10/09/2005: "Letters About Freeholders/Charter".______________.
A Golden Opportunity
Friends and Colleagues: We have a golden opportunity to change San Juan County for the better with this election, by passing into law the Home Rule Charter. I urge you to vote YES on Proposition 1 and YES on Proposition 2. Passing requires a simple majority vote. While I believe the majority is in favor and this will pass, we must be sure everyone has exercised their right, and voted. If you have any question at all regarding the charter, please don't hesitate to call me. In the meantime, tell your family, friends and neighbors to be sure to send in their ballots.
San Juan Island
Charter? Look at Whatcom County!
I disagree with John Evans, most strongly. (Evan's comments on Charter) A professional County manager is an absolute must. I will follow with specific examples that occurred while I was serving on the County's solid waste committee as well as on the Eastsound Planning and Review Committee that will provide some vivid examples.
First, I would like to address the issue of costs. Presently the Commissioner's budget for staff, salary, etc. is about $428,000. A full time professional county administrator or manager will probably cost with staff and overhead about $200,000. Using the ratios of Charter County's that have part time, non partisan councils in lieu of full time commissioners, the part time council members if elected under the amendment will cost about $200,000 for salaries and staff. Or about $28,000 less than we are now spending. Presently Whatcom County, a Charter County has 7 non partisan council members and serve 185,000 constituents. Our Charter proposes six, four votes to pass any measure, and will serve a constituent base of merely 16,000. Because of the embedded commissioner's terms, their salaries and cost will continue until the Charter takes full effect. In other words, for at least the next year, County Costs, might be somewhat more, with a professional manager than the County is now experiencing but perhaps might be a lot less. I will explain that last remark. While serving on County Solid Waste, it was proposed by the Solid Waste Manager, Ed Sthur, that the County purchase the solid waste containers that are filled and hauled to the main land by San Juan Sanitation. At that time the County was leasing the containers for about $1,000 per container a year from San Juan Sanitation. Or $11,000 a year. The purchase price for the 11 containers that we were leasing was $22,000. The life of the containers was in excess of 16 years. There was no County Manager to assist the sitting Commissioners at that time in making the decision to purchase rather than lease and save the County approximately $155,000 over a 16 year lease period, Mr.Evans and Starr, Commissioners at that time avowed not to "spend money on their shift". Fortunately new blood was elected and the County continues to save in excess of $11,000 per year by purchasing rather than leasing. There were many instances for the purchase of new equipment or methods for processing data that were not undertaken simply because the monetary returns would occur over a period of years and not instantaneously. Of course no successful business entity operates this way because they have access to professional managers and look at long term costs and savings.
I observed while on EPRC the firing of competent County employees and then hiring consultants at twice the pay. That would seldom occur under the scrutiny of a County manager. Bob Myhr, in his recent interview of County department heads, commented to me that they felt that they were leaderless. Karen Goens, an employee who worked for the County from about 1988 until 2001, told me that it was "pure chaos" working in San Juan County. She has now been working in Whatcom County in a similar position that she held here and said she could not have a better job.
When short sighted County Commissioners complain of change and all the horrible things that will happen to our budget, they may want to consider what happened in Whatcom County, Prior to their going from a commissioner form to a Charter with a manager, they had somewhere between $180,000 and $250,000 in reserves. After 16 years of the Charter form they now boast reserves of about $18,000,000. Yes it is very true that you often must must decrease costs by spending money on qualified personnel and cost effective equipment. Politicians may belong in the legislative end of things, but they should stay away from the administrative and judicial matters in County Government.
Mr. Evans has stated in his final comments that we must train our politicians in good management rather than seek professional management through the Charter. I would like to know who are the people that are going to train our legislators to be administrators and at what cost. It often takes years of college and on-the-job-training for a person to hone their skills in the field of management. How can we afford not only the cost but the time necessary to professionally train our elected officials who may not be around for more than four years? I realize that government is not a business, but it certainly can operate efficiently and effectively. And frankly I doubt any business would hire a manager based upon their political affiliation and then spend four years training them on how to manage. If we must, let the politicians legislate and managers manage.
I hope you voted. and voted for the Charter.
BOCC Action Designed To Scuttle Charter?
Letter to the Editor
Our three county commissioners voted unanimously this week to not only hire a professional administrator, but an assistant as well! After years of BOCC discussion on this subject, isn't it fascinating to see a decision finally being made just as we voters are in the process of deciding upon a Home Rule Charter? Could this be a last-ditch effort to make voters feel that the proposed Charter is unnecessary?
Nothing could be further from the truth!
The Administrator proposed in the Basic Charter would be solely responsible for the daily management of the County, with checks and balances from the BOCC. The BOCC has no intention of self-limiting their own power and influence, they merely want a new employee to do the "heavy lifting."
Critics of the Charter have expressed concern over the negative financial consequences of such a position. How nice to have that alleged uncertainty put to rest!
It's time for a change. Vote "YES," "YES" on Home Rule Propositions 1 & 2!
San Juan Island
A Couple Of Counter-Points On S. Garrison's Objections
Steve Garrison's point-by-point elaboration of his objections to the Home Rule Charter helps the public discussion by providing a basis for real debate. Let us take his nine points one by one.
POINT 1: Veto power by one group over another. While stated in the form of San Juan having "guaranteed veto power", he neglects to point out that the other islands together have the identical power over San Juan. His underlying premise appears to be his belief that parochial approaches to decisions will trump broader community benefits, and reinforces this argument (in his second point) by assuring us that such parochialism is rampant even on his (Orcas) island. As he then morphs this view into a claim that the Charter removes protection of minority interests and bicameral safeguards, he conveniently omits the actual argument. The bi-cameral argument would have been interesting given our system of only one legislative body. Moreover, considering that ours is the only county where legislative members are elected at large in combination with a district residency requirement under a specific exemption to the state constitution designed for counties made up of islands, i.e. San Juan County, he is saying that all other counties in Washington do not protect minority interests. He also ignores the fact that the Charter does absolutely nothing to change the protections and safeguards that exist for the lesser-populated islands in our current form of government. Finally in this Point 1, he dismisses the current costs of candidates having to run countywide as something to be "worked on" without offering any ideas, whereas the Charter proposals make it abundantly clear how such financial barriers would be significantly reduced. In dismissing this concern, he does not acknowledge how effectively these financial barriers can limit the slate of candidates. We are all too familiar with the unholy marriage of money and politics to ignore this critical issue.
POINT 2: He sees direct proportional representation as described in the District structure as inhibiting a representative's likelihood to put countywide interests ahead of local interests. To the extent that this inhibits other representative government institutions at the county, state and federal levels, he is right. He would also be right to note that those institutions are replete with examples of the exact opposite behavior. How much district representation promotes sectarian behavior over communal behavior will always be a matter of opinion informed by personal experience. Nevertheless, raising this is a traditionally effective politically and divisive tool even when baseless in fact
POINT 3: "Farming out" of judicial decision making to the superior court in Island County. Where does this come from? Certainly not the Charter everyone else is looking at. Section 3.70 of the Charter reserves for the BOCC a mechanism for hearing cases. However, the Charter proposes an alternate more efficient system for those who prefer to go straight to the courts. Presently, bypassing the BOCC is considered a failure to exhaust all administrative remedies and costs citizens dearly in time and money.
POINTS 4 & 5: He is happy with the current commissioners even though he agrees they are overburdened. He appears not to have noticed that they have been overburdened for years but only now, at the very last minute when their jobs are threatened with significant downsizing under the Charter, have they been finally pushed into looking at a county manager/administrator. Telling us how well he knows them personally is offered as the only evidence that they will choose someone effective. However, without a Charter, it is they who get to define all aspects of the position. They are free even to not address any or all of the significant structural and control issues that have stymied all previous moves in this direction. The Charter however ensures that the commissioners cannot simply change their minds completely a few months hence and eliminate the position. He ends by floating once again another of the classic fear-engendering buzz-words "lawsuits" to which hardball politicians resort with a frequency directly proportional to weakness of their arguments.
POINT 6: A surprising argument, given his extensive corporate experience. The parallel would be allowing the shareholders to elect the CEO instead of having their elected Board of Directors do this. The only support for his proposal of such a structure is a negative personal opinion of a single city government (unidentified), ignoring the thousands of similarly structured public governing entities that have operated highly effectively in this manner. Indeed, the only negative he presents for this example is that the politicians hid from voter accountability by turning some hard political decisions into administrative decisions. For this to work, he tells us, required them to never review the City Manager's performance. Not having a Charter government can allow this to happen right now should the commissioners proceed with a county manager under the present system of government. The point he misses is that the initiative and referendum provisions, available only if the Charter is approved, remove this camouflage tactic.
POINT 7: An even more surprising argument, given that he, in a previous life, was a professional "head hunter." It is hard to believe that the man, who lent valuable insights and, in actuality, lead the nationwide searches for Orcas Island Library Director, Fire Chief and School Superintendent, thinks the search for County Administrator deserves far less. Here, he misses the point completely. It is not that we may not be able to attract well-qualified candidates. It is that if the position is an elected position, it will have to be filled by a current county resident who would first have to run for election and win. Not only would this severely limit the number of potential candidates, but also leaves open the door to public popularity being able to trump professional ability, one of the key weaknesses of the current system of elected professionals.
POINT 8: Being against specialization in politics is fine. Being against specialist competence in administration is an entirely different matter. Liking the idea of having to rectify occasional wrong decisions by commissioners making occasional wrong decisions would lead you to believe that he would favor less rather than more restriction on citizens' ability to rectify government errors. Once again, however, it is only the referendum and initiative provision available under the Charter that allows this to happen in a direct or timely fashion. Finally making the "messiness is good" argument is a notorious avoidance tactic, and indeed promotes the very kind of political camouflage associated against which he argues in his earlier Points.
POINT 9: His bias is fully revealed in this final Point. He clearly lays out how, even though he likes the concept of initiative and referendum, it is less important than rejecting what he particularly likes about the current system. He proceeds to detail what this is, and in doing so makes about the best case for "government by special interest" we could ask for. Most notably, he likes the idea that it doesn't require more than a relative handful to get special interest attention, and is concerned that Charter government would require wider citizen interest. He fails to note the converse: how frustrated he would be if the legislators were not interested, for whatever reason, in his causes, a common enough experience by county citizens for years. Yet, by coming out against the Charter, he turns away his only opportunity to require the commissioners to pay attention when they might not otherwise wish to. He also helps prevent the rest of his fellow citizens from having this opportunity.
Let me add a tenth Point: All these issues were debated at length by 21 elected Freeholders over many months and with extensive interviewing of people inside and outside county government as well as people experienced with Charter government. Steve's personal opinions should be weighed against this level of open debate and consensus building. Indeed, had he been present at more of these discussions he would have heard all his arguments addressed and intelligently answered.
Nanae N Nagaoka (Fralick)
A Conservative Urges A Yes Vote On Charter
To the Editor:
Steve Cotton states:"My experience has been that excellent people can make any system work and no system can be designed that mediocre people cannot screw up. The best remedy for that is for the electorate to be more discriminating in their choice of office-holders."
I agree, in theory, but I also state, in my way..............
what you've always done
(the current BOCC method),
then you should always expect
what you always got.
( again, the current BOCC )
If you are truly satisfied with the way it has been forever, vote NO for Home Rule.
If you are not satisfied with the way is has been, or desire "A Change for Improvement" then Vote YES for the Home Rule, and YES for a Six Member Council."
Vote No......for No "chance" to improve
How simple can it get? I like to give things a chance if I am not pleased with the status quo. The Home Rule may not be 100% perfect. Is the current system?
San Juan Island
9 Points Made Against The Charter
Several have asked me to publish my concerns regarding the Charter Amendment before the voters. I have been engaged in debate with several Freeholders, and when I voice my concerns, the clincher by Charter supporters is that we can always change it later. I would not vote for anything I opposed because of the promise that we could change it later.
The problems, from my point of view, are as follows:
1. The Charter guarantees veto power by San Juan Island. For all intents and purposes, veto power is the same as having a majority vote, since nothing will pass otherwise. Lopez is so marginalized that they cannot achieve anything without the concurrence of everyone on San Juan, or the concurrence of the vote of Orcas and an unlikely split on San Juan. The Lopez representative will clearly see that the best interests of Lopez are in an alliance with San Juan, since an alliance with Orcas cannot pass legislation. This will effectively marginalize Orcas. By going "all the way" with the one-man one vote argument, and without putting in place minority protection, we are eliminating for the county the US Constitution's bicameral safeguards. In the current structure, the fact that all three Commissioners represent an island group but have to campaign county wide, insures they must serve two masters and keep the best interests of the county as a whole in mind. I know it costs $65K for a county wide campaign, but I would suggest that we should work on the election cost structure, not change the voting structure.
2. The District structure assures that the Commissioner will put the district first, the island second, and the county only in third place. In my experience, this structure insures that any given Commissioner will avoid the tough votes which places his popularity in a limited population at stake and will simultaneously insure the advent of pork barrel considerations. In Orcas, it will set the East against the West on this island, and I can assure you the cultures and interests are quite different
3. I am against the "farming out" of judicial decision making to the superior court in Island County. In my experience, the further judicial decisions get from the voters, the more these decisions are determined by fiat, and the less that common sense and humanity enter into the decision-making process.
4. I, for one, do not think the Commissioners are doing a poor job. I agree with the Freeholders that they are overburdened, but they already have the authority to establish a County Administrative position, and do not need the Charter to force them to do so. I have had several argue to me that if the Commissioners select a County Administrator, it will be a weak, inefficient one that they can control. From knowing all three Commissioners rather well, I dispute this charge. I believe they would pick the best possible to pull the administrative burden off of them.
5. I am against a Charter provision that requires the Commissioners to hire a County Manager, but then sets out limitations regarding where the County Commissioners may be involved in administrative matters. I believe that the Commissioners are in the best position to determine the responsibilities and duties of the County Manager, given the needs and concerns of the County at the time. I believe that having a charter separate out duties and responsibilities will "freeze in place" these duties, will guarantee conflict regarding prerogatives of office, and will insure a lawsuit over these conflicts if the Commissioners attempt to discharge the County Manager.
6. As indicated above, I am in favor of a County Manager, only with the duties and responsibilities as defined by the current Commissioners. If the County manager position was going to be set up as delineated by the Charter, and not the Commissioners, then I wanted to insure that he or she was directly responsible to the voters, and the initially appointed position over a period of time would be phased into an elective position. My history includes 22 years of working with a large city government set up exactly as the Charter would dictate. The situation evolved such that the City Council, relegated to policy decisions, tended to avoid all hard decisions by turning them into administrative decisions to be made by the City Manager. This protected them from district backlash, and as long as they never reviewed the performance or replaced the City Manager, they were protected by a person not subject to voter oversight without replacing half the city council.
7. I have been told that it will be "impossible" to find a good County Manager is the person is subject to voter referendum every four years. Setting side the fact that four out of the five Charter Counties have elected County Managers, I dispute that argument generically. My volunteer job on Orcas through several sets of Commissioners and Boards has been to identify and recruit management talent to the islands. I am convinced that we can find a good county manager, by targeting the right seniority and locations, and then look for those ready for a life style change leading toward retirement. The islands are powerful draw, assuming one has the equity for housing.
8. I am generally against specialization in any political process. The more specialization is involved, the more distant the politicians are removed from non-specialists (called voters). At the state and federal level, look at how many layers of administrators, lawyers, political advisors, bureaucrats and lobbyists take precedent over the general public good. I like the idea that Commissioners make decisions that are sometimes wrong and have to be rectified. Government, not matter what we might wish for, is not necessarily programmed to be an efficient process. It is messy by design. When County Commissioners make decisions, they are typically bending over backwards to meet a public desire or need and perhaps taking shortcuts or risks in order to serve the public good. Conducting public policy always conditioned by the fear of being sued or criticized, or by having specialists vetting all decisions, is not conducting public policy at all.
9. I generally like the concept of initiative and referendum, assuming the hurdle is high enough, but I am not going to vote for a Charter I disagree with just to get initiative and referendum. I might if I had found the Commissioners less receptive to voter's interests. However, every major initiative brought to the Commissioners has been moved upon, be it the Land Bank, the Affordable Housing Commission, the CLT's and currently the Housing Bank. The reality is that at present, one can get their interest, and possibly approval, with nothing more than a good idea and several hundred interested parties. Under the proposed Charter, and with six Commissioners to track down and sell on an idea, there is a greater likelihood that a group will have to initiate the referendum process and collect 1500 signatures. Is this progress?
Stephen A. Garrison
10 Freeholders vs. Gordy
Letter to the editor:
Gordy Petersen has every right to oppose Home Rule, but he is not entitled to misrepresent the views of experts who reviewed the content of the Charter. While the lawyer working for the Municipal Research & services Center did voice initial cautions against a six member council, Gordy conveniently left out the final opinion by MRSC.
Once it was explained that a super-majority would be required before any measure could pass into law, he heartily approved the final Charter. Yet Gordy continues to only quote the initial opinion. This is a half truth at best. Here is what the MRSC lawyer said after reviewing the final draft of the Charter:
"Congratulations on the final proposed charter! I think the freeholders should be proud of this document." On August 18, in a follow-up email, he added, "It will be interesting to see what the voters do with the charter. Were I a San Juan County resident, I would vote for it."
By only repeating the initial caution and ignoring the final opinion, Gordy does his argument no credit. The voters deserve better. The hundreds of hours of work by the Board of Freeholders who were duly elected and trusted by the voters should not be dismissed so casually.
Gordy is entitled to his minority viewpoint but in the public debate, let's stick to ALL of the facts, not just the ones that support our own prejudices.
Make no mistake; the Charter will lead to a better county government. Vote "Yes" twice!
Stephanie Johnson O'Day
SJC Needs A New Form Of Government
Lets face it, the existing system is broken. BOCC is out of control and act without thought of long term plans or consequence. I thought that reelection would be an issue for our current commissioners, but that seems to hold no water. Our commissioners ignore legal advice instead taking advice from unnamed "Colleagues" who overrule the County Prosecutor (the BOCC's attorney in fact). They make deals with groups where the existing relationships would cause most elected officials to recuse themselves, and do it prior to any public discussion. They sign resolutions without any prior discussion, and in some cases it seems without even knowing what the resolution is about. They spend tax money like drunken sailors back from years at sea. How much worse could it get? These elected campaign junkies are so used to pleasing that they have forgotten what their job entails, and that is a problem.
When it comes down to it, I would rather have the nerdiest unelectable smart guy who is excellent at administration running the show, beholden only to the elected representatives, and as such to the people. This works best when the elected representatives are not interested in anything but legislative actions and paying attention to what the administrator is doing.
So at what point is what we have better than anther options, besides, you can change the charter, and that is NOT business as usual.
San Juan Island
Why the Commissioners Oppose the Charter
John Evans has finally come out opposed to the proposed Home Rule Charter. I would almost say that John's twelve hard earned years of service in the County has lead to entrenchment rather than experience, if it wasn't for the fact that Si Stephens has served the county almost twice as long as County Auditor then John has as Commissioner, and has come to a much different conclusion.
Echoing other experienced professionals, Si, with all his budget experience is standing by his assertion, that the charter won't cost us more money and most likely would lead to big savings. Si's view most likely is a much clearer administrative understanding of the budget because his work isn't clouded by the every-day political morass that John had to deal with.
With the proposed reduction in both salary and power, it is extremely difficult for any past or present Commissioner to evaluate this Charter objectively; after all, they are only human. This Charter, especially in its amended form, will not be a haven for leaders of personal power, but rather will attract leaders with achievement and affiliation skills. Instead of having three little "mini-mees" butting heads in the court house, the power in the Amendment form lives within the spirit of working together to get things done.
The Charter doesn't propose anything that is new to the world; such as to reinvent the wheel or to propose that the Earth is round instead of flat! Most counties across the nation and nearly all cities now operate under various forms of the system the Charter outlines. Washington State is way behind the times. Experiences in the other five Charter Counties in the State have had varying degrees of success.
John correctly speaks of all the administrative work that needs to be done on a day to day basis. The work load is enormous. This calls the question: Are the three Commissioners who are doing legislative, administrative, and quasi-judicial work now doing all of that work in an effective manner? Are legislative political agendas kept out of administrative duties? From the looks of missed deadlines on very important issues, a gutted and ineffective Planning Department (not to mention a "summary firing"), unilateral unpopular decisions by individual Commissioners, and other such anomalies, it seems that the Commissioners have already bit off more than they can chew.
Those who would never want to give up the ability to unduly exert political power down into the administrative branch will never choose to understand the Charter proposal because they can only reference backwards, and since their experiences have been lackluster, it must mean that no success by another system is possible. Entrenchment narrows one's vision.
In a desperate attempt to maintain political power where it doesn't belong, and to incapacitate the ability of the citizens of this county to acquire initiative, referendum, and a citizen's county government review and amendment process, opponents of the Charter keep dredging up the idea that they, as Commissioners, can hire their own Administrator. Of course, the Administrator's job description would be created by the same people who want to maintain power where it does not belong. Does this sound familiar? And, only a few miles down the road they could just decide it was a bad experiment, and move back to the same old same old.
Without citizen action to demand that our County government has the ways and means of a modern and responsive government, our Commissioners simply won't do it. Through the Charter process granted to us by the State Constitution and as duly elected freeholders, we have done their work for them. That's why they don't like it.
Now it is up to all of us to vote yes on the Basic Charter, and yes on the Amendment (Propositions #1 and #2). By passing both propositions, we as citizens not only give our County government the tools and structural definition it needs to be responsive and efficient, but we will gain for ourselves the tools necessary to make certain a good County government is both attained and maintained. Vote yes on Proposition #1 and #2.
Former Freeholder Dist. #2
Gordy Explains His "No" Vote On The Charter.
As a Freeholder I voted "NO" on the Charter proposal because I do not think it is in the best interest of the people of San Juan County. Here are some of my objections to it.
I think recommending an even number of council (6), lacks common sense. San Juan County will be the first county to even seriously consider this. It will lead to gridlock. Some people may prefer this but I think government needs to take care of the peoples business. The Freeholders have ignored public opinion on this point and ignored warnings by legal consultants hired to review the final draft. Here is a direct quote from the Washington Municipal Resource lawyers who reviewed the document:
"I recommend a legislative body with an odd number of members, and that is for the practical reason of avoiding legislative deadlock three-to-three tie votes. To my knowledge, there is no local government legislative body in the state with an even number of members."
Both the Charter and the Alternate Charter will increase our taxes. New positions are created for a high-paid Administrator with support staff, and three new Council Members with staff. The cost of County Government will rise dramatically. Cuts will have to be made or taxes will need to be raised.
The Charter creates a position of Administrator without limiting the pay range. Here is the exact language regarding the Administrator: "The County Administrator shall receive compensation determined by the Legislative Body sufficient to attract a qualified professional."
The professional Administrator envisioned by some Freeholders is a high-paid executive recruited from off-island. Why do we need someone like that come to San Juan County to oversee Building/Planning, Health, and Public Works departments? These departments have competent managers. This will add another layer of management. The vision the Freeholders have for an Administrator sounds like signing an NY Yankee with a 400 batting average to play for an intramural softball team. It does not fit reality.
Does it make sense to appoint an Administrator rather than elect one? It makes sense if you believe voters are not smart enough to decide upon the most qualified person for the job. Some Freeholders have actually stated this point of view in our discussions. I would prefer to trust the judgment of the people in this County
Because we cannot vote the Administrator out of office for incompetence and we are denied the right of recall we will have to elect an entire new majority on the council to change this person out. With staggered terms of office this could take years. This creates another layer of government between the people and our elected representatives. Rather than bringing government closer to the people the proposed Charter moves it farther away.
One of the strongest arguments against an appointed Administrator is that there is no residency requirement for this position. In my opinion the most powerful person in County Government should be a local resident. The Freeholders argue that we may not have qualified local candidates to choose from. So after an inter-galactic search for the most qualified candidate we may end up with a person that is not familiar with our County and could commute from somewhere else. This would not be the case if we elected one of our own.
What happens if the Council/Commission or Administrator ignores mandates in the Charter? Or for example what if the Administrator lives on San Juan Island and favors his home area for road projects? The Freeholders answer is that outcry from the public and the press will get their attention. If they don't listen then they will be voted out of office. But this will not apply to an entrenched unelected bureaucrat.
We can't vote this person out for ignoring the rules in the Charter. That would be the job of the Council/Commission and they would need a 2/3 majority to take any action. That means three council members from San Juan Island could block this action. Firing this person would be messy and lawsuits would likely occur. If the citizens had the power fire the Administrator by voting, that situation would be avoided.
The Charter sets up a deeply entrenched bureaucracy in the form of an Administrative department. The power of this position will grow over time. As the Council turns over its members the Administrator will hold the keys to the County. If a Council member comes to Friday Harbor 2 or 3 times a month for a meeting it will be the Administrator that will explain the issues to them and perhaps influence their decisions. This happens in many towns where a Mayor/Council/Administrator form of government operates. The major difference with that model and the one the Freeholders are proposing is that the Administrator serves "at will" to the Mayor. To remove the Administrator, voters need only elect a new Mayor not an entire new Council.
We are asked to consider a Charter (that will become law) that keeps the council from interfering in the affairs of the Administrator even if that Administrator is out of line. If for instance the Administrator wants to hire a relative or orders the permit center to shortcut the process and issue a permit for a friend the Council will be forbidden to interfere. If the Administrator makes a decision that is not fair to you or any employee don't ask your elected representatives to help. It will be illegal for them to interfere. If they do it could be cause for legal action.
Here is the exact Charter language on this point: " . . . the Legislative Body, its staff, and individual Legislative Body members shall not interfere in the administration of the Executive Branch. They shall not give orders to, or direct, either publicly or privately, any officer, or employee subject to the direction and supervision of the County Administrator, Executive Branch, or other elected officials."
San Juan County would be the first and only county in Washington to enact this type of Council/Administrator form of government. Other Charter Counties have an elected Administrator/Executive. At least 15 Counties in Washington with larger populations have Administrators. Those counties are run efficiently with autonomous Administrators under the power of 3 member Boards of Commissioners. However San Juan would be the only Charter County to render the Commissioners impotent by limiting their power and forbidding them by law from directing county employees. I agree that an effective Administrator would need a large degree of autonomy. But the Administrator has unchecked powers in this proposed Charter.
The Freeholders call this "a strong separation of powers". This is a misleading statement. America is founded on the principle of separation of powers with co-equal branches of government. However, the Congress does not appoint the President and promise not to meddle in his affairs and still retain the power to remove him if he doesn't do what they want. This is the reason that all successful Charters in this state have an elected person in this position. It is the only way to separate powers. An Administrator beholden to a Commission/Council is not true separation of powers.
As a Freeholder I voted against the Charter. I am against it because:
A 6 member Council does not make sense.
The Charter is an unfunded mandate.
Taking power from voters and giving it to appointed bureaucrats is wrong.
Institutionalizing entrenchment is not wise for the future of San Juan County.
Separation of Powers only exists when voters elect the executive branch.
Remember, it is always the quality of leaders we elect that make government work or not.
San Juan Island
Response to Steve Cotton:
To The Editor:
It has become obvious that most people who oppose the Home Rule Charter have one thing in common. They are animatedly partisan, and they miss the fullness of the Democracy they purport is their duty to protect! Steve Cotton's letter is no exception. (See below: "Charter Ill-Conceived on All Counts Vote NO/NO )
When Steve speaks of our misguided perception of "one man one vote" it is unclear why he cites both the Senate's two member representation per state and the Electoral College as collectively being "non-population" components instituted by our founders.
Maybe Steve was unaware that the Freeholders on their own established a per-district quorum and two-thirds majority vote requirement that made Lopez and San Juan equal players in the charter writing system. Does he understand though, that by State Statute, it would be impossible to propose to run the County in this manner? And by the way, the Electoral College is NOT, as Steve said, a "non-population component" of the Federal Government, in fact it is the opposite.
Steve says that the "One-man, one-vote" principal is "of elections, not government structure." What does this mean? If voting isn't part-and-parcel of government structure, then what do we vote for? . . . . not to mention voting on the charter, which is all about government structure! Indeed, the method in which we vote is a part of government structure, and to minimize its importance fits well only with Party politics which by default limits the voice of the people and places importance on party positions rather than issues.With our county-wide at-large system of un-equal districts, the end result is that the county majority is duplicated within each district. It is this method which creates the "wolf and the sheep" polarization, where there are the winners, and the losers. This is not representative of the diversity of this County, and fails to meet State Constitutional requirements. Steve's concern for a "purely populist representation scheme "that "would not overwhelm the less-populous areas (like Lopez)" is actually dealt with in the six member council. . . the very thing he advises to oppose!
Steve's assertion that the Charter doesn't separate the powers "since the Board of Commissioners would have the power to hire and fire the Executive" is followed by his conclusion that the Executive (Administrator) should be an elected position. This would automatically make the Administrator a political figure. Administrative work needs to support the will of the legislative body, which is elected by the people. The Administrator isn't the "all powerful" czar, but only the "all-accountable" person for the mechanical functioning of the government. It is his desk where "the buck stops here!"
Just because most Counties in Washington State still use the current BOCC structure is no reason to stay with it, especially when most other Counties in most other states and virtually all cities have moved into a number of various forms of the system the Charter is recommending. Steve is right that people can make or break a system, but these days, there is more at stake, and the tools in our tool box are old and ineffective. It's not right to ask people to do a job and then not give them the tools they need to do the job.
With all due respect Mr. Cotton, because you were a management consultant in the past, you should be cognizant that good management delegates. Are you aware of any other large corporation with a budget of over $42 million which has three bosses, each in charge of all departments? We desperately need change. Don't try and hang on to a broken system left over from 1889. Home Rule is best for the people. It is good management.
Former freeholder, Dist. #2
As the election draws nearer, there is more interest in the charter I and the other Freeholders worked on last year. People ask questions about the manager, initiative, and referendum. The one question that I get that seems to puzzle the largest number of people has to do with the even number of commissioners proposed in the amendment to the Charter. They ask, "Why six? How can government work with an even number of council members? Won't the County always be stymied by tie votes?" As a Freeholder who spent many Saturdays discussing this, let me see if I can work through some of our reasoning behind this.
First, we started with a premise: County government should represent the principal of "one person, one vote" as closely as possible. The current system of requiring residence in a specific district regardless of the difference in the 3 districts populations doses not reflect this. Yes, we all vote for the different commissioners but make no mistake about it; the commissioners do represent their own districts interests just as surely as a Chicago ward boss represents his.
Next, we looked at ways to elect commissioners in a way that would truly represent "one person, one vote". We tried 3 and 5 and 7. No matter how we sliced it, a piece of one major island always wound up included with another major island. This wouldn't work. Lopez did not want to be added to the southern end of San Juan. Roche Harbor did not want to be included with some of Orcas. The only number that worked, that gave us fairly equal districts and didn't cause radical shifts in political boundaries was 6! Three from San Juan, two from Orcas, and one from Lopez/Shaw. All non-ferry served islands would remain associated with the larger islands that they have always been grouped with.
OK, so we would have balanced the votes but what are the other possible advantages of going with six council members voted on only by their own district. And what about that tie thing?
Let's start with the tie. Under the proposed charter, 4 "Yes" votes would be required to pass a measure. This is 2/3 of the council, exactly what is now required to pass a measure! But what if there is a 3 to 3 tie? Well, then nothing would happen and in politics, that's not always a bad outcome. Besides, close votes tend to be the most divisive and this would insure that measures would never pass with a bare one vote majority.
Another advantage is that a council member could campaign with everyone in his or her district face to face. You're representative would live close to you and be accessible to you in a way should encourage more face-to-face communications. This means that the current arms race of campaign contributions at election time becomes moot if you can simply meet all of you constituents. Predictably, the partisan party bosses have lined up against this. They lose power when shoe leather trumps big money.
Fairer representation, better access to your commissioner, an end to one vote majorities, campaigns that are people driven instead of money driven. All of these sound like pretty good reasons to vote "Yes" twice!
San Juan Island
Charter Ill-Conceived on All Counts Vote NO/NO
As a former County Chairman of the Republican Party and as an experienced management consultant, several of my fellow citizens have asked me for my opinion on the upcoming charter ballot question. Several of those discussions have been with proponents of the charter and its amendment and they have made several thought-provoking arguments in favor of their position. After having thought about these arguments, I would like your readers to consider my reasons for recommending a NO vote on both the charter and its amendment.
The arguments fall into a few broad categories: 1) "One man, one vote" is the essence of the American political system and we should have that in this County, 2) Separation of powers is another hallmark of our national government and it would be a good principal to implement at the County level, and 3) Asking elected Commissioners to act in a legislative, executive, and judicial capacity is unworkable and therefore a separate County Executive position would remedy this by acquiring a professional manager for operational direction.
I will address these in the order listed: 1) "One man, one vote" is a principle of elections, not government structure. The U.S. Senate and the Electoral College have a non-population component (2 votes per state). The Founders instituted this approach to address the interests of the small states so that a purely populist representation scheme would not overwhelm the less-populous areas (like Lopez). Pure democracy has always devolved to "two wolves and a sheep voting on dinner" and a system that is purely population-based does not protect minorities from majority abuse; 2) The proposed mechanism of an appointed County Executive does not implement a separation of powers, since the Board of Commissioners would have the power to hire and fire the Executive, thus making the Executive function accountable to the Legislative function, not to the peoplethis is not separation of powers; 3) The vast majority of Counties in Washington State are governed by our current form of Board Commission. My experience has been that excellent people can make any system work and no system can be designed that mediocre people cannot screw up. The best remedy for that is for the electorate to be more discriminating in their choice of office-holders.
For these reasons, I urge a NO vote on both the charter and its amendment.
Missed Meetings? Oh Please!
As a Freeholder I apologize for missing several meetings. I think it was 3 or 4 out of more than 20. I had some obligations that I needed to attend to. Ironically, The two freeholders who accuse me of missing "over half of the meetings" actually had worse attendance records than I did. Is this a debate over attendance now?
Some people would rather attack those that disagree with the Charter than to have an honest debate about the issues. The attitude seems to be, "How dare anyone disagree with this Charter!" I'm sorry that you are taking my disagreement personally.
San Juan Island
Gordy Petersen's Sad Litany
In Gordy's most recent editorial. "Listening to the Public," he continues to ply the same tired ground: no one listened to him while he was a Freeholder, the public was ignored, and everyone who disagrees with him or his cohorts are personally attacking them. In short, he has absorbed the rules of political spin: talk about everything but the merit of your ideas.
He claims the public's comments were ignored in the composition of the charter. Unfortunately, since Gordy attended only half of the Freeholders' meetings, he has no idea whether or not this is the case. Although he may not have read the public minutes of the meetings he missed, he certainly knows that the hard-working Freeholders, interviewed scores of county officials inside and outside San Juan County, reviewed all of the current Home Rule charters in the state line by line, and committed ourselves to hours of work between meetings. As a diverse group of 21, we used the democratic process to come up with two excellent documents as a result of all the input received. Gordy obviously disagrees, but disagreeing with him is not the same as ignoring him.
He continues to spin the financial issue. He has offered no evidence that the charter would raise taxes, yet he refuses to acknowledge that the financial viability of the charter government was analyzed by a real authority the County Auditor of some twenty years. Si Stephen's analysis is never countered, it is simply ignored. San Juan County voters are too smart to mistake Gordy's empty discourse ("it will raise taxes") for truth. Home Rule will not simply be revenue neutral a streamlined government with separate branches will eliminate duplication, eliminate wasted costs on studies and consultants, and increase efficiency: a better government will save us money!
There is one true thing in Gordy's editorial: If the charter is approved, it will change the way San Juan County has been governed for 100 years. That is exactly correct: it is time that we decide our own future, determine our own needs, and move forward. The charter is a flexible instrument, designed to change with the times. Gordy's choice is to cling to a dysfunctional past in which we are stuck forever. I believe few will agree with him.
Stephanie Johnson O'Day
San Juan Island
Responds to Gordy's Opinions on Charter
I have been following with interest the shifting sands of Gordy Petersen's opposition to the Home Rule Charter. If only he was so passionately involved during the actual process that created the document he now finds so flawed! Gordy's latest missive states that freeholders either ignored or argued with the public views expressed at their meetings or in subsequent letters, citing the example of Mr. Bill Appel, a Waldron attorney. If only Gordy had regularly attended our meetings, he would have known that such an allegation is baseless. (Check our minutes; his attendance was spotty at best) Anyone who ever attended a freeholder meeting came away with a deep respect for how well this group worked together and how all citizen input was valued.
In Mr. Appel's case, his "long scholarly letters" were responded to in-kind by several different freeholders in a timely manner. Any political exchange of ideas isn't guaranteed to produce agreement, but I can state emphatically that Mr. Appel's concerns were respectfully considered.
Other themes that Mr. Petersen have been emphasizing also require a response.
The issue of a County Administrator being hired rather than elected. Yes, in a perfect world, a better theoretical separation of governmental power is achieved with an elected official. The Charter proposes the need for professional management, hiring an individual with proven skills in managing the daily operations of a complex public sector organization. The freeholders felt that such a person would only be found through an extensive executive search, not by hoping a local conveniently had the skill set and a willingness to campaign for the job.
Hiring an administrator will raise taxes. This is an irresponsible statement. Auditor Cy Stephens and respected local CPA Cathy Cavanaugh have done financial analyses that refute such assertions. Meanwhile, what's the consequence of the status quo? The endless consultants paid for various studies, the meddling in daily operations, the wrongful termination lawsuit settlements...
The Department Heads of this county government need one boss, with clear reporting lines, someone who understands the process and will protect their management team from the political maneuverings of the BOCC.
No charter county has a six member council. True. No other county is a group of islands, either. This number happens to best match the population distribution of the County and satisfies the "one person-one vote" constitutional criteria that has never been achieved in our County. Voters must remember that the basic charter doesn't make any changes to the number of commissioners. It does suggest that a Citizen Salary Commission be constituted to study what compensation is appropriate for the BOCC given the reductions of their duties. An expanded BOCC would also allow for broader participation in governance to shape our County's future by stopping the expensive process of County-wide campaigning. Instead, we'd be electing neighbors more responsive to our issues and concerns.
Finally, Gordy states that the "Charter would fundamentally change the way we have been governing ourselves for over 100 years." To this I say, with much enthusiastic agreement, "YES!"
Former freeholder, San Juan
Lopez Voter Wants To Keep 3 Commissioners
I write to express two concerns with county Proposition 2, the proposal to have 6 part-time county commissioners.
Doubling their number will not reduce the amount of work each commissioner must devote to learning about the many critical issues which they must decide. Nor will it reduce the time which must be spent attending meetings.
Thus, this change will result either in commissioners receiving partial compensation while needing to put in full-time hours or in commissioners who are only partially prepared to do their job. Neither is acceptable.
On another point the island geography of our county often produces a fragmentation not evident in other communities. One of the primary forces working to offset this effect is the fact that each county commissioner has to be elected by the entire county; each must be sensitive to the needs and concerns of all of us. The proposed change would dramatically fragment this constituency.
For these reasons I urge a NO vote on Proposition 2.
Former Freeholder Objects to Story on Appel Letter
Letter to the Editor:
When you published Bill Appel's recent letter to Randy Gaylord, you may not have been aware that Randy Gaylord had already responded, debunking Bill's "academic smokescreen." It's unfortunate, then, that you ran it as a news story, rather than an opinion piece.
As Randy points out in his response, Mr. Appel's entire premise regarding the residency requirement for Commissioner candidates is a non-issue; it has no basis in law, is not supported by any AG opinions, and there are no legal precendents supporting his contention.
This leads me to conclude that Mr. Appel's letter is merely a political move designed to obfuscate through intentional misinterpretation of the language in the Charter, rather than any valid claim of a "flaw." In fact, none of the several lawyers involved in reviewing our Charter language expressed any such concern, and those who've seen Mr. Appel's letter remain completely unpersuaded by his suggestions.
Giving credibility to this diversionary tactic does a disservice to the community by shifting the discussion away from any issues that might represent legitimate concerns. Far better is to focus on facts worthy of discussion, and avoid the fiction of letters like Mr. Appel's.
San Juan Island
(Mr. Johnson is a former Freeholder).
The Appel letter was sent to all of the former Freeholders -and others- by Mr. Appel. It was not sent to us as a letter, or as an opinion piece. We became aware of it as a correspondence to the Freeholders and the BOCC; that is to say, it was not, and is not, a letter to the Editor. We consider correspondence from lawyers questioning the legality of proposed governmental actions to be a news item.
Mr. Johnson is correct that The Guardian was not aware of an official response from Gaylord, for the simple reason that none of the Freeholders felt it helpful to the public dialog to share copies of the two letters, even though many, if not all, of those same former Freeholders had copies of both the Appel letter and the Gaylord response.
One of the former Freeholders told The Guardian that they "Hoped the whole thing would just go away if no one brought it up". We at The Guardian find the holding of such views by former elected officials to be disturbing and patronizing -at best.)
Bill Appel Letter & the Judicious Response from Gaylord
Bill Appel, evidently an experienced and skilled advocacy writer, takes honest and unassuming people unawares by beginning and ending his letter with conciliatory salutations to the Freeholders.Related Story & Letters However, this letter is not one written by a friendly intervener. The analysis it contains is presumptuous. Just the fact that the writer is a former attorney does not raise his opinion to the level of "legal" analysis. Rather, it is obvious that this letter is politically motivated and possibly a last ditch effort to derail the Charter Process. It seems that the detractors, having no substantive arguments against the Charter, are forced to resort to mere word choice technicalities to attack it.
Of course, the First Amendment to the Constitution allows Bill to indulge in intellectual exercise and express his opinions. However, his letter was sent in the form of a challenge to the County Prosecuting Attorney. The PA spent precious hours and tax dollars answering this frivolous
Kudos to Randy Gaylord for his expedient response. Randy gives us a comprehensive legal analysis. The bottom line: The Charter (both the Basic and Amendment) is just fine as is.
Here are the facts:
1. Five attorneys including MRSC (Municipal Research Service Center) reviewed the Charter prior to its adoption by the Freeholders.
2. The record shows that the intent of the Freeholders was never in question. Never! Legislative intent is an important part of the interpretation of words in a legal document. The minutes of the public meetings recording the deliberative process are published and public. A legal scholar doing true legal analysis would have incorporated these into his analysis. An honest legal analysis would have acknowledged, where pertinent, Attorney General Opinions and Court cases that have already addressed his concerns.
3. The use of emotionally charged words like "Trojan Horse," fatally flawed," "dooms the county to chaos," "anomalous scheme," "take the County into uncharted waters," "Charter scheme deviates," and "threatens the legitimacy" confirm that this document is an advocacy paper rather than a neutral analysis by someone who, "in spite of misgivings . . .was willing to support the Charter." Compare this to the legal analysis by the PA. If Randy had taken the same tone, he would only have had to write, "Bull Shit!"
Nanae N. Nagaoka (Fralick), Esq.
Look Who Opposes Change!
Letter to the Editor:
When reading your Voter Pamphlet, be sure to notice the titles of the three men who wrote the three "Statements Against" the Home Rule Charter.
You will see that all three of these men who are urging a "no" vote are partisan political figures. One is the Green Party candidate for County Commissioner, one is the head of the County Democratic Party, and the third is a State Republican Committeeman.
One of the features of the Home Rule Charter is that, (in the Basic Charter) the elected County Department Heads will run non-partisan, and, (in the Amendment to the Basic Charter) the six Councilmen will also run non-partisan.
When these two Propositions are voted in, the jobs and titles of these three political nay-sayers will become moot, and irrelevant to County government. It is thus no surprise that these three politicians would find some (fallacious) words to recommend a "no" vote. They want to keep their influence and power at any cost, including perpetuating our current inefficient and archaic partisan form of government. Their words illustrate some of the reasons that the Freeholders decided that bickering partisan politicians have no business remaining in our County government structure.
Appel's Charge Baseless
The extraordinarily contrived "legal challenge" describing the "fatal flaw" in the charter by Bill Appel was immediately seen as baseless from the get-go by those who actually understand the Charter. (story & letters),
I believe a bad question is worth a good answer if the bad question is coming from someone who, in all honesty just doesn't get it. This was not the origin of Mr. Appel's challenge.
It is only normal for responsible citizens who still have a future to hope that some day exotic and dishonest attacks will "just go away."
Will the real "Trojan Horse" please stand up!
Voters Will Select "Home Rule"
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.
San Juan Island
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 www.homerulesjc.com.
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.
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.
San Juan Island
San Juan Fat Cats?
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 goodgovernment.com 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.
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.
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.
San Juan Island