Article 5 The Public Interest1

Section 5.10 Direct Government.

The people of Whatcom County reserve to themselves the power to make certain proposals, at their option, and to enact or reject them at the polls, independent of the County Council. The veto power of the County Executive does not cover measures initiated by or referred to the people.

Section 5.20 The Initiative.

The first power reserved to the people is the initiative. Any act, bill or ordinance or amendment to an ordinance may be proposed by filing, with the Auditor an initiative petition. No ordinance enacted as a result of initiative shall be amended or repealed within two (2) years after enactment except as a result of a subsequent initiative or referendum.

Section 5.30 Initiative – Limitations.

No initiative proposal requiring the expenditure of additional funds for an existing activity or of any funds for a new activity or purpose shall be filed unless provisions are specifically made therein for new or additional sources of revenue which may thereby be required.

Section 5.40 Initiative – Procedures.

Any legal voter or organization of legal voters of Whatcom County may file an initiative proposal with the County Auditor, who within five (5) days, excluding Saturday, Sunday and holidays, shall confer with the petitioner to review the proposal as to form and style. The Auditor shall give the proposed initiative a number, which shall thereafter be the identifying number for the measure. The Auditor shall then transmit a copy of the proposal to the Prosecuting Attorney, who within ten (10) days after receipt thereof, in consultation with the petitioner shall formulate the ballot title which shall consist of: (a) a statement of the subject of the measure; (b) a concise description of the measure; and (c) a question: “Shall this be enacted into law?” The statement of the subject of the measure must be proposed as a positive statement, be sufficiently broad to reflect the subject, and be sufficiently precise to give notice of the measure’s subject matter, and not exceed ten words. The concise description must contain no more than thirty words, be a true and impartial description of the measure’s essential contents, clearly identify the proposition to be voted on, and not, to the extent reasonably possible, create prejudice either for or against the measure. Such concise statement will be the ballot title. The petitioner then has one hundred and twenty (120) days to collect the signatures of the registered voters in the county equal in number to not less than eight (8) percent of the vote cast in the county in the last regular gubernatorial election. The one hundred and twenty (120) day period shall begin upon receipt of official notification to petitioner(s) by the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office either by certified mail or messenger. If the last day for collecting signatures falls on a weekend or legal holiday, then the one hundred and twenty (120) day period shall extend to the end of the next business day.

Each petition shall contain the full text of the proposed measure, ordinance or amendment to an ordinance and the ballot title. The Auditor shall verify the sufficiency of the signatures on the petition and, if it is validated, submit the proposal to the people at the next general election that is not less than one hundred and twenty (120) days after the registering of the petition, unless the County Council enacts the proposal without change or amendment. If the County Council does not adopt the proposed measure and adopts a substitute measure concerning the same subject matter, the substitute proposal shall be placed on the same ballot with the initiative proposal; and the voters shall be given the choice of accepting either or rejecting both and shall then be given the choice of accepting one and rejecting the other. If a majority of those voting on the first issue is for accepting either, then the measure receiving the majority of the votes cast on the second issue shall be deemed approved. If a majority of those voting on the first issue is for rejecting both, then neither measure shall be approved regardless of the vote on the second issue. (Amended by referendum 1986; Amended by Ord. 93-046 (part); Amended by referendum 1995; Amended by referendum 2015).

Section 5.41 Mini-Initiative.

Any ordinance or amendment to an existing ordinance may be proposed to the County Council by registering with the Auditor initiative petitions bearing the signatures of qualified voters equal in number to not less than three (3) percent of the number of votes cast in the county in the last gubernatorial election. Upon verifying the sufficiency of the signatures, the Auditor shall transmit the initiative petition to the Council which shall hold a public hearing on the proposed ordinance and enact or reject the ordinance within sixty (60) days.

Section 5.42 Initiative – Insufficient Signatures.

If the proponents of an initiative fail to obtain the required number of signatures in the designated time period, but have sufficient signatures to qualify the proposal as a mini-initiative, the proposal shall be treated as a mini-initiative at the request of the proponents. (Amended by referendum 1986).

Section 5.50 The Referendum.

The second power reserved by the people is the referendum. It may be ordered on any act, or bill, or ordinance, or any part thereof passed by the County Council except such ordinances as may be necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health or safety or support of the County government and its existing public institutions. Upon registration and validation of a referendum petition, the measure will be ineffective pending the outcome of the referendum procedure. The registering of a referendum petition against one or more items, sections or parts of any act, bill or ordinance will not delay the remainder of the measure from taking effect. (Amended by Ord. 2005-075 Exh. A).

Section 5.60 Referendum – Procedures.

Any legal voter, or organization of legal voters of Whatcom County may file a referendum proposal, against any enacted ordinance or portion thereof, with the County Auditor. The proposal shall be presented to the Auditor within forty-five (45) days after the ordinance is passed by the County Council.

Within five (5) days, excluding Saturday, Sunday and holidays, the Auditor shall confer with the petitioner to review the proposal as to form and style. The Auditor shall give the referendum proposal a number, which shall thereafter be the identifying number for the measure. The Auditor shall then transmit a copy of the proposal to the County Prosecuting Attorney, who within ten (10) days after receipt thereof, shall formulate the ballot title which shall consist of: (a) a statement of the subject of the measure; (b) a concise description of the measure; and (c) a question: “Shall this be enacted into law?” The statement of the subject of the measure must be proposed as a positive statement, be sufficiently broad to reflect the subject, and be sufficiently precise to give notice of the measure’s subject matter, and not exceed ten words. The concise description must contain no more than thirty words, be a true and impartial description of the measure’s essential contents, clearly identify the proposition to be voted on, and not, to the extent reasonably possible, create prejudice either for or against the measure. Such concise statement will be the ballot title.

The petitioner then has one hundred and twenty (120) days to collect the signatures of registered voters of the county equal in number to not less than eight (8) percent of the vote cast in the county in the last regular gubernatorial election. The one hundred and twenty (120) day period shall begin upon receipt of official notification to petitioner(s) by the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office either by certified mail or messenger. If the last day for collecting signatures falls on a weekend or legal holiday, then the one hundred and twenty (120) day period shall extend to the end of the next business day. Each petition shall contain the full text of the measure being referred and the ballot title. The Auditor shall verify the sufficiency of the signatures on the petition and, if it is validated, submit the measure to the people at the next general election that is not less than one hundred and twenty (120) days after the registering of the petitions. (Amended by referendum 1995; Amended by referendum 2015).

Section 5.65 Initiatives, Referendums and Mini-Initiatives Numbering System.

The Auditor, when assigning numbers to initiatives, referendums and mini-initiatives, shall use a separate sequential series for each category. No number shall be reissued once used. (Amended by referendum 1986).

Section 5.70 The Recall.

The people further reserve the power of recall as provided in the Constitution and the laws of the State of Washington.

Section 5.80 Implement by Ordinance.

The Council shall enact ordinances to promote the carrying out of the provisions of this article.


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Editor’s Note: For further provisions clarifying the procedures regarding initiatives, referendums, and recalls, see Ch. 1.08.