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Originally published October 16, 2009 at 2:03 PM | Page modified October 18, 2009 at 4:46 PM

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The Times recommends Susan Hutchison for King County executive

KING County is a government in trouble. It is being swamped by the recession, a string of unsustainable budgets, a faulty dam and a larger outbreak of H1N1 flu.

KING County is a government in trouble. It is being swamped by the recession, a string of unsustainable budgets, a faulty dam and a larger outbreak of H1N1 flu. These are all real and immediate problems that demand decisive action.

This election must be about change.

Some of these problems, particularly the budget, cry out for fresh leadership atop county government. Susan Hutchison is a political outsider and brings a host of fresh ideas of how to tackle the budget. Because of this potential, she earns the endorsement of The Seattle Times.

Her opponent, Metropolitan King County Council Chairman Dow Constantine, has been on the council since 2002 and has led the budget committee. He is an insider who has had his chance to effect change at the county. He has not done so and it seems unlikely he would be able to as the executive.

The county must act more like private-sector businesses if it is going to close the $56 million gap in the general fund in 2010 and more in the future, and create responsible, sustainable budgets instead. This means the number of people working at the county, union and nonunion, will be reduced. It also means union contracts and health benefits are going to need to be revisited. Not when they expire, but now.

Constantine is heavily backed by the unions and has said he can't open their contracts and will revisit concessions only once they expire. Constantine touts himself as a reformer. Reform can only happen if the old ways, including union contracts, are overhauled.

Hutchison, a former union member, has said she is not afraid to work with the unions and seek to open their contracts — now.

As an outsider, Hutchison has the latitude to bring in a smaller and fresh staff to the executive's office. New staff will be able to bring a new approach to budgeting, something Hutchison has been talking about during the campaign. She suggests the county use zero-base budgeting. It's a good idea that will force all departments to start from scratch and focus on the most important needs of county residents.

The next leader of the county takes office Nov. 24, about the time big storms typically slam the Pacific Northwest. The Green River Valley is likely to flood this year because of damage done to the Howard Hanson Dam last winter. Keep in mind, the flood threat is not limited to this year. This problem likely will be with the next executive until the dam is repaired, perhaps five years from now.

Hutchison has been focused on helping South King County residents before and after flooding.

A Hutchison administration would be smart to work closely with Constantine, who will remain on the council after the election. Constantine can provide a steady hand and has shown some initiative, such as when he led hearings on election reform and steered the county toward new equipment and election changes.

Constantine is quiet, wonky and obviously cares deeply about King County. He is an asset to the next executive.

But this election is about change. King County government must change the way it operates. The days of big-ticket projects and budgets are finished. The time is perfect for a political outsider to shake things up. Susan Hutchison is that candidate.

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