signatures to ensure that 467 names would be validated — and to make a statement supporting their belief that public sentiment is against the city’s continued fluoridation of the city municipal water supply.
“We wanted to give the public every chance to make themselves heard,” Kailin said.