King County voters can make seven changes to county government’s organizational bedrock on this November’s ballot. All but two of the proposals are good ideas and should be approved.
The King County Charter Review Commission, a citizens’ group appointed every 10 years to look over the county charter, recommended six of the changes. Voters should approve the following, which received unanimous approval from the commission.
Proposed Charter Amendment No. 1: Yes. This would improve transparency for cases where a person dies in county law enforcement custody. It would require a fact-finding inquest for every in-custody death and provide legal representation for the family of the person who died. This change would add equity and accountability to law enforcement.
Proposed Charter Amendment No. 2: Yes. This would bring King County into line with a 2018 state law that allows government to sell surplus property below market value to build affordable housing. King County’s housing crisis remains dire. This measure is a good idea, although the transactions it enables must be scrutinized to ensure the county is putting its holdings to good use.
Proposed Charter Amendment No. 3: Yes. This would change references in the county charter from “citizen” to “resident” or “public.” It would make county government more inclusive in rhetoric and in two minor government processes. With this change, anyone in King County would have standing to have complaints about county government reviewed, and any resident could serve on the charter review commission. County government serves the entire public, not just citizens, and should be equipped to hear out needs from all corners. The proposal does not change the requirement that only a citizen can hold office, which is also in state law.
Proposed Charter Amendment No. 4: Yes. This would put subpoena power for the Office of Law Enforcement Oversight into the County Charter. This supports making law enforcement fully accountable, even though the deputies’ contract blocks subpoenas.
Proposed Charter Amendment No. 7: Yes. This would add new protections to the county’s nondiscrimination policy, which already forbids hiring or contracting discrimination on the basis of sex, race, gender, religion and other categories. This change would protect being a family caregiver, military status, and being either honorably discharged from the military or having been discharged because of sexual orientation or gender identity.
The editorial board recommends voters reject two other changes, Proposed Charter Amendments 5 and 6, each of which would give the King County Council control of the sheriff’s office.
The Charter Review Commission was divided on whether to recommend Amendment No. 5, which would make the sheriff appointed rather than elected. The County Council bypassed the commission and put Amendment No. 6 onto the ballot itself, to ask voters to give the council organizational control of the sheriff’s department. Both power grabs would do more harm than good for the cause of law enforcement reform.