News

Petition seeks change for city

By Dennis Box-The Courier-Herald

A petition to change Bonney Lake from a code city to a charter-code city was submitted last week, however some officials are questioning the legal text of the document.

The petition was presented by Dan Decker, who was elected to the City Council Ward 5 seat Nov. 6.

Decker said he gathered the majority of the 527 signatures on the petition from Ward 5 while he was campaigning for the council position. The document needs the signatures of 381 registered voters to be validated. The city has sent the petition to the Pierce County auditor for validation.

The petition, if approved by voters, would change Bonney Lake from a city governed by codes to a municipality governed by a charter or constitution written by 15 elected freeholders.

City laws would be written or rewritten to conform to the charter. Currently, city codes must abide by the state and United States Constitution.

If the city becomes a charter-code municipality, officials would write laws within the confines of the federal and state Constitution and city charter.

Kelso is the only city in the state that is a charter-code city. Cities with a population of 10,000 or more can become charter-code cities. Larger cities like Seattle, Bellingham and Tacoma are charter cities. State law allows broader governing powers to charter cities than a charter-code city.

One of the questions some Bonney Lake officials are raising about Decker's charter-code petition is whether some of the wording may invalidate the measure.

There is a statement in the petition stating the council-mayor form of government shall not be changed.

The question centers on the issue whether the freeholders, when writing the charter, must consider all forms of government.

Officials are concerned the city may have to pay for the issue to go on the special election ballot, only to be thrown out for legal reasons.

Decker said the statement is a request. “We are asking, not demanding,” he said. “It's on the first page of the petition, not in the text. It should not be an issue, but if it is I will rewrite it with that technicality removed.”

A series of elections would be necessary before Bonney Lake could change to a charter-code city. The first election would decide if voters wanted a charter-code form of government. If voters approved the change, a second election would be scheduled to choose the 15 freeholders.

Once the freeholders were chosen, they would write a charter which would go before the voters to be approved.

According to Decker, before the change could be finalized, each step must be approved by voters. Decker believes if voters approve converting to a charter-code city and elect freeholders, but do not approve the charter, the city reverts back to a code city.

If the voters adopt the charter, all elected officials will no longer hold their positions. The charter would end the current form of government and a new government will have to be elected, which could include either more elected officials or fewer.

The main advantage of the charter-code form of government, according to Decker, is the citizens would gain the ability to petition for amendments to the charter.

“The people would have more control,” Decker said. “If people wanted something in the constitution they could mandate it.”

Decker did not give an estimate how much the change might cost the city overall, but he said the cost of the elections, which the city would have to pay for, is not an issue.

“Control over the government is the issue,” Decker said. “It's not about money. It's about democracy.”

Officials estimated each election could cost at least $35,000 to $40,000.

Decker estimated the charter-code issue could show up early next year on a special election ballot.

Dennis Box can be reached at dbox@courierherald.com.

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