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Commission seeks public comment on potential King County charter amendments

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Adrian Florez

The King County Charter Review Commission is nearing the end of its process for recommending changes to the county's main governing document. The commission is seeking public comment and will hold a town hall-style event in Seattle next week.

"There are some things that are just technical things," said commision co-chair and former county council member Louise Miller. "And there are other things that are real changes in the way the county would operate."

The commission assesses the charter every 10 years. Many recommendations are updates to align the county charter with changes to state law. But some of the more significant potential changes include making the sheriff an appointed office and creating a process for removing elected officials.

Miller says this is one of the last opportunities for the public to comment before the commission expects to deliver its final recommendations to the county council later this year.

After that, council members will decide which of the changes — if any — they want to put before voters. 

There is a town hall at the county courthouse in Seattle on Oct. 23 where people can deliver comment in-person on any of the proposals. Feedback can also be given online.

Here is a rundown of some of the more significant changes the commission is proposing:

Making the sheriff an appointed position: King County voters opted to elect the sheriff when they amended the charter in 1996. But now the commission is recommending the county reverse that move. Miller says the main argument is about recruitment. When the office is elected, the sheriff has to be someone living in King County. Many cities, such as Seattle, can recruit police chiefs from outside their jurisdiction, which gives those cities more options.

"For some people that's a big deal," Miller said. "They take their voting very seriously."

Creating a removal process for elected officials: Currently, the only way to remove an elected official from office in King County is through a recall election, which is initiated by voters. This amendment would create a process by which the county council could vote to remove an elected official for misconduct, including council members themselves. 

Guaranteeing a right to counsel during inquests: The inquest process determines the circumstances of a person's death. In King County, inquests are done when someone is killed by law enforcement. The inquest process has recently changed, but this amendment would further guarantee lawyers for the families of those who have died, a longtime demand from police-accountability advocates. The amendment also would clarify that inquests should occur when someone dies in county custody.

"It's, I think, something that the county council has been wrestling with recently, and we feel this is one that should go to the voters," Miller said.

Giving subpoena power to the Office of Law Enforcement Oversight: OLEO says it hasn't been able to investigate the sheriff's office since it was created by voter approval in 2015. The oversight entity's powers have been caught up in labor negotations with law enforcement officers.  

A Seattle native and former KNKX intern, Simone Alicea spent four years as a producer and reporter at KNKX. She earned her Bachelor's of Journalism from Northwestern University and covered breaking news for the Chicago Sun-Times. During her undergraduate career, she spent time in Cape Town, South Africa, covering metro news for the Cape Times.