05/03/2012: "-- Guest Column --"
by Charlie Bodenstab
When the charter was written we freeholders were careful to include a provision for reviewing it in five years. We specified a “Charter Review Commission” to perform this task in order to make the adjustments that would inevitably be needed for something so new.
The process of forming this review group has taken place and the CRC has started its deliberations. I say deliberations, but in reality I’m thunderstruck at what has really taken place.
Frankly, it strikes me that the process has been hijacked. There is little deliberating taking place and much endorsing of pre-established opinions that I believe are shallow and destructive.
As the CRC minutes CRC minutes confirm major decisions to resurrect the BOCC took place in the second week they met, without review and evidence gathering. It appears that the committee has been populated with many members whose minds are made up and are dogmatically following a process of gutting the charter and working to return us to the dark days of the BOCC.
Are we content with the performance of the County government? I’m not, and I suspect you are not as well. Let’s review the issue on two fronts.
First, what has been the actual performance of the new system and particularly in comparison to the old BOCC system that you voters replaced overwhelmingly five years ago with the Charter?
Rather than going through the issues item by item, I refer you to the outline Rich Peterson, a County Council member has written to summarize his presentation to the CRC on February 18; It is extremely informative.
He makes it clear that we inherited a total mess from the past Commissioners’ - as San Juan County voters recognized back then - and a good part of the effort in the past five years has focused on cleaning up the disastrous BOCC legacy.
(You can access his paper by going to the County web site �" click on “Charter Review Commission” �" then “Minutes of the CRC Mtg.” and finally at the bottom - Rich Peterson’s etc.).
A second point is more basic. Concerns about how a system of governance is working should aim first at ways to improve it rather than to throw it out.
Confidence in our national government hasn’t been this low since Carter was president. Are we therefore suggesting the elimination the U.S, Constitution? If that sounds absurd at the national level why isn’t it absurd at the local level?
I’m actually amazed that the charter is working as well as it is considering the history of its implementation.
You may not be aware, but after the charter was approved, the sitting group of the three BOCC members fought the charter every step of the way. They dragged their feet on item after item and when it came around to finding and appointing the very crucial position of administrator they really dug in.
They were careful to avoid consideration of a very talented, strong, and experienced administrator who had been identified, but who could have been a challenge to them. I also watched them take steps to include a clearly unqualified candidate some of us suspected was intended to be “their man in office.” The move was so outrageous that it backfired and that candidate was eliminated early on. We have had to live all these years with the results of their manipulation of the selection process.
Our democratic system of government is the best imaginable, but it does have the unfortunate characteristic of occasionally empowering small focused and dedicated groups when the remainder of the voters are relatively tuned out of the process.
I plead with you the electorate to make it clear that the charter you overwhelmingly approved five years ago is to be fundamentally preserved but improved step by step, not capriciously gutted.
(Charlie Bodenstab is a former San Juan County Freeholder)