05/03/2012: "-- Guest Column --"
By Sam Buck II
My big concern is for the people of the San Juan Islands: working people, retired people and the preservation of all the life styles on all the islands. We have assets: 16,769 people, a wonderful population of very well educated, very capable and responsible individuals of all walks of life - from cabins to castles - who love the land, waters, and peace and tranquility of the islands.
San Juan Islands Today
Our current population of 16,769 lives on 110,000 acres. We have 172 islands. 142 are taken care of by Mother Nature and state parks and 30 are cared for by Mother Nature and islanders. 7622 individuals live on San Juan Island including 2157 in Friday Harbor, 5354 on Orcas Island, 2383 on Lopez Island and 240 on Shaw Island. 1170 people live on the smaller islands. The 2157 people in Friday Harbor are the only ones who need city government and services, i.e. sidewalks, water and sewer. The remaining 14,612 people are “on their own” with country government which gives the most freedom and responsibility to people and the least responsibility to the county. People are at least as capable and trustworthy today as in the 1960s, aren’t they?
When settlers began moving to the islands in the 1800’s, there was no government and they started working together and built homes, schools and churches. People developed trust in each other, were responsible for themselves and their families and contributed to the community. Communities prospered. People had freedom and no government, just good natural instincts. Peace and tranquility prevailed. I call this our historic life style.
In 1889 the state required the election of a commissioner form of county government which continued here until 2006. We had 3 districts: Lopez and Shaw Islands, Orcas Island and San Juan Island. Each commissioner was the leader of his/her district. The 3 commissioners collectively formed the Board of Commissioners, elected a chairman and dealt with county-wide issues. People gave the government only the things that were too big a load for individuals, like county roads. The commissioners were called “road commissioners.”
During the 1960s the county was going broke and there was talk of becoming part of Whatcom or Skagit County. Income was needed for the county and people needed jobs. I proposed the development of Friday Island and later of Cape San Juan. The 3 commissioners recognized that turning low valued waterfront and hills into high valued home sites would create taxes and jobs. This county plan replaced the loss of farming, fishing, and lime quarrying at Roche Harbor with new taxes for the county and new jobs for islanders. This decision eventually solved the county’s problems, is still working today and worked better until recently. The insecurity of a land owner and a land buyer caused by the Department of Ecology, directly or indirectly, has caused the most social and economic damage that has happened to San Juan County and we don’t deserve it.
Carl Nash and the other commissioners’ support of this plan provided immense economic benefits to the county: taxes, jobs, customers for island businesses, and little need for county government.
The tax value of land in the county in 1960 was next to nothing and now brings in millions of dollars.
My Proposal: County Government and District Local Governments
I think we need a simpler form of government than we have now. An honored professor at the University of Washington, Giovanni Costigan, taught me that all levels of government are exactly the same. The United States, states, districts of states, counties and districts of counties are all of the people, by the people and for the people.
We already have 3 independent districts in our county: San Juan Island #1, Orcas Island #2 and Lopez and Shaw Islands #3. Smaller islands are parts of nearby districts. There is no reason not to have 3 district governments which would relieve the county of local issues. The 3 districts would be independent of each other. Each is isolated and the people of each district have their own ideas of their needs and wants. They do not know the people of other districts well enough to be involved in their issues.
The people of each district would elect a district leader by majority vote. This leader should be their most knowledgeable and respected individual, hopefully an ISLANDER as described by the family of Marguerite Gudgell of Orcas Island: “Millionaires, waitresses, plumbers or road workers were all equals in 1963, but islanders were a special class. It was a designation that did not come from mere time or presence on the island. It was a term used for those who knew how to live life well. To be an islander was to not only appreciate one another and come to the aid of those in need, but to live by example and light the way to a fulfilling life through giving.”
District leaders would serve the people of their district, mediate disagreements, and represent them to the county. Each district would be subject to federal and state rules and would design its own government as needed, i.e. planning.
Each district would have its own district office with the services of the county courthouse available
The 3 district leaders would be the county government. They would elect their own leader, deal with county-wide issues and those brought to them by local districts and represent the county to the outside world. The one man-one vote principle would exist in each local district. For county-wide decisions, each leader’s vote could be weighted by population as it is now: 3 votes for San Juan, 2 votes for Orcas and 1 vote for Lopez and Shaw Islands.
Elected County Officials
Elected officials would continue to have their offices in Friday Harbor: Treasurer, Clerk, Auditor, Assessor, Sheriff, Prosecuting Attorney, Superior Court Judge.
Relationship of San Juan County and the State of Washington
We need to set a policy for our relations with the state of Washington. I suggest we specify that if we need help, we will ask for it. If the state sees problems within the county, they can make us aware of them and let us deal with them locally. I think if we are considerate of each other things will work out better for both of us.
We are at a crossroads in government between what we had and what we have now. I’ve lived in both systems and this is what I see.
In the 1960s we had a county commissioner government with one commissioner from each district. The 3 commissioners were the county government, elected a chairman and all rules were county-wide with the broad brush of county government. My suggestion is that since districts are so different, they deserve the right to design their own local governments i.e. Orcas runs Orcas, and give input into any help districts may need from the county. All government comes from the people and it is their responsibility to give government its responsibilities.
Government has lost its luster nationally, state-wide and definitely locally. We have a complex government’s government of our county. The 6 member council is a committee that needs a majority vote of 4 to make decisions. It has become a cumbersome government that is indecisive and appears not to give the economy the priority it deserves in these times. The government I grew up in knew the people, took care of them, gave the local economy priority and local people county jobs. We now have a $50,000,000 budget for 16,000 people. Can’t we do better than that?
Real Home Rule
I propose what to me is a simple and effective system of people’s government that fits all the islands, large and small, and has been successful for over 100 years: the county commissioner form of government with the addition of 3 district governments under the county government. We people have all the responsibilities, even the responsibility of giving the government its responsibilities. This to me is real Home Rule!
If we are to have a people’s government, we all need to put forth our ideas.
(I will appreciate your comments about my proposal. Please send them to P.O. Box 100, Friday Harbor, WA 98250