How Commissioners, County + Citizens Work Together To Move The County Forward
Kitsap County faces important decisions in the coming years, decisions about land use and population growth, development and infrastructure, and who its next leaders will be. As part of our Government 101 series, we want to help you get a better understanding of the county’s basic structure and functions.
This article explores each of the 5 basic pillars that form the foundation of the county: the Board of Commissioners, other elected officials, departments and staff, citizen advisory groups, and the Kitsap County Superior Court. The elected and non-elected officials that make up each pillar play a crucial role in developing, enacting, and enforcing policy that make a difference in your life daily. So we’ll also examine a few ways you can get involved and participate as a resident.
A VERY SHORT HISTORY OF KITSAP COUNTY
The Kitsap Peninsula was part of both King County and Jefferson County until 1857 when mill owners on the peninsula petitioned to have their own county recognized. Originally named Slaughter County, the county seat was originally located in Port Madison (until the Port Blakely Mill’s closure in 1892, which all but depopulated the area). By 1893, the county’s voters also changed the name to Kitsap County to honor the Suquamish war chief, and the county seat moved to Port Orchard (then known as Sidney).
WHAT IS KITSAP COUNTY’S FORM OF GOVERNMENT, EXACTLY?
Under the Washington State Constitution (Article 11, section 5) and the Revised Code of Washington, counties are empowered to hold elections to form Boards of County Commissioners, sheriffs, county clerks, treasurers, prosecuting attorneys, and other county officers as deemed needed for the public’s convenience to conduct business. As long as the structure of Kitsap County is dictated by the state’s constitution, it will continue to have this form of commissioner-based government.
Kitsap County is one of the 32 counties in the state run by boards of commissioners as their form of governance. The other seven counties, like King, Pierce, or Snohomish counties, have adopted a “Home Rule Charter” that allows for a Council-Elected Executive form of government or a Commission/Council-Appointed Administrator form.
1. COUNTY BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS
The population of Kitsap County as recorded by the 2020 US Census is 275,611 people, which allows residents to elect a three-member board of commissioners under the state’s constitution. The powers are broad at the local level and touch almost every aspect of life for citizens of the county. For an in-depth look at the county commissioner roles and functions, head to the Chamber’s article Local Government 101 – Kitsap County Commissioners but here is an overview.
Commissioner’s core functions include:
- Legislate – set policy, make laws, and write/manage Kitsap’s $548 million budget.
- Administer – Provide oversight of the county administrator, commissioner staff and four specific county departments. These include Community Development, Public Works, Human Services, and Parks.
- Participate – By statute, one or more commissioners serve on more than 20 regional boards and county advisory groups that help create and make policy at the county, Puget Sound, greater Kitsap, and Olympic Peninsula levels.
- Represent – The three commissioners also are responsible for representing the county in intergovernmental relationships with the cities and tribes within Kitsap County and with other cities and counties in the Puget Sound region.
Commissioners are elected by residents representing the district’s three distinct geographic areas – North, South, and Central. Voters head to the polls every four years to elect or re-elect county commissioner seats.
County Commissioners hold open regular business meetings at 5:30pm on the second and fourth Mondays of each month at the County Administration Building in Port Orchard. Briefings and Work Study Sessions are held each Monday and Wednesday. The public is welcome to attend county meetings and all agendas are posted online in advance.
2. OTHER COUNTY ELECTED OFFICIALS
As outlined in the state’s constitution, there are six other elected positions that round out the core executive functions of the county. Here’s what these positions are and what they generally do within the county:
- Assessor – Assesses all real and personal property within the county for tax purposes. Term expires 12/31/26
- Auditor – Provides and oversees essential services like voting, financial reporting, audits, recording property, licensing vehicles, issuing marriage licenses. Term expires 12/31/26
- Clerk – Administrator and financial officer for Superior Court by receiving, processing, and preserving all documents in perpetuity for the court. Term expires 12/31/26
- Prosecuting Attorney – Prosecutes crimes referred by county and city law enforcement agencies as well as provides legal advice to all elected officials and county departments. Term expires 12/31/26
- Sheriff – Provides public safety services in partnership with the county’s diverse communities. Term expires 12/31/26
- Treasurer – Acts as the bank for the county, school districts, fire districts, water districts and other government departments by securing and administering the financial affairs of the county. Term expires 12/31/26
3. KITSAP COUNTY STAFF
The county staff is a team of fulltime, part-time, and contracted employees working primarily within the county’s main departments to ensure policies, day-to-day responsibilities and operations are carried out on behalf of residents.
Below is a brief overview of departments within the county and the types of duties assigned to staff in each:
- Administrative Services – Operates under the County Commissioners and helps departments optimize performance by performing centralized services and support.
- Boards & Commissions – Created by either the Board of Commissioners or state statute, each group provides opportunities for the public to participate in and promote local government and the effective and efficient delivery of services as a result of policy.
- Community Development – Coordinates and manages land use activity within the county by providing guidance and assistance through the design, building and project review process.
- Emergency Management – Plans for emergencies that can harm the people, property, economy and environment within the county.
- Human Resources – Responsible for the hiring, promotion, benefits and assessment of more than 1,100 employees.
- Human Services – Provide essential services that address individual and community needs, preserves the rights and dignity of those served, and promote health and wellbeing for all Kitsap residents.
- Information Services – Provides technology infrastructure, communications, application development, system support and network solutions to all departments and other local government entities.
- Noxious Weed Program – Educates residents and property owners to be responsible stewards of the land by preserving lands and natural resources and helping to reduce the impact of invasive noxious weeds.
- Parks – Provides quality of life enhancement through management of natural areas and specialized facilities and fostering community stewardship.
- Public Defense – Dedicated attorneys providing client-focused representation for individuals charged with crimes in Kitsap County and cannot afford an attorney.
- Public Works – Plans, designs, constructs, operates and maintains public improvements, facilities and equipment owned by the county and the public.
- WSU Extension – Serving the county since 1917, the extension program brings coursework and programming to empower community knowledge and support economic well-being through learning and research.
County staff are available via email, phone, or open office hours
4. KITSAP COUNTY ADVISORY GROUPS
Similar to the City of Bainbridge Island’s citizen-driven advisory groups, the county also has advisory groups that play an essential role in governance and daily county life.
The county actively seeks advisory group members who represent the breadth and diversity of life experienced in Kitsap County. These residents bring their knowledge and experience to help develop and review plans, policies and funding recommendations. They also ensure that resources are equitably distributed to communities in the county in the form of services.
Many of these citizen advisory groups have public meetings and meeting minutes that you can view online. You can also participate or send feedback and information for these advisory committees to consider when they are formulating policy or making decisions about service levels and/or funding recommendations for county commissioners to consider.
There are 27 such advisory groups within the county and volunteers are always needed. You can view open opportunities by clicking on the links below or contact Kitsap County Volunteer Services at [email protected].
County Advisory Groups:
- Accessible Communities Advisory Committee – Supports disability awareness and access for people with disabilities through technical assistance and other resources funded by the Accessible Communities Act.
- Area Agency on Aging Advisory Council – Advises in the development and implementation of the Area Plan for aging services funded through Kitsap County.
- Kitsap County Arts Board – The Kitsap County Arts Board was formed by the Board of County Commissioners to administer the 1% for Art Program.
- Board of Equalization – Comprised of six community members appointed by the Board of Commissioners, it hears appeals of various determinations made by the Assessor with regard to assessed valuation of property.
- Boundary Review Board – Established in 1967, the board allows cities and towns to adequately plan and finance urban services and boundary extensions in a manner consistent with comprehensive land-use plans.
- BKAT Advisory Committee – Promotes and develops optimal utilization of the public access television system.
- Commission on Children and Youth Advisory Board – Advises commissions and residents on the needs of children, youth, and families based on periodic assessments that promote safety and wellbeing while safeguarding against violence and neglect.
- Council for Human Rights – Promotes equitable treatment of all people and reduces prejudice through education, resource referrals, and advocacy.
- Developmental Disabilities Board – Promotes choice, opportunity, and support for people with disabilities in an enhanced community where all people are included, respected and dignified.
- Coordinated Grant Application Process – Kitsap County utilizes a single competitive grant application process each year to determine funding awards for Federal and local grants pertaining to community development and housing.
- Kitsap County Regional Library Board of Trustees – Selects and oversees the Library Director and ensures quality programming is distributed equitably across the county.
- Kitsap Public Health Board– Has the authority and responsibility to protect the community’s health and to enforce a variety of local, state and federal laws and regulations.
- Lodging Tax Advisory Committee (LTAC) – Distributes funds to the community’s network of attractions, creative and performance organizations, destination marketing organizations, and hospitality businesses for visitor promotion. Lodging taxes are collected on overnight stays charged to guests by hotels, motels, inns, and short-term rentals.
- Law Enforcement Officer & Fire Fighter Disability Board (LEOFF 11 Disability Board) – Approves or Disapproves claims for disability in compliance with state laws.
- Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program – Advises the Regional Long-Term Care Ombudsman on the creation of policies and programs to support long-term care options for citizens.
- Mental Health, Chemical Dependency + Therapeutic Drug Court Community Advisory Committee – Helps prevent and reduce the impacts of disabling chemical dependency and mental illness by creating and investing in effective, data-driven programs for a continuum of recovery-oriented care strategies.
- Non-Motorized Facilities Community Advisory Committee – Advises on development of non-motorized transportation and plans for its use between and within communities, as well as supports recreational and tourism opportunities.
- Noxious Weed Control Program + Board – Promotes responsible stewardship of lands and resources by advising on the impact of invasive noxious weeds.
- Olympic Workforce Development Council – Develops an innovative workforce system that supports a strong economy and communities within Clallam, Jefferson, and Kitsap counties.
- Park Advisory Board – Advises on the acquisition, development, and administration of parks and recreation facilities throughout the county.
- Planning Commission – Assists the planning department in carrying out its duties, including assistance in the preparation and execution of the comprehensive plan and recommendations to the planning department.
- Kitsap Public Facilities District – Creates new facilities for the enjoyment of the residents as well as sites for regional events that will contribute to the growth and prosperity of the county.
- Salish Behavioral Health Administrative Services Organization Advisory Board – Provides policy guidance and program oversight of behavioral health (mental and substance) programs within Clallam, Jefferson, and Kitsap counties.
- Solid Waste Advisory Committee – Assists with the development and implementation of the Solid Waste Management Plan.
- Veterans Advisory Board – Advises on matters affecting local indigent veterans.
- Washington State Ferry Advisory Committees –Promotes improvements in the ferry system through interaction with ferry riders, Washington State Ferries, the Transportation Commission, and the State Legislature.
5. KITSAP SUPERIOR COURT
The Kitsap County Superior Court is authorized by the state’s constitution to handle many types of cases and has appellate jurisdiction. It predominately handles felony and civil cases, juvenile offender and dependency cases, family law cases, and a variety of guardianship matters including those related to mental health as well as domestic violence cases. It hears appeals from the District and Municipal Courts, like the Bainbridge Island Municipal Court, located in Kitsap County.
As it relates to policy development and ordinances, the county’s superior court is the first place a citizen, business or organization can file a lawsuit about an ordinance that has been enacted.
HOW IS POLICY SET?
County Commissioners are responsible for setting policy and overseeing staff and departments to ensure those policies are carried out. Policy is set in two major ways:
- Council can enact ordinances throughout the year
- Commissioners establishing budgetary (taxing/spending) policies through the annual budgeting process
WHAT IS AN ORDINANCE?
Ordinances are policies voted on by the Board of Commissioners and if passed, added to the county’s code.
Ordinances stem from public comment/questions, the county’s advisory boards like the Planning Commission, or as part of larger county-wide and regional projects like the Olympic Workforce Development Council, Silverdale Economic Action Plan, or updates to the Comprehensive Plan.
In the development of policy, county commissioners will often direct staff or citizen advisory groups to gather data, research policy options, and come forward with recommendations to questions of law or countywide plans like the county’s zoning laws, fire codes and provided public services. Particularly for policy work coming from citizen advisory groups, it remains crucial for a variety of voices to serve on the groups to ensure the county’s form of governance work.
Finally, all ordinances must be prepared in accordance with the Kitsap County Legislative Drafting Manual from the prosecuting attorney. In addition, each ordinance must pass through the prosecuting attorney’s office for approval prior to being submitted to county commissioners for consideration.
Once an ordinance gets past the administrative hurdles, it can be slated as an agenda item before the Board of Commissioners. Often, draft ordinances will come before the commissioners first in a work study session where topics and research are presented for discussion and accompanied by a public hearing or public comment. Afterward, it is slated for a regular business agenda where public comment can be made again and action can be taken by the commissioners. If commissioners vote to enact an ordinance, it is recorded as law.
HOW CAN YOU GET INVOLVED:
Across all the parts of the Kitsap County form of government, public engagement is encouraged:
- Vote in local elections as they form the backbone of American politics, and their effects are most often and regularly felt
- Write to your County Commissioner or other elected official on any subject and/or attend county meetings
- Contact any member of County Staff and/or request an appointment
- Volunteer your time and expertise by sitting on a Citizen Advisory Group and help develop policy and create program and funding recommendations that improve life.
Ultimately, the five pillars that make up the county’s foundation are only as good as all the people working within their structures. Thousands of people work across multiple divisions from elected officials to staff members and engaged citizens. To maintain good programs and policies as well as create better policies that have an eye toward moving our county into an equitable, sustainable, and responsible future, the process works best if every resident knows how to get involved at some level, and act as a team working well together to navigate our challenges and opportunities today, tomorrow, and beyond.
- Kitsap County – Kitsap County Official website
- Local Government 101: Kitsap County Board of Commissioners – Bainbridge Island Chamber of Commerce
- Kitsap County Commissioners – Kitsap County
- Kitsap County Elected Officials – Kitsap County
- Kitsap County Code – Kitsap County
- Kitsap County Superior Court – Kitsap County
- County Forms of Government – Municipal Research and Services Center
- Washington State Constitution – State of Washington
- Revised Code of Washington – State of Washington
- Local Government 101: State of Washington – Bainbridge Island Chamber of Commerce
- Local Government 101: Bainbridge Island – Bainbridge Island Chamber of Commerce
Cover Image: Kitsap County Administration Building designed by Miller Hull Architects.