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Home » Archives » August 2005 » Letters About Freeholders

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08/29/2005: "Letters About Freeholders"

Voters Will Select "Home Rule"

The Editor:

It now seems a foregone conclusion, San Juan County Voters will overwhelmingly select "Home Rule" when voting on November the 8th. The Freeholders, from both sides of the aisle, did such a good job, in such a cooperative, unselfish manner, they have produced solid solutions for the future of our county. There is a second element to the measure that you also must consider and hopefully support.

That second element gives one the choice of voting for the current system of three full time partisan Commissioners, or one can vote to overhaul the old system to be governed by six part time, non partisan, council members. They would be elected from their individual districts with no crossover voting, so that in fact, each district would have true representation and total control over their non partisan representation.

Now, here's the little bug I want to put into your thought process. Under the six Council Members plan, a citizens committee will determine the Council Members compensation. Critics of the Home Rule movement have only mustard one complaint. "It will cost more money!" This is not true according to numbers generated by the County Treasure and in fact, either plan offers savings but now get this!

Mercer Island Washington has a population of 70,000. It has an operating budget of Sixty Eight Million Dollars. We are presently paying our Commissioners, if you count benefits, etc, nearly $100,000.00 per year for each Commissioner totaling nearly $300,000 per year. Mercer Island pays their six Non Partisan Counsel Members $250.00 per month totaling $18,000 per year for the entire council or just 6% of what San Juan County now pays for our elected leadership. Need I say more?????

Pat O'Day
Disclaimer. My wife Stephanie O'Day is an elected freeholder. I'm proud of the work they have done.

Time to Act

The San Juan County ballot to be mailed to voters in October will contain a complete charter proposal for a Home Rule Charter form of government. There will be a Basic Charter, plus one Amendment which modifies the Basic Charter. It is not too early to start evaluating the charter proposal. One of the best places to get information is on the web at

In the Basic Charter, key aspects include: a professional county administrator hired by the board of county commissioners to manage day-to-day county operations; opportunity for the voters to take an active part in government by establishing processes whereby they can initiate a new ordinance, overrule an action taken by the commissioners, or modify the charter; non-partisan elections for county department heads (assessor, auditor, clerk, treasurer, and sheriff); a full-time, three-commissioner board with legislative and policy duties. The commissioners will be prohibited from interfering with the day-to-day county operations.

If one casts an affirmative vote for the Basic Charter, then there is an optional amendment (the Amendment) that can be voted upon as well. The Basic Charter must pass before it can be amended. The Amendment would change the Basic Charter by creating a non-partisan, less-compensated six-member council with the same mandate as the three-commissioner board. In both the Basic Charter and the Amendment, commissioner compensation will be determined by a publicly-appointed salary commission.

Everyone should take the time to understand the charter proposal on the November ballot. The Freeholders have worked hard to present the voters with a charter proposal that gives San Juan County a firm foundation on which to meet the challenges of a vibrant and growing community. I strongly support the work the Freeholders have done.

Elizabeth Barth

Thank You Freeholders

Last November the voters of San Juan County elected 21 fellow citizens as "Freeholders" to review our current form of government and to determine if a shift to a Home Rule was in the best interests of the County.

The Board of Freeholders presented the Charter to the Board of County Commissioners on Tuesday, August 23. I was there and could not help but feel very proud.

As a Freeholder spouse, I have attended many of the Freeholder meetings -- yes, I went to Shaw, Lopez, San Juan and even Waldron -- and have witnessed the democratic process at work. Unlike an organization already established, the Freeholders had to start by defining their own organizational structure, process and procedural rules. It was rather remarkable given the very diverse backgrounds of the twenty-one Freeholders that they could agree even on procedure, let alone come up with a Charter that a super-majority would support.

The Freeholders spent an unbelievable amount of time doing extensive research--interviewing county employees (San Juan County as well as comparable others), reviewing law, reading other Charters, etc. They deliberated, dialogued, engaged in healthy debate and listened to their constituents. Even in the winter months when there was no inter-island ferry, they kept to their rule to meet alternatively on all the ferry-serviced islands. This required some maneuvering and many red eyes in the very early morning hours as those from San Juan traveled to Lopez in order to come to Orcas and vice versa. This was dedication. Since most of them had work during the week, they were giving up most of their precious weekend time to attend these meetings.

Having fulfilled the purpose entrusted to them by the citizens of San Juan County, the Board of Freeholders were dissolved on September 4, 2005 per the same Resolution by which they were created.

Of Course, I am hoping that the citizens of San Juan County will VOTE YES for Home Rule and the Charter the Freeholders presented. However, today I am writing to thank each one of the twenty-one Freeholders for their gift of time, energy and thought.

Nanae N Fralick

Two Issues To Freeholder's Charter

The discussions about Home Rule seem to devolve to two main issues: voting for it will (1) give local voters a greater say-so in local government and (2) improve administrative efficiency.

There is no question that initiative, referendum and recall enhance direct democracy. And initiative and referendum is the reason that this voter will support Home Rule. Some of the supporters of enhancing direct democracy claim and a county administrator should be elected and that appointing an adminstrator is reason to oppose Home Rule. This argument is a red herring. If greater voter control is an objective (as these folks argue) then the paramount objective ought to be to put in place initiative-referendum-recall. It is illogical to oppose Home Rule on account of the relatively minor issue that the administrator is not directly elected and be blind to the overarching fact that direct voter control is greatly enhanced by Home Rule.

The matter of administrative efficiency is more interesting. From day one virtually all voices were calling for a county administrator. Even the elected department heads have "come around" to recognize that the enterprise of running the county had become sufficiently large and complex as to mandate a centralized administrative entity. Many have taken the view that the county is, in fact, an enterprise that ought to be run according to best management practices, and that the absence of a county administrator was illogical.

Both of these arguments (size & complexity requires a manager and best management practices mandate it) are readily rebutted. Neither recognizes the fact that in America we have a tradition of limiting and dispersing government power, that by tradition we don't want to enhance the power of government any more than necessary. (Remember that there was initially widespread approval of Fascist and Nazi governments precisely because they were efficient they could make the trains run on time.) Here in San Juan County, the deficiencies in the administration of county government were less attributable to organizational or management theory deficiencies, but instead were attributable to the poor leadership and administrative skills of the persons elected to office. And more especially to their focused attention on and devotion to narrow interests (as opposed to the welfare of the whole).

It is sad that the issue of a county administrator has consumed so much time attention and that the more important issue has received so little attention. Most important is the nature of county government and the degree to which matters are left to the citizenry. I have not heard the important questions, such as: what are the core activities that we expect county government to engage? And what activities should not be engaged? Do we expect that our citizens can be trusted with fundamental decisions about their work, welfare and stewardship of their property? Or do we expect our county government to be an overweening nanny?

Since we've come this far it is best to be positive about what has been done. Voters are urged to vote FOR Home Rule and trust that once it is passed we can tend to outstanding points of disagreement via the initiative and referendum process.

Albert B Hall
Friday Harbor

Robins Auditioning As Comedy Writer?

To the Editor:

It took longer than usual to read the Island Guardian this morning, because convulsive laughter kept knocking my laptop off my lap.

Reading a description of San Juan County Greens and Democrats as "political party machines" made me howl. (See letter below:"Special Interest" Politics Oppose Charter by Susan Robins)

I cannot speak from experience of the Greens, but as for us Dems, if we are a machine, its designer must be Rube Goldberg. Like any group, it seems to take us forever to decide anything, and even then no one is fully satisfied - such is the nature of compromise and consensus.

Anyone touting the "favoritism and rewards" and "special access" we supposedly "command at the expense of voters" must be auditioning as a comedy writer.

After every successful election - and we Dems have enjoyed a lot of them in recent years - our elected officials seem to become as distant from us rank-and-file Dems as the aurora borealis, and just as mercurial.

Perhaps we just get tired of looking at each other after a long election cycle; perhaps we need to learn some new jokes between elections; then perhaps we too can be comedy writers for the Island Guardian.

Steve Grandle
San Juan Island

San Juan Fat Cats?

Dear Editor:

Regarding the Susan Robins editorial "Special Interest Politics Oppose Charter", whoa now! There should be some ground rules before we kick off the public debate about charter government. Getting the facts straight should be first on the list. Next, don't criticize what is said until someone says it. And hold off on the personal attacks and labels until the situation gets desperate.

Maybe the situation is desperate already. Anyway, my votes are a matter of public record. They include numerous votes for non-partisan elections. In San Juan County you would never fool anyone about where you stand philosophically or politically anyway. I personally favor non-partisan local elections. So the entire premise of the editorial is false to begin with.

The idea that voting NO on the charter in November betrays my mainstream political values is ridiculous. I believe strongly in fiscal responsibility. This is a mainstream American value. The proposed Charter is an unfunded mandate. It demands changes without identifying a source of revenue to pay for them. All the accounting tricks in the book can't hide that fact.

I admit I have "previously declared my unhappiness with county government". Guilty! Let he who has never criticized government cast the first stone. I mean really, has anyone been completely pleased with every decision made by elected officials?

Will a six-person council make everybody happy about his or her government? I doubt it. But if you like that idea go ahead and vote for it. I just think people should be careful what they wish for. I think a six-member council is a silly idea.

I have never "opined that the charter movement was started by San Juan Island fat cats'. The committee started this process. I don't think that this group is from Lopez. Are they "fat cats"? I really don't know.

I agree with the "strange bedfellows" comments. Democrats, Greens, and Republicans don't often see eye to eye but we would never be in bed together except for the fact that we share a common concern for San Juan County. If it were about politics we would probably not agree. Please be patient. We will publish our statement in about 6 weeks. Perhaps then you can start criticizing what we said.

Gordy Petersen
San Juan Island

"Special Interest" Politics Oppose Charter

The recent coming together of "strange bedfellows" Steve Ludwig, Gordy Petersen and Stan Wagner to oppose the Home Rule charter is not so strange at all. (Related Story)

Elections calling for county government candidates to be non-partisan (as proposed in the charter amendment) would severely curtail the power of political parties to install and support their narrowly chosen party-loyal members in public office regardless of their legislative qualifications or abilities.

What should escape no-one is that these "strange bedfellows" perversely repudiate the core mainstream values that their respective traditionally opposing parties espouse. Green Party Ludwig should want a more direct democracy. Republican Petersen should want less government interference and greater fiscal responsibility. Democrat Wagner should want more "small-d" democratic representation in local government. Opining that the charter movement was started by "San Juan Island fat cats" completely ignores the wide spectrum of social and economic constituencies represented by the county-wide Freeholders and their success in generating a charter after months of give-and-take that reflects the interests of county residents as a whole.

When you look at what the charter gives voters in the county power of referendum and initiative to assert greater control over the actions of government, professional management of the county's business that is so clearly lacking now, transparency in government operations, budgeting, and spending, and the flexibility to change when sufficient voters see the need to do so it is easy to see why the alliance is not at all strange.

What worse for all the political parties than that elections would be non-partisan? All of these "strange bedfellows" have previously declared their unhappiness with county government as it is. That being the case, why would they not vote for change? Because the charter threatens to end the favoritism and rewards that political party machines command at the expense of voters.

Sorry, but despite claims that this unlikely union is "not about politics, it's about good government," it is ALL about politics. Voters should see through that clearly in November and vote for the charter and its amendment. The possibility of professionally managed government in the broad service and interests of county residents, not just those who have special access and know how to pull the strings to assure better outcomes for themselves, is clearly a threat to the dominance of "special interest" politics.

Susan Robins

Tom Bauschke
John Evans
Mary Kalbert
Ron Keeshan
Gordy Petersen
Janice Peterson
Bruce Sallan
Terra Tamai
Amy Wynn
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