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Home » Archives » February 2012 » LETTERS ON CHARTER REVIEW COMMISSION

[Previous entry: "Board Grateful For Passage Of Lopez School District Bond"] [Next entry: "Thank You Soroptomist"]

02/27/2012: "LETTERS ON CHARTER REVIEW COMMISSION"


(Note:Date above left is when the first letter was posted below on the subject)


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(11-19-12)
Sailing Through Change


Dear Editor,

I would like to thank everyone who supported the work of the Charter Review Commission. The result of the vote brings significant changes and challenges. I hope we can all join in the effort of making our county government an example of good management and responsiveness to the will of the people.

Change is never easy but with good leadership the transition can be smooth. This requires our elected Council members to keep a steady hand on the tiller.

The voter-approved amendments will bring positive change to our County Council and Administration, and that will be good for our community. As voters we will have more control over the actions of local government. This is the core principle of Home Rule.

The Charter Amendments are not complicated, but they do require some patience and care to implement. According to State law they must be implemented within 6 months. The amendments become effective when the election is certified on November 27. The transition to the new council/manager system will happen right away followed by a prompt transition to a three member council elected by all voters county wide.

I am hopeful that the County Council will recognize the concerns that were raised by the Charter Review Commission. As soon as possible they will need to adjust their working relationship with the position of County Manager by revising the duties and job description and implementing those changes. The Council will want to ask themselves when will the County Manager consult with the Council Members on administrative matters, and when will the Manager have the authority to make decisions on his own?

The quick action recently by the Salary Commission is to be commended, and I remain optimistic that we will have many good candidates from around the county to choose from in the upcoming election.

The CRC drafted a careful transition plan for the elected Council Members that assures good continuity of governance. We must have faith that our leaders will keep a steady hand on the tiller and guide us as we sail through these changes.

Gordy Petersen
San Juan Island

( Mr. Petersen was the chair of the Charter Review Commission)

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(11-04-12)
Reply To Hector Cyre


Dear Editor,

I found Hector Cyre’s treatise [17the letter below -Ed]on the charter amendments to be thought provoking, detailed, well written, and lacking in perspective regarding geographic scale and population.

I would to first like to comment on, Proposition 3, as it really is a no-brainer. The basic reason we should vote yes for this proposition is that we cannot trust our legislators to follow our Charter and State law. In April Randy Gaylord told the council that 3 people meetings without public notice were illegal and against the Open Meeting law. The council had been holding numerous meetings behind closed doors discussing Critical Area issues. These closed meetings are the subjects of a recently filed lawsuit that will cost taxpayers money. Passing Proposition 3 will insure these illegal meetings will not happen again.

Proposition No. 1 asks to reduce the council from 6 to 3 members. San Juan County is the 7th smallest county in the state. Thirty-four other counties, most of them with larger populations than ours are functioning well, according to recent studies, with 3-person councils or commissions.

Hector goes on to say that a 3-person council doesn’t fit our community or commonality of interests in the current six small districts. . Islanders all have interests in common by fact of our unique island geography among other things. If our council members are elected countywide, every citizen can vote on each position and will have a representative with their interests in mind. This means the candidates for Orcas and Lopez will have to know about Brown Island and all the other islands so no one will be forgotten. This also means the particular concerns and interests of various areas of the County will be fully represented. What better way to have this happen than to elect our candidates countywide?

I was originally a proponent of a separate Executive for the county. I am disappointed that it has not worked out nor do I think it will change in the future. It is difficult for an Executive hired by the council to buck the council when they meddle. The Charter Review Commission spent a lot of time looking into this concern and felt because of the demographics of our county the County Manager option would be more workable if the position was directly responsible to the council yet still maintaining a separation of powers between the council and staff. The charter is very emphatic in limiting the Council’s meddling with staff. The other problem is that the pay for the Administrator in this system is way out of line. Should a small County like San Juan pay its administrator more than the Washington State Governor?

Another result of our current charter is with the budget. In the 6 years prior to the start of the Charter our average budgets were about 30 million. In the 6 years since the adoption of the Charter our average budget has been over 44 million, almost a 50 percent increase. That does not include the over 50 million budget in 2006, the year of the adoption of the Charter. The council has just approved a 5.8 million dollar bond issue. How are we to pay for this?

What assurances do we have the newly elected council will operate any differently than they have been in the past? Do we trust them to maintain the separation of powers they failed to do the past 6 years?

The idea of Home Rule was to give voters greater control over their government We need to maintain control of our local government. Vote to approve all the Charter Amendments. That is how we save our Charter and improve our County government.

Bob Levinson
San Juan Island

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(11-03-12)
In opposition to Propositions 1 and 2 and support for Jarman and Forlenza


Dear Editor, To the Voters still mulling it over:

• The die is nearly cast. Please consider the following points:

• Proposition 1 says the island with half the population gets one council vote and the other half of the population (Orcas and Lopez) get two council votes.

• San Juan Island, with half the population, will be outnumbered 2 to 1.

• The idea of “everybody voting for everybody” is often repeated but in practice, does not look like a good bet. In the pre-Charter past, the perception according to many was that each of the commissioners “owned” his/her island’s loyalty.

• We sincerely, genuinely wanted to get rid of the 3-member, unequal district model when we adopted the Charter in 2005. 55% voted it out.

• Unequal representation is unfair. One person one vote is a sacred principle.

• This is s NONPARTISAN election. Lovel Pratt and Howie Rosenfeld not only accepted endorsements from the Democrats, they actively pursued them. Democratic staffers at the County Fair could not present a reason for the endorsements beyond, “they asked for it.” There is significant dissension within the Republican party about the endorsement for the CRC propositions.

• Don’t bring back the old BOCC. Keep your representation. Vote for the candidates who are standing on their own two feet, Marc Forlenza and Bob Jarman.

• We have an opportunity to change the entire dynamic of the Council with our votes on November 6th.

• Do you think it’s fair to elect candidates who have spent time, money, and incalculable effort to earn the vote of the majority and then throw them out of office 5 months later? What about the rights of the voters disenfranchised?

• The CRC has misrepresented financial issues in an attempt to convince voters that it will be cheaper to go back to the old 3-person scheme. They have nothing to support this. The Auditor says costs are about the same with 3 or 6.

• The CRC has not demonstrated problems in the Charter structure and they have not shown that anything will be improved if Proposition 1 and 2 are adopted.

• The CRC submitted its propositions to the County Council on July 10, more than two months after a slate of candidates filed papers to run, not knowing what could be in store for them. The rules changed in the middle of the game. Does this sound fair to you? Legal?

• I am a member of the CRC. I saw the deliberations. The process was insufficient to support the amendments. It doesn’t deserve your vote. The County doesn’t deserve it. REJECT 1 and 2 . Vote for Forlenza and Jarman.

Janice Peterson
San Juan Island

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(10-23-12)
Supports Propositions 1, 2 & 3


Dear Editor:

This weekend it was finally time to focus on my ballot and make up my mind
how to vote. This ballot was the most difficult I have filled out in recent
history in terms of the issues presented to the voters and how they affect
our future.

I write today to support the work of the charter review commission. I see it
as a literate and motivated society learning the art of "adaptive
management" in determining our future. I wish we had this opportunity at the
state and national level ..... but I'll stop right there.

Please join me in supporting the work of the CRC as you fill out your ballot
and drop it in the slot.

Thank You,
Jim Slocomb
Friday Harbor

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(10-23-12)
Pat O'Day: Vote "NO!" Propositions 1 & 2


Dear Editor:

To My San Juan County Friends: I write this letter to urge you to REJECT Propositions 1 and 2 of the Charter ballot measures.

Thank you for the opportunity to share the views of so many who fear our local Republican party has become heavily influenced by the agenda of a small group. Likewise, the Democrats are being led by some of their party's extreme fringe advocates.

What's at stake? The existing professional and constitutional structure for County Government, which may be eliminated in favor of a strange, old fashioned concoction of knee jerk methods of conducting our county's affairs. Here are just a few of the many reasons to reject the CRC's fallacious proposal:

1. The proposal they beg you to accept offers two big Constitutional flaws. The one person-one vote standard in our nation is time-tested and a foundation of our nations system of government. This Charter alteration calls for "At large voting" allowing each individual to vote three times. Once each for three different islands. This eliminates any balance that could be afforded to one district or one Island. Proper balance is seen in the U.S. House of Representatives where state-wide as well as nationally, districts are carefully drawn, according to population, giving voice to each individual districts needs and desires, shielding them from the inclinations of other districts.

2. The proposed Charter Revisions violate the fundamental "Separation of Powers" enumerated in the U.S. Constitution. "Judicial, Legislative, and Administration. Five years ago, we emerged from the "dark years" and established our Home Rule Charter which was approved by 65% of the counties voters. Now, the CRC attempts to erase this time proven balance. They call for turning one single branch of San Juan County Government, the elected council, into Legislative and Administrative. This is what Home Rule was designed to avoid.

3. It's a roll of the dice as to whether any three of the current Council persons have the business expertise to effectively handle a 46 million dollar county budget. That's why cities, towns, and counties across our great nation hire trained professional administrators. The revised charter will turn the business affairs of the county, with it's precious dollars, into "The Amateur Hour! If you doubt this, consider opening a business and have it operated by the recent board of Alan Lichter, Bob Myer, and Kevin Ranker. ( Two just political activists and one a poet.) None qualified to operate a county. "Three unqualified individuals will never equal one qualified Administrator."

4. This Charter revision, which reduces the number on the County Council from six to three members, re-opens the door to the pasts tragic micro-management. Eliminating the single boss, answering to three politicians, has historically brought dissension, tension, and dissatisfaction. You can't effectively run people by committee. They must answer, like in any successful operation, to one and only one boss. Our County Administrator who isn't subject to political whims and agendas.

5. THE FOOLISHNESS OF "AT LARGE" VOTING FOR COUNTY COUNCIL. San Juan Island for example is the "economic engine" of the county with it's own special needs and problems. Only San Juan Islanders are capable of determining what is best for San Juan! The same is true for Orcas, Lopez, and other areas! Any other system is unfair to all areas of the county.

6. I contend it is unpatriotic to turn one's back on the time-proven accords reached by our enlightened Forefathers of our nation. That same Constitution guided those who struggled, and achieved our Home Rule Charter with that 65% citizen approval vote just five years ago. The Charter proposals, (CRC) would destroy that great progress with selfish and mindless moves backwards.

7. FRIENDS, THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NOTHING WRONG WITH OUR "HOME RULE CHARTER." IF WE DISLIKE DIRECTIONS GOVERNMENT TAKES, WE VOTE NEW PEOPLE TO THE COUNTY COUNCIL BUT LEAVE OUR OUTSTANDING FRAMEWORK ALONE! OUR CURRENT STRUCTURE OF GOVERNMENT IS GOOD ENOUGH FOR THE UNITED STATES. SO, IT'S ALSO THE BEST COURSE BY FAR FOR SAN JUAN COUNTY. IT'S GOOD ENOUGH FOR SAN JUAN COUNTY. FOR ALL THE ABOVE REASONS, REJECT PROPOSITIONS 1 AND 2.

Respectfully,
Pat O'Day
San Juan Island

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(10-22-12)
Vote "NO!" Propositions 1 & 2


Dear Editor:

How do we decide about these Charter propositions?

Most of us are too busy with our daily lives to fully understand the consequences of the significant changes being proposed by the Charter Review Commission (CRC), on the November ballot.

As a former Freeholder that helped write the original Home Rule Charter, I’m actively supporting our current structure.

Many former BOCC members from the past have endorsed the proposed return to the three-commissioner format, perhaps because that is what they’re most familiar with. Both sides are sincere in their convictions.

Much of the rhetoric of those seeking to change our Charter seems preoccupied with how we elect rather than how we govern. I’m more concerned about the latter. I prefer an independent, professional Administrator and a diverse council that allows our islands to have local representation based upon their respective populations.

The one group in the best position to have an informed opinion is our local media, print and on-line. These folks have spent thousands of hours observing the process both under the old BOCC format and the current County Council.

Undecided voters should take note that all local editors agree on urging a rejection of Prop’s 1 & 2. If things were so bad that radical changes were needed, don’t you think they’d be shouting it from the roof tops? Check out the editorial positions of the Journal of the San Juans and the San Juan Islander and then join me in rejecting Propositions 1 and 2.

Respectfully submitted,

David Bayley
San Juan Island

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(10-22-12)
Vote "NO!" Propositions 1 & 2 & 3


Dear Editor:

We attended the League of Women Voters forum on the proposed Charter amendments and it became clear what the right choice is. When faced with a decision, one of the most important questions to ask is: What are you trying to accomplish?

At the forum the proponent of the Charter amendments stated that the goals of Proposition 1 are to eliminate the need for a super-majority vote, reduce the possibility of collusion among Council members and create a more representative Council. However, Proposition 1 does none of these things.

It will still require a 2/3 majority for anything to pass. Returning to the previously failed BOCC number only means fewer votes to get there. It would have made more sense to increase or decrease the number by one seat.

Collusion between Council members is a matter of character not numbers and it is easier for two people to conspire than three. Furthermore there is no indication that this has ever happened within the Council.

Reducing the number of representatives to improve representation makes little sense. The notion that we should all get to vote for all three positions goes against the concept of local control and flies in the face of the basic concept of representation.

The stated reason for Proposition 2 is that the administrator has been frustrated in exercising the authority outlined in the Charter. The prior BOCC set a tone of interference that has never fully been overcome so that even though the current Council members were not on the BOCC, the behavior has continued. Proposition 2 perpetuates that interference and returns us to the failed past.

If the goal is to limit the Council to legislative matters and allow the administrator to do the job, perhaps a better amendment to the Charter would be to make the administrator an elected position. This would give us the overall representation sought in Proposition 1 and free the administrator from the undue pressure the Council can exert as the employer.

Proposition 3 merely asserts our endorsement of the State open public meetings act already in force and adds nothing.

We urge you to reject Propositions 1, 2 & 3.

Chris & Joyce Clarke
San Juan Island

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(10-20-12)
Supports Propositions 1 & 2 & 3


Dear Editor:

I want my voice to be heard more adequately in county government and that is why I am supporting Charter Amendments Propositions 1,2 and 3. Currently Council members, because of district elections, are accountable to only one-sixth of the electorate. I want all Council members to come to my island to campaign for election so that my interests are truly represented.

I need to see a County manager that is directly accountable to the Council so that the Council works together with a manager and not with am unelected Administrator; a situation that encourages conflict.

Also, by having all meetings of the County Council public, I will feel informed and participatory in the Council’s deliberations, which will give me a sense of democracy empowerment.

George Lawson
Lopez

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(10-18-12)
Council Member Will Vote "No" On Propositions 1 & 2


Dear Editor:

I have served on the San Juan County Council for almost 4 years. Much of this time your County Council has dealt with the problems of the past. Long overdue issues such as Solid Waste, Critical Areas Protections, Emergency and Wireless Communications, the Housing Element, Essential Public Facilities and others are completed or nearing completion.

The past 4 years have been financially tough for the County. The County Council, County Administrator, other electeds and county employees have spent extensive time and energy figuring out how to keep the lights on and improve the way we do the business of the people. Thanks to these collaborative efforts, the State gave San Juan County a strong bill of financial health in a recently completed audit.

On October 15, the County Administrator pro-tem presented a forward-looking 2013 budget together with a preview of years to follow. As part of the presentation we discussed how to embrace the future. For the first time during my tenure we were in a position to have this kind of consideration.

Having gone through such tough budgeting years my reaction was visceral. Most of my term was spent in a dark financial valley dealing with issues that had been kicked down the road; to escape we had to labor long and hard. While we are not quite yet at the summit, we are close enough that the sun is on our back and we are planning for a much brighter and more stable future.

San Juan County is in a good place through an enormous amount of hard work and through finally being able to take full advantage of the strengths of Charter government. Custodians of the past would suggest we go back into the dark valley by revoking key parts of Home Rule. In the strongest terms I see this suggested return as a huge mistake. Instead let’s stay the course; consolidate our gains and move forward. Our current form of governance is working and we can make it even better. Propositions 1&2 are counter productive to this goal. Please join me in rejecting Charter Review.

Richard Fralick
Orcas Island

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(10-18-12)
Significant Misconceptions Of Propositions 1, 2 & 3


Dear Editor:

The most troubling misconception is the assertion that Proposition 1 is unconstitutional and does not meet the requirement of equal voting (one-person, one-vote). The proposed system of whole county voting ensures that every person’s vote is equal. In our current system each voter has one vote for the Council Member representing their district; if Proposition 1 passes each voter will have one vote for each of three Council Members representing the entire county. The misconception is to confuse representative districts, which we have now, with the residency districts proposed by Proposition 1. Council Members in each residency district represent the whole county, not simply the district where they live. The Prosecuting Attorney, Washington State Law and the Supreme Court of the United States all agree that such residency districts meet legal requirements for equal voting (the Prosecuting Attorney’s memo on the issue is available at the CRC site on the county’s website and includes the relevant case law and state law).

Another misconception is concern about maintaining a “separation of powers.” This misconception stems from modeling our Charter on the Whatcom County Charter. The County Executive in Whatcom is independently elected, and their Charter provides provisions to separate the executive and legislative branches. Our County does not have an independently elected Administrator and provisions in the Charter to separate County administration from the County Council have proved unrealistic and unworkable. Proposition 2 provides a reality based relationship between County administration and the County Council.

Some argue that the Propositions would “give Lopez too much power.” Amusingly some of the same people also argue that Proposition 1 would marginalize Lopez. This is the same one-person, one-vote misconception. Proposition 1 assures geographic diversity and insisting that one of the three Council Members live on Lopez, Shaw, Decatur or Center Island does not change the fact that everyone voting in the county has equal weight in electing that Council Member. Nor does it allow that Council Member to ignore the needs of their constituents on the other islands; instead he or she would need to be especially attentive to the interests of the residents of the other two districts, with their larger number of voters.

Finally there is a misconception that the CRC used an undemocratic process to arrive at the Propositions. The CRC adopted Roberts Rules of Order, unanimously, at their first meeting and our able chair enforced them throughout the process. We devoted significant time at each and every meeting to discussing proposed changes, listening to members of the community and to the concerns of members of the CRC (including dissenting members). Each Proposition was subject to an additional set of rules requiring votes at 3 separate meetings. Proposals made early in the process had the most opportunity for discussion. That the majority of members continued to support these Propositions is evidence that most of the CRC members agree that they represent the best possible improvements to San Juan County’s Home Rule Charter.
Vote for greater power over your government. Vote for Propositions 1, 2, and 3.

Madrona Murphy
Charter Review Commissioner, District 6, Lopez

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(10-17-12)
Needing Only 2 Votes Is Better Than 5


Dear Editor:

The Official Findings of the elected Charter Review Commissioners provide compelling reasons to support Proposition 1. After 20 meetings, they adopted detailed and documented findings on a 17-3 vote, and these can be found on the County’s website under Charter Review Commission.

District-only elections make little sense to me in that they created a system where council members can be largely unresponsive to those that live and vote outside their district. A current case in point is that we have three of six council elections taking place next month. Since voters outside the districts where these elections are taking place can’t vote in them, are they even paying attention? Not much, and that certainly wasn’t the case when all county voters could vote for all county legislators, which is the way it was in San Juan County prior to the Charter. Countywide elections will provide countywide accountability and will help unify our island communities. I would much prefer to vote for all of our council members than just one out of six, since their decisions affect all county citizens.

Six legislators are just not needed in a small county. As a former county commissioner, I can attest that there is a certain logic and beauty of needing 2 of 3 votes to make any decision. It makes the legislator have to work harder and be willing to compromise, which I believe leads to better decisions. This is why 34 of the 39 counties in Washington and most counties nationwide have three legislators.

Tom Cowan
(Tom Cowan is a former County Commissioner presenting Lopez & Shaw)

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(10-17-12)
Pratt Endorses 1,2,& 3


Dear Editor:

Since a number of my fellow Council Members are speaking out in regard to the Charter propositions, I feel compelled to share my perspective. That said, I will serve San Juan County in whatever way the voters choose.

I support all three Charter propositions. Proposition 1 will improve our Charter with county-wide elections for all Council positions. This will ensure that Council Members have a county-wide perspective and county-wide accountability. Council Members are most effective when they pay particular attention to the needs and concerns of their district while at the same time being responsive to all citizens, understanding the issues county-wide, and considering the county-wide implications of all decisions. This has been my practice during my first term on the County Council. I work 50-60 hours a week and make myself available to anyone in the county seven days a week.

One reason why I support the three member Council component of Proposition 1 is that this will require that all Council meetings and the decision-making processes be noticed and open to the public. This is imperative if the Charter is to be a means for the citizens of San Juan County to assert greater control over the actions of County government (as stated in the Preamble to the Charter). I support Proposition 3 which will require all Council meetings, even subcommittee meetings, to be noticed and open to the public.

The main reason for my support of Proposition 2 is budgetary. As hard as it has been to address this recession with budget cuts, workforce reductions and concessions, and the requests to voters for more revenues, it will be much harder to exercise the discipline that will be required to maintain a sustainable budget when the economy improves and to appropriately allocate any additional revenues. The County Administrator’s job description is imbedded in the Charter. The former County Administrator frequently raised the issue of the lack of resources for him to accomplish his job. The Charter as it now exists gives a future County Administrator the basis to demand a larger share of county resources in order to comply with the powers and duties specified in the current Charter. This will not necessarily be in the best interests of the citizens given other county priorities.

The Charter will be improved by Proposition 2. County government would still benefit from a professional administrator in the form of a County Manager. The County Council would develop a job description for the County Manager that can take into account the resources available, the current county priorities, and the potential for more collaboration, and, more importantly, economic efficiencies, among the other elected departments.

Please join me to improve our Charter by approving all three Charter propositions.
Thank you,

Lovel Pratt
(Pratt is a current member of the council running for re-election)

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(10-14-12)
Peterson Responds to Petersen


Dear Editor:

In recent public discussions on the Charter Review Commission, Gordy Petersen has alleged bias in my consideration of issues (due to my husband being a current member of the County Council). These odd attacks are coming out of the blue and I assume that Gordy is attempting to discredit my opinions, when he should actually be concentrating on his own demonstrable bias.

I have spoken and written about the bias of others in the CRC, as it has influenced the Charter review process. The key word is “influence.” Some members of the CRC such as Gordy have been attacking the Charter since 2004 and I believe their bias influenced their votes and behavior. I have opined about this during and after the terribly flawed Charter Review procedures.

We are a small community. Almost everybody seems to be related in some way to everybody else. The Town’s mayor is married to a County council member, spouses work in the County, some members of the CRC are also County employees, one has provided legal assistance to the prosecuting attorney’s office. The CRC candidacy requirements did not bar any citizen from running. In fact the Council members themselves could have run.

I ran for the CRC and was elected a year ago with the most votes in my district. I assume everyone knew my marital status because I mentioned it in my Voters Pamphlet statement and we talked about it briefly at the first CRC meeting. I was certainly conscious of potential problems as I think everyone else should have been with their own personal and professional affiliations.

The CRC records will affirm that every time something came up in discussion that looked like a potential conflict of interest for me, I withdrew from the discussion, did not vote, and sometimes offered to leave the room. If there had been any lapses, I think my colleagues would have pointed them out.

As far as protecting my husband’s job, it is not a factor beyond my concern that all six of the council members elected in 2012 and 2010 would lose their positions if Proposition 1 should be approved. The unfairness is obvious but the chaos this would create in local government would be monumental. Given the Freeholders decision so long ago to allow the 3 lame duck commissioners to continue until their terms ended, the CRC’s cavalier recommendation to oust the entire Council seems ill-advised.

I believe my husband would say that it is a great pleasure to serve as the 2nd district council member. He assures me that he will also find it a pleasure to get back to private life with family, friends, and having more time to himself. He has no fear of losing his job and I have no fear of seeing his very gratifying experience in public service come to an end, whenever that occurs.

Support your Home Rule Charter with a vote to reject propositions 1, 2, and 3.

Janice Peterson
San Juan Island

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(10-14-12)
A Bare Naked Look at the Old BOCC System


Dear Editor:

In my quest to find anything credible in the Charter Review Commissions “findings” that would turn back the clock on San Juan County; I decided to take a deeper look at the numerical facts of actual representation within our former unequal districts.

I knew the disparities were significant, as I had already graphed them in other ways, but I just had to work through the attached chart(.pdf 431\k file) to go through the possible numerical outcomes of an election and the resulting makeup of the legislative body in an effort to see something I had not seen before. I didn’t.

Even a casual look at the at-large BOCC (Board Of County Commissioners) we used to have will show you that the only “empowerment” we had was an unequally and highly diluted ability to meddle in the elections of other numerically gerrymandered districts for the purpose of electing three BOCC members of the same county-wide majority! This is what voting yes on the CRC’s #1 and #2 will take us back to!

Going further into the actual legislative body and how it does or does not represent the districts, I’ve charted the inequities of the old BOCC system and then built off that old system to show the new one in representation and district specific voting.

Not only does it prove that our current six-member system enables each district to elect “their own” representative, but it also builds a County Council that “looks like and accurately represents the whole county.”

Within the abilities of our individual one equal vote to construct a legislative body that represents the entire county, our six-member Council is what represents accurate and equal “empowerment.”

Jeff Bossler
Former Orcas Freeholder

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(10-14-12)
What Works Best For The Good of All?


Dear Editor:

1) Representation -Isn’t it better to actually know your representative? Voting for someone you know, because they live in your community versus having everyone select representatives that they have never met or may have only met during a campaign function? Proposition 1 has us voting for candidates that we may have never met and will allow other islands to help select our representative.

2) Spending -Isn’t it better to keep a structure that has lead to lower spending increases? The 6 member council structure has demanded significantly lower increases in spending AND has put in place reserves. During its last 5 years in existence, the three commissioner system proposed higher increases in spending and did not build reserves, even during some of our best economic times.

3) Getting the Job Done -Isn’t it better to have a council that is willing to tackle the tough controversial issues that face our community versus one that continuously kicks those issues down the road? The current council is tackling those issues. Yes sometimes it takes longer to get such a diverse group to a consensus or majority vote but don’t we want them to work for solutions that work hard for our equally diverse citizens?

4) Compensation -Haven’t we attracted qualified individuals under both systems regardless of compensation? We have dedicated council members who care about resolving the county issues so maybe there is still some truth in “public service”.

5) Leadership - Are we not better off having a highly qualified professional running the day to day operations of the county versus a manager who may be worried about their job changing at the whim of the council? In these economic times we need to know we have the best person managing our precious tax dollars.

Long and short of it is we all must ask “Are we in better shape today than the “good old way” days? I think we are so I will be voting to REJECT Propositions 1 and 2 Charter Review! I hope you will join me!

Velma Doty
Orcas Island

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(10-13-12)
Former County Engineer - Keep Charter Principles - Reject Propositions 1 & 2


Dear Editor:

From 2004 to 2011, I served as your County Engineer working under both the County Commissioner (BOCC) and the current Charter-based County Council forms of government. Based on this experience, it is my opinion the County Council together with a professional County Administrator following the Charter best serves our needs.

Look at the results. Workplace stability so work can get done without political interference or threats. Several long overdue management plans and road projects were completed: Rosario Master Plan, Deer Harbor Hamlet Plan, Orcas Village Plan, Lopez Village Growth Area Plan, the Fisherman Bay Road project, the Buck Bay Bridge on Orcas, and the Roche Harbor Dock and Float for outer islanders, just to name a few. The part-time County Council accomplished more work than the full-time BOCC could ever get done in the same time frame. Isn’t getting work done what we pay our legislators to do? Why would we want to go back to the past?

This progress was possible because of the two time-tested principles in the Charter: equal representation based on population and separation of powers. If approved, Propositions 1 and 2 will eliminate these principles by amendment.

Proposition 1 would take us back to the three-member BOCC where the district with 1/6th the population would have three times the power as San Juan and one and one-half times the power as Orcas. Is this equal representation based on population?

Under the Charter’s Separation of Powers section, the professional County Administrator carries out the daily operation of the county under policies, ordinances, and resolutions passed by the County Council. Do we really want to go back to the past when the three-member BOCC would give conflicting orders to staff resulting in dysfunction, turnover, and poor productivity? Let’s keep politics out of the daily operations so the County’s work can get done.

The choice couldn’t be clearer. Don’t be fooled. Those folks supporting the Propositions are: those who wielded power in the past and miss it, those who desire power and have been denied, and those who now think they have it.

Keep the key Charter Principles and give the Charter time to work. Please vote to reject Propositions 1 & 2.

John Van Lund
San Juan

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(10-13-12)
Vote "NO!" on Charter Propositions


Dear Editor:

I urge voters to vote NO on Propositions 1, 2, and 3. I have never been comfortable with two people (2 out of 3) making all the decisions for the County. In my 29 years of living here I have seen the near disasters, one way or the other, with two votes. Six Council members can give a more balanced view to each decision.

With the entire county voting for each position, The Council is likely to get lopsided representation. I prefer to select my representative that I know. Voting for someone who lives on Orcas or Lopez should be left up to the people who live there.

This is the first trial of the Charter system. Mistakes have been made in getting the system up and running, but it is not time to junk the Charter. The first Council still had members from the three person commission who were accustomed to managing the County departments and had difficulty adapting to the new system. Now those persons are gone. A new Administrator is in place.

Please vote NO. Give the Charter a chance to succeed..

Georgia Baciu
San Juan Island

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(10-12-12)
More From Appel In Support Of Charter Proposition 2


Dear Editor:

Much has been written about the larger issues involved in Proposition No. 2. Large issues are easier to debate. But, as in many cases in life, the devil is in the details. Notwithstanding criticism that the CRC didn’t do its homework, the CRC paid a lot of attention to detail. Here is just one example:

Section 3.43(1)(e) designates the Administrator as the official responsible for preparing and presenting the county operating and capital budgets. Section 6.20 designates that official as the official to whom county agencies and departments are to submit budget requests. Section 6.10(1) further specifically designates the Administrator (not the Auditor) as the official to prepare and present the budget to the Council. RCW 36.40.010, 030, and 050 provide for this. Under our charter, the Administrator is charged with the full obligation of budget preparation and presentation.

Our Auditor disagrees with the charter’s policy. She recognized that charter Section 3.20(2), after listing various county offices (including the auditor) provides “These offices shall be re-created by this Charter and, unless amended by this Charter, shall have the same powers and duties as in the past … .” In our Auditor’s view as expressed in writing to the CRC, the charter’s assignment of budget responsibility to the Administrator has led to inefficiency. She asked that her statutory budget responsibilities be restored to her office.

The legal and functional dynamics of separately elected and charter-appointed officials at the same level are such that neither can dictate to the other. Our Prosecutor can’t resolve this; both parties are his clients. For four years our Auditor to carried out her pre-charter budget function and our Administrator ignored the charge placed upon him by the charter. The fifth year, our Administrator sought to carry out his mandated duties resulting in confusion and inefficiency. The troublesome charter provision remains in effect today.

The CRC agreed with the Auditor’s policy analysis. Proposition No. 2 restores efficiency by deleting budget responsibilities from the executive and replacing them with proposed Section 4.41.


Bill Appel
CRC Member - Waldron

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(10-11-12)
To My Friends And Neighbors


Dear Editor:

So far I have successfully avoided commenting (even to most of my friends) on the proposed County Charter changes. But, since so many others are wading in, I might as well have my say.

I have carefully read (several times) the proposed changes to the San Juan County Charter contained in the three propositions presented to the voters by the Charter Review Commission (CRC). I read the detailed wording of the changes proposed for the Charter line by line - not just the summary paragraphs presenting Propositions #1, #2, and #3 that appear on the ballot. Only by doing so can one grasp the potential impact of the proposed changes, especially the details that are summarized in the catch-all phrase “technical revisions and clarifications to the charter” that is incorporated into each proposition on the ballot. I’ve listened to and read the opinions of others in an effort to understand the positions of those in favor of and those opposed to the propositions. I believe I’ve done my homework on this.

I would like to think that the CRC could have given us one or more propositions to consider that clearly address recognized problems with the current governance approach. I would like to think they could have presented refinements that are consistent and coherent, and which would move us forward toward better and more efficient governance. Those are objectives that should be the purpose of periodically reviewing a document like our County Charter. I have concluded that the CRC failed do so.

When you read the details line by line, you realize the CRC failed to craft mutually consistent measures as propositions for us to consider and vote on. The propositions on the ballot simply don’t capture the full extent of the proposed changes that are contained in the detailed wording. Most importantly, the proposed Propositions are incoherent, especially when you consider the potential implications of Proposition #2 being approved but Proposition #1 being turned down.

So I will vote NO on both Propositions #1 and #2. I’ll also vote NO on Proposition #3, but for different reasons.

Propositions #1 and #2 simply seem to be designed to roll the calendar back to a County Commission type of governance structure with three members. That approach was fraught with problems when it existed prior to the Charter, which is one of the main reasons the Charter was so overwhelmingly approved by the voters. But the effect of Propositions #1 and #2 would be worse than simply turning the clock back. They would impose changes focused on the number and basic roles of councilpersons upon a Charter structure that wasn’t designed with such features in mind. For example, giving council persons direct executive oversight of day-to-day operations doesn’t fit the Charter structure, which is based on a separation of legislative and administrative functions. It would be like stuffing a 1960’s Ford Mustang V8 engine into a 2012 Fusion hybrid simply because we remember how much we liked the sound of the Mustang’s exhaust note. Pleasant memories perhaps. But a bad idea. A really bad idea.

Furthermore, when one reads the details line by line you find that Propositions #1 and #2 are inherently inconsistent. The implications of having three elected policy makers involving themselves as “executives” in the administration of the County’s day-to-day operations are troubling. But the situation verges on terrifying when one considers the possibility that Proposition #1 might fail while Proposition #2 might be approved. If that were to happen, we’re talking about having SIX council members involving themselves in the County’s day-to-day operations as executives, not THREE. That would truly be the worst possible outcome for governance in San Juan County and for its citizens.

For the life of me, I can’t figure out what the CRC was thinking in presenting the voters two propositions worded in a manner that could potentially create such a mess. It would foster an environment in which County staff might be told one thing on a Monday by one elected official, followed by something totally different on Tuesday by another elected official, and so on as six council members individually weigh in on how the County should run its business. Today’s situation would seem orderly by comparison. If you think the County’s operational service delivery is poor now, you haven’t seen anything compared to the chaos that would be created. It wouldn’t work. It would be inefficient. And it would be terribly confusing to both the staff and the public.

Proposition #3 is essentially irrelevant. It pretty much says that the County Council should obey existing state law by operating in an open and transparent manner, and should not close any of its meetings (full council or committee) to the public. That measure is nothing more than the CRC’s public chastisement of the existing County Council for bad (and possibly illegal) behavior in the past. Why are we even being asked to vote on this? We don’t need to adopt such a provision as part of the County Charter. It is already state law.

If I didn’t think Proposition #3 was politically motivated, I could vote Yes on Proposition #3. It is a “good government, God and country, apple pie and motherhood” sort of proposal. But I don’t like what I believe is behind it being placed on the ballot in the first place. My sense is that the CRC put Proposition #3 on the ballot just to cast the current County Council in a bad light in hopes it might induce some voters to support the Proposition #1’s reduction of the Council to a three-member body.

I think our County Council has gotten the open government message loud and clear. No closed meetings, except for properly-noticed executive sessions for reasons described in state law. No secret deals agreed to in committee meetings. If an idea can’t pass the sniff test right out there in front of the public, it probably isn’t a very good idea anyway.

If you are patient enough to read further details that explain my reasons for voting no on Propositions #1 and #2, please consider the following.

I’m going to vote NO on Proposition #1 because I think reducing the size of the legislative body responsible for policy in our County from six to three isn’t a practical improvement in governance and doesn’t fit our community. The current number of council members provides a diversity of views that represents the complexities of our islands. For example, those county citizens residing in the Town of Friday Harbor may see some issues quite differently than those who live in other areas of San Juan Island and nearby islands like Brown, Pearl, and Henry. It isn’t realistic to expect a single councilperson to represent the varied and often conflicting views of such diverse constituencies. Therefore, if San Juan Island should have three council members to fully represent its population and diversity, it only makes sense to have three council persons representing Orcas, Lopez, Shaw, and the other islands which (in total) have a comparable population. Thus, a County Council of six members makes good sense in terms of representative democracy, even if it complicates some processes the Council undertakes.

Proposition #1 would replace the six-member County Council now elected by districts of relatively equal population with a three-member council, who would reside in designated “residency districts” but be elected county-wide. Geography would be the only factor in defining the residency districts. There would no regard paid to commonality of interests or perspectives in defining the individual districts, or to equalizing representation in terms of the populations in the districts. For all practical purposes the three proposed districts are San Juan, Orcas, and Lopez Islands. Those of us who live on other islands would simply be thrown into a district that is geographically proximate to our locations. That’s OK �" we’re used to it.

What about county-wide election of all council members? I have to agree that electing all council members county-wide is, at a basic gut level, an attractive idea. I suppose it would be nice if a Lopezian serving on the County Council viewed me as his/her constituent just as much as someone who lives on Aleck Bay, even if only because my vote in future elections might be of concern. But that isn’t what happens in the real world. A Lopezian council member is going to understand and care about what is happening on Lopez much more than on San Juan or Orcas, much less Brown Island and Waldron. I doubt the potential power of my one vote in the future is going to sway him/her at all. But he/she certainly isn’t as likely to understand what my concerns and views are as someone living nearby. He/she probably may not even know where Brown Island is �" or care. Can county-wide election of council members solve that? Not likely. At least I know that my current district council member knows where Brown Island is, and that I can visit with him easily to share my views.

Would Proposition #1 save us money? Probably not. The council members’ salaries will be doubled (as provided for in Proposition #1), but in the future could be further increased, perhaps to the point where the total cost greatly surpasses the total of current council salaries. So any argument in favor of Proposition #1 based on the prospect of cost savings is very weak.

Has our county been “Balkanized” as we hear from some proponents of Proposition #1? Are we divided into six self-interested districts that elect council members who, in turn, care only about the welfare of their local district voters? I have yet to see any evidence of such attitudes while attended a number of County Council meetings on a variety of issues. If anything, our six council members seem less parochial than one might expect given that they are elected district by district. Besides, I think it is healthy to have the particular concerns and interests of various areas of the County fully represented in the Council’s policy-making discussions. The differences in our community need to be stated and discussed so that balanced solutions can be found.

So, overall, the “Balkanization” argument simply rings hollow with me. One council member among six doesn’t have the clout to control five other members, so the council members are essentially forced to work together. When they are forced to do that, the interests that prevail are those of the County as a whole. I suppose it is possible that a future group of council members might be so politically motivated as to put the interests of their district constituents or their island ahead of the interests of the County as a whole, but that doesn’t seem to be the case right now.

I am not a big fan of the even number of council members we currently have, but at least it prevents San Juan Island from dominating the rest of the county. It takes four votes to pass anything unless someone recuses himself/herself for some reason. I must admit I am only slightly more comfortable with the gridlock inherent in that super-majority requirement than I am with the idea that two of three council members might conspire to manipulate County policies and practices to the benefit of one portion of the county and the detriment of another. But ask yourself, which scenario is worse?

Would a three member council make better decisions and make them more easily? Given the historic failures of our three-member County Commission to make good decisions prior to the approval of the Charter, I don’t see any conclusive evidence that three is better than six. The costly solid waste mess (excuse the pun) we are still grappling with is a result of the decisions of a three-member county commission, not the current six-member county council. The Council has gotten us closer to a solution than the old commissioners ever did.

Having observed the Council in action, I believe we do need a change that will eliminate the four vote super-majority required for the County Council to pass any measure. But rather than reducing the number of council members to three, I would prefer that the County Council present an initiative to the voters calling for county-wide election of a County Executive for a four-year term.

This change would solidify the separation of the policy-making (legislative) function from the administrative (executive) function. The current Council/Administrator approach has not worked very well since the Charter was adopted, perhaps because of the personalities involved, perhaps because of the issues facing the County, or perhaps because of the super-majority vote requirement created by having six council persons. But Propositions #1 and #2 don’t offer as good a solution as an elected County Executive would.

Having been elected county-wide, a County Executive would have the broad interests of the entire County at heart. He/she would also have the political power of that broad constituency to cajole recalcitrant council members into playing well together. The super-majority vote dilemma could be eliminated by having the Executive vote on ordinances or resolutions only in the event of a Council tie; or the Executive could abstain from voting in such cases, leaving a measure to die based on the tie. Such a vote by the Executive would be a clear message to the County Council - go back to work and formulate a workable policy that can pass with four votes.

An elected County Executive could put an end to the Council’s penchant for micromanaging things and focus them properly on their policy-making role. He or she would be responsible for developing and presenting a budget to the Council, and then would be responsible for operating the County within that budget. This change would not increase costs because, with an elected administrative officer, the County would not need to hire a six-figure public administrator.

The Executive could also serve as the County’s point of contact with the State government in Olympia, rather than a Council that speaks with six (or three) voices. That is a critically important function currently missing in our governance structure presently. But we don’t need to be sending three (much less six) council members down to Olympia to plead our case �" we need one authoritative voice speaking for all of us: an elected Executive.

If approved, Proposition #2 would destroy the separation of the legislative policy-making function from the administrative function. I have witnessed the confusion that is created when three people are involved in administering the operational functions of local governments. It is an historical artifact, but that doesn’t mean it works well. I could tell you horror stories related to three-member commission governments that make San Juan County look like Brigadoon. In our case, the continual interference of three County Commissioners in the administrative management of County departments was a key reason why many citizens voted in favor of the County Charter. When one considers the possible combination of Proposition #1 failing and Proposition #2 passing would create a hopelessly dysfunctional situation in San Juan County, even the remote prospect that six council members might be stirring the soup in the future is clearly too great a risk.

The separation of powers has worked well in our country at all levels of government and, for that matter, business structures as well (for example, corporate Boards of Directors and Chief Executive Officers). Management theory and empirical experience both demonstrate that performance is better when there is one person (and only one) in charge of managing the day-to-day business of an operational organization, especially one that delivers services. A strong executive is essential. Adding a County Executive to the structure would provide focused management of a majority of service delivery operations (e.g., public works, community planning, public health, etc), without emasculating the other elected officials (Sheriff, Auditor, Assessor, etc) excessively.

Thank you for reading and (hopefully) considering my views. I hope you will join me in voting NO on Propositions #1, #2, and #3.

(As a footnote, for whatever it may be worth, I have worked in and around local government for 45 years. I served as an elected councilperson in a community quite similar to ours (another island community). I was a municipal administrator (utility director) for a medium-sized city (Bellevue, WA) for five years. Then, as a management and financial consultant for the past 34 years, I have worked with towns, cities, counties, regional districts, boroughs, and state governments throughout the United States, and in Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. I help agencies create programs and organizations, and figure out how to fund them fairly and adequately. My clients have ranged from small municipalities to very large and populous cities, counties and states. I have authored hundreds of local, state, and federal ordinances, resolutions, laws, codes, interagency agreements, and operational manuals. I am recognized by the courts in a dozen states as an expert witness in my particular field of expertise, which includes the structure and funding of certain government programs. I served four years on Washington State’s Water Quality Advisory Committee (including two as chairperson), providing guidance to the Department of Ecology. I have worked for some very well-run local governments, and with others that (charitably) weren’t so great. I think I have a sound basis for judging the structure and performance of local governance generally. My wife and I have owned our home here for nearly 30 years, and have been full-time residents for over 15 years, so I think I understand the governance of our county, both past and present. )

Hector Cyre
Brown Island

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(10-11-12)
Yes, Yes, Yes Is The Answer


Dear Editor:

“Save Our Charter” is sure catchy -and rhetorical. It is intended to convince people unsure of the issues that voting yes is a return to the old commission form of government. I don’t buy it. I plan to vote yes for the Charter amendments and here’s why.

A three member council elected county-wide will best represent the interests of the entire county, not just one island. It gives each of us a stake in the outcome of all the Council seats. It will prevent a minority of the Council from dictating policy and governmental actions contrary to will of the majority and the people they represent.

Electing three full-time Council members, each paid a living wage, will open the door to a wider constituency. It will provide reasonable access to those with the necessary intelligence, skills and dedication, people who might not otherwise be able to juggle a job or business and family obligations with the demands of the Council. Paying a living wage in recognition of a full-time job is not feasible with a six-member council.

We have seen too many seats go unopposed lately -when this happens we don’t get the best leadership, we elect the person that shows up. More seats did not result in better representation.

Amendment #2 tasks the County Manager with assisting the Council. It doesn’t give individual Council members the right to direct staff or make personnel decisions. Elected department heads retain autonomy as mandated by State Law. In the last six years under the current Charter (with the hoped for separation of executive and legislative powers), was the outcome stronger administrative leadership? Let’s face it, unless elected by the voters, the administrator serves at the will of the Council and will never be fully autonomous. The second Charter Amendment language is realistic and strategic.

As for the third proposed amendment (language to ensure public access to all Council meetings,) the opposition does not disagree with transparency per se, rather, they ask the voters to vote no “to send a message.”

Seems to me that “yes, yes and yes” is the right message.

Sandy Strehlou
San Juan Island

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(10-10-12)
Support Refinement of the Charter for Better County Government


Dear Editor:

I urge all to vote "YES" and APPROVE the changes to the County Charter as recommended by the citizen-elected Charter Review Commission. I speak from experience.

I have been personally involved with San Juan County government over the past twenty years as a county committee volunteer and as an elected official. Between 2005 and 2011, I served both as a County Commissioner and a County Council Member. I was the first chair of the six-member County Council in 2007. I know both the commissioner and charter forms of our government and have first hand knowledge as to what works best for San Juan County.

Under the current charter provisions, our County Council is fragmented and not directly accountable to all voters. Our government has been more expensive, and it has been subject to the separate and independent actions of a county administrator and staff who need not take direction from our elected Council. An option to hold county meetings behind closed doors may continue, because all meetings are not required to be open to the public.

The recommended changes to the Charter refine our county government structure so it will work better for all of us (they do not repeal the Charter). These provisions will:

. Make all of our County Council Members elected by all of the voters in the county
. Provide that our county manager will be fully accountable to our elected Council members
. Reduce costs of government
. Assure that all Council committee meetings are open to our citizens

Please Vote to Approve Propositions 1, 2, and 3. Approve our citizen-recommended refinements to the Charter.

Bob Myhr
Former San Juan County Commissioner/Council Member

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(10-10-12)
Response to Rea Miller and Kevin Ranker


Dear Editor:

I admire and look up to both Rhea Miller [letter below -Ed] and Kevin Ranker for their hard work in the past for San Juan County, and for their ongoing commitments. My hat is off to them. I would vote for them again.

I know that they both give 150% to whatever engages their deepest commitment. That is why I am perplexed by their support for a return to full-time council members. We know that devoted representatives will always put in more time than their salary compensates them for, and non-devoted representatives will always put in less time than they are paid for. To go back to three unequal at-large districts in order to acquire full-time legislators is silly.

In addition, the myth of “empowerment” through unequally districted, at-large voting needs a reality check. The majority that elected Rhea Miller came from the “other” five voters from San Juan and Orcas for every one vote from Lopez. My one vote from Orcas was one of them. District inequality is not “empowerment.” In the election for Kevin, the numbers were four votes from elsewhere for every two votes from Orcas. This is empowerment only for other districts to elect “my” representative!

I will never forget how adamant my friends from Lopez were to hold on to their one-in-six chance to influence the outcome of the election for Orcas and San Juan and to keep their one-in-six chance of electing their very own Commissioner. The ability to have 100% of their voting strength within their own district for their own representative somehow seems to not be good enough for Lopez, and here’s why.

Under the old BOCC system to which the Pro CRC proposition folks want to return, Lopez held one-third of the vote on the BOCC even though Lopez is only one-sixth of SJC’s population. It is highly probable that back then, we had the most numerically gerrymandered county in the United States! This disparity was also one of the red flags which prompted the Charter movement to begin with, and if we go back to our old ways by passing Propositions #1 and #2, it will be a red flag again.

Referring to the numbers above, one only needs to ask; does the resulting at-large legislative body accurately represent the “entire” county? Does the entire legislative body represent the values of each district, or is the same homogenized majority being represented in all districts’ legislative members?

As of now, we are in compliance with the one-person-one-vote requirements set forth by the RCWs just like everyone else in WA state is. I would hope San Juan County representatives in the near future would be more interested in all the very important environmental and economic issues both Kevin and Rhea site as important, instead of trying to explain their way out of disproportionate district representation, vote dilution, and the return to the numerically gerrymandered San Juan County of the past.

Jeff Bossler
Former Orcas Freeholder

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(10-09-12)
Rhea Miller Supports Charter Changes


Dear Editor:

The suggested changes to the charter provide one thing for each and every citizen of this county -empowerment, and I support all three recommendations. When I was a commissioner, I noticed that few people at the State level took our part-time council member counterparts seriously. They simply were not “in the know.” I have personally sat in Olympia in the offices of the Department of Ecology, the Department of Transportation, the Department of Health, the Department of Labor and Industries (after going through all the security checks at the door), the Department of Commerce (CTED), and with the head of the State Parks department, Department of Natural Resources, and what is now Puget Sound Partnership, advocating on behalf of citizens. I have sat on a State/Federal panel for oil spill protection with legislators, the Coast Guard, and the shipping industry. I personally visited the Vessel Traffic System in Vancouver, BC, to learn best how to protect our waters. When I asked to speak with these department heads and staff, they listened, because they knew I was full-time, represented by all the voters in the County, and because I had administrative experience, which is their role in government.

The other part of empowerment is the simple ability to hold our County employees accountable to the public. Government and politics are messy in a democracy, but that comes with the territory. Citizens have a right to be heard and taken seriously. When the Council members lost administrative ability and had to funnel every concern through the county executive about a department’s handling of the public, the citizen was left yet another step away from having any impact.

There are other issues as well, such as the huge increase in cost of operating county government under the present system, but a full-time administratively functioning commissioner can make those budget changes, because they represent the public’s needs, not the need of the bureaucracy. Please vote Yes on these changes.

Rhea Miller
Lopez Island

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(10-08-12)
Vote to Protect our Charter


Dear Editor:

Vote No, No and No on the Charter Review Commission recommendations. There is no monetary savings in going from 6 part time Council members being paid 20+ thousand dollars a year to 3 “Full time” council members being paid 60+ thousand dollars a year.

There will still be an “Administrator”, only the name will change to “Manager”. Changing the name of that position, and doing away with the separation of powers, gives way too much power to a “Good Old Boys” Council, and doing away with the current one vote/ one person process would end up with unequal representation which could be legally challenged.

Frank M Penwell
Member
Charter Review Commission

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(10-08-12)
Vote NO on Charter Propositions 1 & 2


Dear Editor:

Over the past 3 years we have spent hours observing council meetings and we are as frustrated as others by the members’ inability to take decisive action on local issues that impact us all. We have asked ourselves, “Is it the Home Rule Charter or the people involved?”

Our conclusion is "the problem" is a hold over of the ways of the previous three commissioners and refusal to relinquish power to the new Administrator. Consequently, they never implemented the structure or the intent of the HRC. To add to this, our first Administrator (hired by Senator Ranker and Councilmen Lichter and Myhr) was weak and ineffective. This was not a fair test of the intent of the Home Rule Charter. Moreover, the Council has never let go of the former Commissioners’ propensity to micro-manage.

We are not in favor of electing candidates countywide. While it would be the intent of the three to represent all residents, we have seen time and again that each councilperson makes their decisions based upon the benefit of those to whom they answer. Just imagine the Lopez councilman having voted to allow cell sites on Lopez?

To add to this are our concerns about the high cost of campaigning countywide (estimated to be in the neighborhood of $40,000). We believe these costs will further erode the non-partisan intent of the HRC and encourage candidates to accept campaign funding from political parties and special interest groups, from within and outside the County.

Let’s look at the bright side. November 6 represents an opportunity to elect half of the Council as new members, and hire a well-qualified Administrator. It is time they/we citizens insist upon following the HRC, as written.

Vote No on Proposition 1 & 2 and elect three new Council Members and hire a strong Administrator!

We need strong leadership, and local representation, not less.

Jane and Dave Cable
San Juan Island

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(10-08-12)
Reject Charter Review Propositions 1 & 2


Dear Editor:

Countywide elections are not logical. The current method of voting only in your district ensures that all voters are properly represented on the council. This system provides objective and reasonable representation for all citizens. The existing model is similar to U.S. House of Representatives and is the best method for our county.

It has been proposed that three Council members will be better than the present six members. There is no evidence to support this proposal. It is nonsense to have one Council member from Lopez Island, one from Orcas Island and one from San Juan Island when the population of these three islands is not equal. The answer is the best-qualified six people are selected to be Council members. This is the responsibility of the voters of each district.

Council members should not be responsible for daily management of general functions of the county. A professional county manager who is responsible to the Council should supervise these activities. This method provides improved accountability and performance.

VOTE NO ON PROPOSITION ONE. VOTE NO ON PROPOSITION TWO.

Tom Ritter
Orcas Island

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(10-07-12)
Unfortunately Proposition Two Is No Better Than Proposition One.


Dear Editor:

Can you imagine how upside down the world would be if everyone got what they wished for?

We wish for different things. We wish for magic solutions. Sometimes we wish for a return to the past where our memories of nostalgic days are very different from what it was actually like.

When we think about going back to the good old days with 3 County Commissioners, we forget that the overwhelming voter majority repudiated that model and embraced the hard wrought promise of our Home Rule Charter.
And no one imagined a Charter Review Commission who would ask voters to remove every single elected Council member from office - all of them: the ones with 2 years left to serve on their terms and the new ones elected in November, thrown out of office after 5 months.

With barely a pretense of objectivity, the Charter Review Commission (CRC) adopted in its second meeting, an “outline of procedures” that gutted rather than reviewed the existing charter. From that point on the initials CRC stood more for Charter Revolutionary Committee.

During its “investigations and study” all of the former county board of commissioners were invited to testify. No invitation was ever sent to the Freeholders who had crafted and secured overwhelming approval of our charter. A few pushy Freeholders appeared without invitation and were effectively ignored.

Armed with the testimony of the disgruntled band of BOCC members clinging to a sanitized memory of “how it used to be”, the Charter Revolutionary Committee (aka CRC) recommended that:

* San Juan Island give up its three-of-six commissioners in exchange for one-of-three commissioners.
* A new election, costing we county taxpayers and estimated $50,000, to be held in April 2013, to select three new commissioners.
* All candidates for the new positions will have to incur the increased costs of running a countywide election. This is in addition to surviving a countywide primary recommended for February.
* All commissioners will have to serve full time, away from their current employment, if any.
* Reorganize the structure of county government even though no cost saving resulting from the change has been identified.

Effectively, county government will come to a standstill, since the lame-duck council will not be able to attract a truly qualified chief administrative officer, because he/she will not know the expected duties or powers until the new three-person commission is seated. (This time period is when the all-important $46 million annual budget is drafted and adopted.)

Considering the anger held by citizens across the nation toward a stalemated congress, it is easy to hold the thought, “Let’s just throw them all out!” That may sound good and let off a bit of steam, but let’s get real. Not even the Founding Fathers would have approved such an idea. Government should not be caused to founder.

But let us consider our options. In the upcoming November election we have an opportunity under our existing charter to select half of the next County Council. This is how democracy works. We hold the people responsible, not the charter.

What a disappointment the CRC has been. And what a terrible situation we could be if Proposition One was approved. Unfortunately, Proposition Two is no better.

Submitted by:

Don Pollard
San Juan Island

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(10-06-12)
Lopez Reader Supports Charter Propositions


Dear Editor:

I have been reading some of the letters submitted in opposition to the Charter changes and find some of them misleading. For example, one reads that the county-wide voting recommended by the Charter Review Commission results in “unequal representation,” or a violation of “one-person, one-vote.” But as I see it, when you have all voters vote for all three positions, there is no unfairness.

I like to think of San Juan County as one community, with some differences among islands. We elect one council to govern us. All the council should be voted on by all of us since many of the decisions the council makes have an impact on all of us. If the councilor from Lopez is going to make decisions that affect Orcas or San Juan, those islands should get to vote on who that councilor is going to be. Likewise, Lopez should have a say in voting for the councilors in the other districts.

Best of all, with county-wide voting, candidates will have to connect with islands other than the one they live on. We used to see candidates from Orcas and San Juan here on Lopez. And our candidates campaigned on Orcas and San Juan. Now we do not see candidates from other islands. They do not have to learn what our concerns are. The goal should be to make all councilors represent all voters. That is what the first charter proposition would accomplish.

Another misleading theme in some of the letters has to do with “separation of powers” The writers claim the second proposition, having the county administrator or manager under the direction of the council, violates some sort of principle. Actually, having the administrator or manager under the council just assures that the elected councilors govern the unelected administrator. Otherwise, the administrator is a power unto himself or herself. Is that democracy? Separation of powers makes sense when you have an elected mayor or county executive, but we do not have that system.

I hope the public is not being confused or misled by some of these anti-change letters. Study what the Commission is recommending and I believe that you will see that these changes will result in an improved charter, fair representation and better government.

Sincerely,

Liz Scranton
Lopez

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(10-05-12)
No on Charter Review Propositions 1 and 2


Dear Editor:

I am opposed to these Propositions because, unlike what is claimed by the proponents:

1) The fact is that the overwhelming majority of counties in the U.S. have more than 3 Council members
2) Proposition 1 would result in unequal and unfair representation
3) By electing full time representatives through expensive countywide campaigns it would a) open the door to special interest influence, b) change the nature of our candidates from working people in our community to “career politicians”, 3) give one island the opportunity to influence greatly who all three of the Council members will be.
4) Proposition 2, by having the Council run operations, would create a multi-headed boss structure that would politicize operations, open the door to “cronyism”, create confusion in operations, and lead to political jockeying; this would lead to less accountability not more.
5) Proposition 2 would make it much less likely that we could hire a highly competent, professionally qualified Administrator since the position would be reduced to that of a “lackey” of the Council.
6) The major components of these Propositions were locked in by the Commission by their second meeting; this process was supposed to have sought public input before deciding not after; only the input that supported their locked in decisions was used in their Findings report.
7) The purpose of the Charter Review was to fine tune the system that the voters approved in 2005, not gut it and return to the system we, the voters, decided was flawed.
8) Clearly, improvements can be made in the quality of our governance. However, that is best achieved by electing competent Council members to the three open positions and finding a competent and collaborative Administrator to fill that positions, not by gutting the Charter and creating disruption.

For more information on why we, the voters, should vote No on Propositions
1 and 2, please go to www.votenocharterreview1and2.com.

Please vote NO on Charter Review Propositions 1 and 2!

Art Lange
Orcas Island

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(10-05-12)
Give The Council Full Responsibility, Authority & Accountability


Dear Editor:

Proposition #2 of the CRC proposals to amend the County Charter is difficult to analyze because valid arguments can be made to support the current Charter language or the amended version as well. The intent of the original Charter was to curtail involvement/"meddling" by Council members in the administrative functions of County government. Notably, in granting executive powers to the Council in Section 2.31(2)(b), the amended proposal allows the Council to "manage all administrative offices and functions". OOPS !! Section 2.42, however states that no individual Council member can act unilaterally with any County employee without being "duly approved by a majority of the County Council".

I honestly can't state that the Council is precluded from any administrative interaction with County employees. That was the CRC's intent. The conflict in our discussions was directed more to the grey areas in which administrative departments such as the CDPD are involved in creating legislative ordinances for County compliance with State and Federal mandates. The CRC is proposing that there be more oversight of and direction to these departments on such matters.

Our government is a representative democracy and, as such, those representatives should be totally accountable to the voters and have ALL of the authority and responsibility to oversee the governance of San Juan County. The voters have not elected the current County Executive and that person should NOT be able to act independently of the Council's direction. Sen. Kevin Ranker spoke recently to this issue. This is a very difficult matter to resolve (and very dry to discuss with you all).

The question, and choice for the voters, is whether specific direction on such issues as the CAO should originate with the Council, OR be developed from the administrative side of County government. The CRC recommends, and I support, that the COUNCIL direct (not implement) all development of ordinances and compliance with State and Federal mandates. Should the Council have all responsibility, authority and accountability as your elected representative to determine the nature of our governance as we move forward into a rapidly changing future? If you agree, then you should vote YES for Proposition #2.

Ed Sutton
Orcas Iland

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(10-03-12)
Why the CRC wants you to vote yes


Hi Lopez!

My name is Orcas-San Juan. I’ve loved every County Commissioner you’ve ever had. It has been a pleasure to elect them for you. Having had 5 out of every 6 votes for “your” Commissioner, we were certain to always give you the Lopez representative we, I mean, you wanted.

Oh, and by the way, we have always been very happy with our own County Commissioners in the past here on Orcas-San Juan. We know you had no say in who we elected for ourselves. Well, OK. Your one vote for every five of ours did let you have your finger in the pie. But no matter, we really liked the way it worked in the good old days.

With that six-member council and district-specific voting we have now, things sure have changed. I hate to say it, Lopez, but you don’t even get one in six votes for the other five councilmembers. I can’t imagine you’re very happy with the 100% control you now have over your very own councilmember.

But think about us! We went from being able to choose your commissioner and now we have no say at all. You look really big to us now as the only whole-island district. Our Orcas-San Juan dominance has been divided up into parts equal to yours. We are no longer the dominant monolith we used to be. We used to vote at-large. Isn’t what’s good enough for Friday Harbor good enough for Lopez Village anymore?

I don’t care if at-large systems across the nation are going the way of the dinosaur. Maybe San Juan County should just be one district and we should all vote for just three representatives from anywhere in the County.

After all, that’s all at-large voting is anyway. Even with those pesky residency requirements, the same county-wide majority gets to rule all the islands.

…..you know……maybe it’s not a good idea to turn back the clock after all. I’m going to reject the CRC’s propositions 1 and 2 and vote absolutely NO!

Jeff Bossler
Orcas

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(10-03-12)
Hard To Accept Your Ideas Have Not Worked Out


Dear Editor:

I am currently a member of the Charter Review Commission (CRC). Six years ago I unsuccessfully ran for a Freeholder position but followed the process closely. I was not completely satisfied with the 6-person council, felt it was too large for our small community but liked the idea of an independent County Executive.
The independent County Executive; a professional to handle the every day management and administration of the County and the 6-person council to handle legislative matters. It has not worked out that way.

I can understand the extreme opposition from former Freeholders and the existing council for their stand against the changers recommended by the CRC. The Freeholders spent many long hours come to up with their recommendations it is hard to accept your ideas have not worked out. The existing council is also against the charter changes for basically the same reasons.

As much as I would have liked the original charter to work, after 6 years of its being in effect, I have to admit it has not and there is no guarantee that the County operations will change. Most successful business people have failed sometime in their lives, only to bounce back and become successful with a change of plans. We learn from our mistakes and move on.

We have to, as a County admit that our original idea for a Charter government has not worked as well as we hoped in some areas and make the needed changes.

What has not worked with the Charter is:

1. A six person council is not needed in our small County Most counties in the state and country work well with a 3-person council. We are the smallest county in the state. With a 3-person council the entire county will have a vote for each position, not just 1 of 6.
2. The County executive is a good idea, but not working in our county. The council did not allow the separation of powers to take place and has gotten involved in areas that should have been left to the executive.
3. Council members meeting behind closed doors with staff.
4. The county budget increased in six years from $30 to over $50 million.
5. If the Charter was functioning properly why did Pete Rose leave the Island for a lesser paying position?
6. Individual council members had 4 to 6 years to get the charter functioning as it should, and they haven’t Why should we now believe that they can or would function l within Charter rules?

Our County has worked fairly well for 150 years with a 3-person council. We are one of the smallest county in the state. Except for the larger counties most of the counties in the states, and for that matter, the country’s county’s operate with a 3 person council. Any governmental system has flaws, but as the last 6 years have shown us original charter has functioned properly and needs to be amended.

Any system depends upon the people who run the system; it is critical we elect people based on their qualifications, not on their ideology. Sometimes smaller is better. Please vote for the Charter amendments.

Bob Levinson
San Juan Island

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(10-02-12)
The Probable Unintended Consequences


Dear Editor:

Re: Charter Review Commission

If you are considering voting in favor of returning the County to a three Commissioner mode, please first consider some of the probable unintended consequences that could happen.

A tad more than half of all the voters in San Juan County live on San Juan Island and it’s adjacent islands. Under the CRC proposal, all three commissioners will be voted upon by ALL the voters in the County. This means that the selection of all three commissioners will be at the discretion of the voters of only one island.

As an example of what could happen, suppose there were two candidates vying to be the Lopez Island representative. Suppose one was a very well respected, well liked and long term residence of Lopez, and the other was a newcomer that didn't seem to be in sync with the Lopez Island viewpoints. Further, suppose the newcomer spent all her energy and time campaigning on San Juan Island and Orcas. She would probably win the election this way, and Lopez would be stuck with having a person representing them that they didn’t select, even though their favorite candidate received almost all of the Lopez votes.

As another example of what could go wrong, suppose the commissioners from Orcas and Lopez were both liberals, and the San Juan Island commissioner was the sole conservative on the board. For all practical purposes, the voters of Orcas and Lopez would be running the County government, and the majority voters on San Juan Island would have no voice in governing the County. (remember when Darcie and Rhea, both staunch Democrats, almost always voted together, and the Republican from Orcas was almost always outvoted? The Orcas voters were thus virtually disenfranchised.)

Gordy Peterson, in his September 12 As I See It piece, admitted that he wanted all three commissioners to represent his views. What if the voters of Orcas and Lopez didn’t like his selections? What recourse would they have?

Don’t disenfranchise yourself or others. Vote ‘NO’ on all three propositions.

Ed Carlberg
San Juan Island

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(10-01-12)
Freeholders respond to Kevin Ranker


Dear Editor:

We appreciate Kevin Ranker’s opinions on our Charter and we assumed that as one of seven former members on the old Board of County Commissioners (BOCC), he would endorse the Charter Review Commission’s proposals as soon as the CRC declared its pre-determined agenda. Similarly, it is no surprise that the CRC would select only former BOCC members for feedback and endorsements who would support the return of San Juan County to their preferred governance model created in the horse and buggy days 130 years ago.

A few years ago, San Juan County was energized to move forward and voted overwhelmingly in 15 of 17 precincts to adopt our current Home Rule Charter. We were essentially saying that the times demanded a new and more equitable form of representation; that the needs of our County had grown, but our governance model had not.

Our discussions in 2005 looked at such things as the enormous cost to candidates who had to run countywide. Some spent more than $40,000. If Proposition 1 passes, candidates face a new primary and a general election in 2013! Add it up. This does not square well with Kevin’s feeling that going back to this would open the field of candidates to “working and young families.”

We Freeholders analyzed, examined, interviewed, and researched before we made the recommendations the voters easily approved in 2005. The CRC might have benefited from this thorough and open approach, but they had no interest in seeing if any of us might offer useful suggestions on how to improve the Charter and why we supported the move forward.

For example, we found in interviews with BOCC members that there was concern about the lack of communication and teamwork among the BOCC. Our interviews with elected officials such as Paul Dossett, Randy Gaylord, Mary Jean Cahail, Bill Cumming, and Rhea Miller revealed their agreement that the 3 commissioner model with legislators, only able to talk to each other in public meetings, “is at best awkward, and leads to confused decision-making, delays in communication and decisions, and causes unnecessary debates and disagreements.” About our former system, all agreed that the “budgeting process was arbitrary, clumsy, and takes too much effort.”

The current structure does not “fracture our county or our ability to truly be a representative government” as Kevin alleges. In fact, we would argue that the old system with 3 unequal districts did fracture the county. Recent analysis published in the local media demonstrates the simple math: “In the three-commissioner at-large system we used to have, district vote was “diluted unequally”, and residency requirements do not change this simple math. In this system which the CRC is recommending we return to, if you live on Lopez, FIVE out of six votes for “your” commissioner come from the other two districts! If you live on Orcas, FOUR out of every six votes for “your” commissioner come from the other two districts. If you live on San Juan, THREE out of every six votes for “your” commissioner come from the other two districts.

We do not see facts to support Kevin Ranker’s opinions. Factual arguments are essential if we are going to set out to, at great financial expense, turn back the clock on our entire system of governance. The arguments are not there. Problems with the Charter’s structure have not been identified. The propositions from the CRC have not been shown to have positive effects. We urge voters to reject and vote NO Proposition 1 and Proposition 2.

Signed by former freeholders:

Charlie Bodenstab
Richard Fralick
Jeff Bossler
Lola Deane
Stephanie O’Day
Jeri Ahrenius
Greg Hertel
David Bayley
Bob Querry
Gayle Rollins
Stephanie O'Day
George Johnson
Ed Carlberg

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(09-29-12)
Council Members Deliver Incredible Value


Dear Editor:

I am voting to reject propositions 1 and 2 as put forward by the Charter Review Commission. While arguments for rejecting this ballot measure have been reasoned, specific and intelligent, arguments to approve have been emotional, nebulous and full of clichés.

In a recent letter, Stephen Garrison worries that “Council positions that take a lot of time but pay little” cannot attract candidates. He tells us that under the present system, “the field is open only to those of means” and that “a working person supporting a family cannot consider running.”

Let me remind you of the makeup of our last 3 person Board of County Commissioners elected countywide (what 3 full time pay gave us): One Professional Lobbyist/now professional politician; one retired literature/poetry writing professor; one retired business and non-profit consultant.

Compare with the makeup of our current 6 person County Council elected by district (what 6 part time pay gives us): One working mother/civic leader; one retired fire chief/ working metal sculptor; one artist/business owner; one physicist/business owner; one financial and operations manager; one substitute teacher/residential and business real estate manager.

Moreover, the current candidates for County Council District 4 Orcas West position would be surprised to hear that they could not have considered running. Both candidates are hardworking small business owners with families to support. Both are also known, respected and active members of the community (School Board, Eastsound Planning Review Committee).

We get incredible value from our “half-time” Council members. I would rather have 6 diverse minds thinking about the challenges we face in our county than three.

For more information on why I am choosing to vote No on Propositions 1 and 2, please go to www.votenocharterreview1and2.com.

Please vote to REJECT Charter Review Propositions 1 and 2!

Nanae Nagaoka Fralick
Orcas Island

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(09-28-12)
Same Election with Different Outcomes


Dear Editor:

If your mind is spinning around the pros and cons of Charter Review Propositions 1 and 2, don’t feel alone. I decided to put aside all the well-meaning and heart-felt opinions in order to get to the numbers that are fundamental to the issue. I was blown away! The propositions from the CRC easily result in smaller districts getting stuck with a candidate the district rejected outright, while using the same candidate support numbers in a “typical” equal district at-large election would have the opposite result!

Here’s how it works. Let’s have an election - the exact same election in a couple of different three-district at-large counties, with two candidates named “Andy” and “Benny” running against each other for a district called “District 1.” The only difference between these two counties is that one county consists of equally populated districts on the mainland, and the other is San Juan County in the old pre-charter days, with radically unequal districts. District 1 in San Juan County is only 1/6th of the population (aka Lopez).

In both counties, “Andy” running for the District 1 position got an overwhelming 70% of the vote in that district. However, in both counties, Districts 2 and 3 showed a moderate 55% support for “Benny”.

Remember that mainland equal-district at-large county? District 1’s choice of “Andy” won! Even though in the other two Districts, “Andy” was trailing 45% to “Benny’s” 55%, District 1 got their choice. BUT, remember the San Juan County of unequal districts? District 1 aka Lopez got “Benny”! - not “Andy” the one they voted for by a whopping 70%. Why? Because of the radically larger population of the other two districts. Even models using much closer numbers show the same results! Another district called simply “Orcas” was subject to similar numbers.

Unfortunately, our CRC is bent on anesthetizing the public in describing the return to our former system as nothing unusual, when in fact, we would be numerically the most gerrymandered county in the state and would not pass today’s standards of One Person One Vote. Reject and vote NO on propositions #1 and #2.

Jeff Bossler
Westsound

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(09-27-12)
12 Past Elected Officials Support Charter Amendments


Dear Editor:

Your former countywide Elected Officials urge you to support the Charter Amendments for better government in San Juan County.

Sincerely,

Mary Jean Cahail
Tom Cowan
Tom Starr
Alan Lichter
Paul Dossett
Bob Myhr
John Evans
Kathy Turnbull
Rhea Miller
Bruce Orchid
Bill Cumming
Kevin Ranker

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(09-25-12)
It Ain't Broke


Dear Editor:

We have all read many letters about the proposals of the CRC to amend the County Charter. I was a member of the Charter Review Committee, and, in retrospect, I have concluded that there is no compelling reason to change the structure of the current Charter. The Orcas Council representative, Patty Miller, asked the most pertinent question, "Did you define the problem?". NO, we did not !!

Comments and testimony from many citizens, including former and current Council members did not build a convincing case suggesting that we revert to the old Council structure of three full-time commissioners.

I would suggest that the comments were somewhat evenly divided between former commissioners who preferred the "old way", and the recent council members who testified in favor of the current Charter format of six part-time members.

I voted against submitting the ballot proposals because I concluded that the testimony did not support unwinding the effort of the Freeholders to create a Better Government that would result in Improved Governance.

Frankly, I think that the CRC missed an opportunity to build on the efforts of the earlier Charter group.

There was a pre-determined, orchestrated drive to unwind the changes that were approved by the County voters in 2005 by a margin of about 60%. Too, the CRC did not consider the costs or consequences of the process of reconverting our government to a three member Council.

I think that the most peculiar aspect of the arguments to revert to a three member Council that would be elected county-wide was the complete disregard for the work of the Redistricting Committee. The U.S. Constitution requires a Census every ten years and a redistricting of representation to assure the "One person, one vote" provision of the Constitution. The Constitution does not say "except" when you live on an island or on two different sides of a river.

The County was directed to balance the representation by council voting district to meet that requirement. I would imagine that Doug Pearson and his two colleagues must be frustrated that their volunteer efforts on behalf of the community were totally disregarded by the CRC.

The challenge of legal counsel for the CRC that this matter has been settled in the U.S. Supreme Court is disingenuous. We all know that that august body is capable of some very strange decisions (evidence the decision that corporations are "people").

So, I must conclude that the current Charter is not dysfunctional, "It ain't broke", and doesn't need to be fixed.

I will vote NO on ballot Proposition #1 to amend the County Charter and ask that you do likewise!

Ed Sutton
Orcas Island

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(09-24-12)
“Review” Does Not Mean “Reverse”!


Dear Editor:

In 2005, 21 volunteers researched the complex workings of our county, and sorted out what was successful from what needed improvement.

These county Freeholders acted somewhat like our nation’s Founding Fathers did, when they drafted our federal Constitution. After serious debate and compromise, we received a representative governmental that featured a strong system of checks and balances that would prevent abuse of power.

To ensure that the unique needs of citizens on each of our islands would be fairly represented, they proposed a six-member Council to deal with policy and legislation, and an independent Administrator to handle day-to-day operations.

Now, after a much shorter span of deliberation, a Charter Review Commission, some members of which were already set against the Charter forged in 2005, are trying to take away the real and significant improvements that were originally achieved.

Proponents of the revised Charter have said that the aim of the revision is efficiency. A three-member Council is more efficient than that of six, they say, requiring less debate and deliberation.

We must remember, however, that democracy is not meant to be efficient. In order for everyone to have a voice, time must be allowed for as much deliberation and debate as possible. As another writer has already pointed out, the most efficient form of government is a dictatorship, in which nobody’s voice is heard at all.

We are truly fearful that, if the people of San Juan County vote to undo our hard-won better government of the current Charter, we will have taken a giant, enduring, and destructive step backwards.

When voters approved the new Charter, it was with the requirement that it be reviewed occasionally thereafter. But “review” does not mean “reverse”!

Please vote No on Propositions 1 & 2.

Jean and Steve Henigson
Eastsound, Orcas Island

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(09-24-12)
Vote yes on Proposition No 2


Dear Editor:

In a recent letter to the Editor the case was made to reject Proposition No 2. In this letter it was suggested: “As the largest employer in the County responsible for the management of a budget in excess of $45 million consistent leadership is essential to deliver high quality services. This can be best achieved by the appointment of a quality County Administrator who understands our community’s needs and is HELD ACCOUNTABLE BY THE COUNCIL”.

The above argument is exactly why the CRC is recommending the changes in Proposition #2 and why you should vote yes for these changes. Proposition No 2 gives the Council authority to appoint (hire) a qualified County Manager (administrator) who understands our community’s needs and is HELD ACCOUNTABLE BY THE COUNCIL and therefore to the People.

The current Charter does NOT hold the Administrator accountable to the Council or to the People.

The changes to the Charter proposed by the CRC in Proposition No 2 gives complete latitude to the Council to hire anyone they believe is qualified to deliver consistent leadership and quality services. They could even hire the current temporary Administrator if they wish and give him the title of County Manager. So, the important change is appointing a quality Manager (Administrator) that is HELD ACCOUNTABLE BY THE COUNCIL and therefore accountable to the people of San Juan County.

Vote yes on Proposition No 2.

Ralph Gutschmidt
Orcas

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(09-25-12)
Simple Math of District Representation


Dear Editor:

Aside from all the steamrolling that went on in the Charter Review Commission (CRC), they missed the simple first-grade math that settles the debate. While we can all remember good and bad commissioners from our three-district past, no amount of reminiscence will ever change the fact that the simple math the Charter Review Commission (CRC) is recommending we return to violates One Person One Vote requirements set forth by State and Federal Law.

At-large districting is legal when each district is of equal population and therefore each district’s vote is “diluted equally”. For example, in a typical five-district at-large county, four out of five votes for “your” representative come from the other four districts! This model kills minority representation, but because it “dilutes each district equally”, it is legal.

In the three-commissioner at-large system we used to have, district vote was “diluted unequally”, and residency requirements do not change this simple math. In this system which the CRC is recommending we return to, if you live on Lopez, FIVE out of six votes for “your” commissioner come from the other two districts! If you live on Orcas, FOUR out of every six votes for “your” commissioner come from the other two districts. If you live on San Juan, THREE out of every six votes for “your” commissioner come from the other two districts.

Our current Charter uses six equal districts -six because it is the only number possible at this time due to population distribution. Now, for every 6 votes for “your” Councilmember, all six votes come from “your” district. Within the full Council, each district is equally and accurately represented (see JDistrict Power Comparisons Chart (.pdf 88\k file).

There is nothing unique about district-specific voting across America. This model enables the voice of a minority to at least be heard by their own representative. “Balkanization” does not occur because the majority still rules the day where uniformity is required.

In fact, the only “balkanization” I’ve seen so far has been the disgruntled minority of the CRC who cannot accept the overwhelming citizen support our current Charter has. Vote NO to reject Charter Review Propositions #1 and #2.

Jeff Bossler
Former Orcas Freeholder

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(09-19-12)
Reader Disappointed In Charter Proposal


Dear Editor:

I’m very disappointed by the significant changes being proposed by the Charter Review Commission (CRC). This group seemed intent from the start to gut our Charter with little more than strong opinions to justify their stance.

It’s not surprising that our neighbors on Lopez would like to see a return to the three commissioner format that previously gave them disproportionate influence in County governance. With roughly 1/3rd the population of San Juan, why wouldn’t they prefer to have equal voting power? At large elections aren’t the solution for this unequal representation. The CRC left intact the Charter’s requirement for non-partisan elections. Given that, how will anyone without a Political Party label raise $30,000 or more to mount a county-wide campaign?

Our current six council districts provide more than just balanced representation, as important as that principle is. It also allows more people with a variety of views to consider public service, running in a small district where their suitability for office would be more readily known. The glib assertion that these districts are “pitted against each other” is without merit. This isn’t a world of Chicago ward politics, and I trust that all six of our current council members have the greater good of the County at heart, even if I don’t always agree with them. I appreciate their diversity of viewpoints which ensures a healthy debate on the issues we face.

Upcoming legislative decisions will have significant financial consequences, directly or though the expense of legal appeals. I’d rather have four votes necessary to make law than the two needed under the proposed Charter changes.

Conservative “small government” advocates should note that there will be no cost savings by returning to a three person Commission since their salaries will at least double current council compensation.

Vote NO on Prop 1

David Bayley
San Juan Island

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(09-19-12)
Let’s Take Out Time & Get It Working Right


Dear Editor:

Reject Charter Review 1 and 2

What began in the late 19th, early 20th century as a good government reform movement still holds value for us today. The county administrator/commission form of government began as a result of a progressive movement that saw the previous strong mayor/ council form of government as an opportunity for corruption and influence peddling. The second strand for reform was the concept of professional administration for municipalities in much the way that business operated with a CEO and a board of directors. In addition a professional administrator was seen as someone who could serve as a buffer between county employees and elected officials, allowing those employees to get on with their jobs without undo meddling from elected officials.

Today by far most municipalities and counties across the United States operate quite successfully with a professional administrator appointed by the commission and a commission elected by the voters. This allows for a separation of powers between the legislative and executive branches of government in addition to providing professional management. Admittedly not always is the administrator a perfect fit for a particular municipality, but when the fit is a good one, all the constituents are well served.

The idea that three elected citizens with little or no training in public administration can serve as professional directors of the county’s business is whimsical at best and can be downright damaging to county efficiency and employee morale. I would urge my fellow citizens to give the reforms enacted in the previous charter review amendments an opportunity to succeed and reject the current attempt of Charter Review Propositions 1 and 2 to return to a flawed system the voters chose to improve back in 2005.

For more information on why we, the voters, should Reject Propositions 1 and 2, please go to www.votenocharterrecview1and2.com.

Midge Kraetzer
Orcas Island

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(09-16-12)
Let’s move forward not backwards


Dear Editor:

After serving under the charter form of government for the last 20 months, I have come to fully appreciate the value its separation of legislative and administrative functions provides.

I can attest to the magnitude of the political pressure that is asserted on our council members. More so than ever before, the current Council has provided our citizens with new avenues to provide input and to observe their government at work. This connection to our constituents is extremely valuable as the Council makes policy decisions in our role as the County’s legislative body.

On the administrative side of government, we need to ensure our policies and programs are consistently and fairly delivered and enforced and are not subject to the demands of the vocal minority. As the largest employer in the County responsible for the management of a budget in excess of $45M, consistent leadership is essential to deliver efficient high quality services. This can be best achieved by the appointment of a quality County Administrator whose understands our community’s needs and is held accountable by the Council under the current charter. If the voters are unhappy with the degree to which the Council members have held the administrator accountable then we must elect new council members, not change the structure.

Let’s not take a step backwards and put the management of the day to day operations in the hands of elected officials who may not have any management experience. The existing Charter system has in place a set of Rules of Operation regarding the working relationship between the Council and the Administrator. This document can be improved without gutting the Charter model and reverting to the system to voters found to be flawed in 2005.

Please join me in voting to reject Propositions No. 1 and No. 2.

For more information on why we, the voters, should vote No on

Propositions 1 and 2, please go to www.votenocharterreview1and2.com.

Patty Miller
SJ County Councilmember
Orcas East - District 5

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(09-15-12)
Pat O'Day Lacks An Understanding Of Charter Form Of Government


Dear Editor:

Pat O’Day’s letter below shows a general lack of understanding of Charter government. I’ll get to that in a minute.

He also takes a personal shot at me. I know I’m an easy target but this is ridiculous. He says, “Peterson’s nose is still bent as the thoughts he offers were previously rejected during the original Home Rule planning.” First, if I got my nose bent every time an idea of mine got “rejected” my nose would have more bends in it than a box of paperclips! Second, as Chairman of the Commission, I didn’t make motions and I didn’t vote except in a few rare instances. The amendments were supported by a large majority (17 members) of the Commission.

Here are some facts Pat should pay attention to. Amending the Charter is a bonus feature of Home Rule. It is typically done to fix problems before they get worse. Five other counties in Washington have a Charter form of government. Several years ago King County had a Charter Review that put 10 Amendments on the ballot. Their Council added 6 more for a total of 16 on the ballot at once. Most Charter counties amend their Charter often. Sitting Council members usually disagree with Charter Review Commissions. The Commissions are elected by the people so they can be independent of the Council and take an objective view of how government is working. In the case of San Juan County the Charter Review Commission tried to suggest some fundamental course corrections that will improve Home Rule. Most amendments are controversial. It is to be expected.

What is different here is that some people feel the Charter is working perfectly! These die-hard supporters of the Charter are like religious fundamentalists. They believe that the Charter was divinely inspired and regardless of the evidence, it should not be challenged in any way. I call them “Charter Thumpers.”

Pat (Thumper) O’day is also wrong when he says, “The three will then again politically meddle and micro-manage the county employees, Department Heads.” If he would take time to read the amendment he would see his obvious mistake. A County Manager is required (not optional) to run the operations of the County. The Council is forbidden to meddle and the penalty is “recall” if they do (Please see section 2.42 quoted below).

So once again my friend Pat is just misinformed and does not understand the Amendments on the November ballot. The Charter Thumpers are putting too much misinformation out there right now. I hope you will take time to study the issues yourself. Don’t be a Thumper.

I hope this direct quote will clarify the issue of Council members “meddling.” They do so at their own peril.

“In all interactions with County employees, County Council members shall exhibit ethical and respectful behavior. No individual County Council member shall direct or discipline, or threaten to direct or discipline, not any County employee, whether department heads, supervisors or volunteers unless such direction or disciplinary action, or warning concerning such direction or disciplinary action, has first been duly approved by a majority of the County Council. Any directives or discipline by County Council members shall be made through the established chain of authority. No disciplinary action by the County Council may be taken with respect to another elected official or an employee or volunteer hired by or reporting to other elected officials.” (Amended Charter section 2.42)

Gordy Petersen
San Juan Island
[ Mr. Petersen is the former chair of the CRC (Charter Review Commission)]

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(09-14-12)
Lets Nor Return To the "Good Ole Boy" form Of Government


Dear Editor:

Gordy Peterson and Ralph Gutschmidt [letters below-Ed] want you to rip apart five years of Home Rule progress for our county by going back to the dark ages. Here are the only problems we’ve experienced.

#1. Some of the hold over Council Members stubbornly played by the old rules.
#2. Prosecutor Randy Gaylord failed to correct the Council when it departed from it’s sworn role as only legislators. He should have insisted they leave the business operation of our county to experienced, seasoned, professional Administrators.

The CRC claims their amendments will give power back to the people. What people? Certainly not the people on San Juan Island who will lose two of their three representatives. Peterson’s nose is still bent as the thoughts he offers were previously rejected during the original Home Rule planning that our citizens overwhelmingly approved. The Charter Revue Committee may be blind or just naïve as they lack the credentials, and government background, qualifying them tinker with our precious Home Rule advances.

Their CRC plan they ask you to approve, gives administrative power back to just three councilmembers. One from San Juan. One from Orcas and one from Lopez which now gains one third of the governing from it’s 1/10th of the population.

The three will then again politically meddle and micro-manage the county employees, department heads, and our myriad of ever growing regulations. By any management standard, that’s a mess!

We citizens beg to be governed by laws and regulations, not the “good ole boy” system. We beg San Juan County Citizens to embrace the structure of nearly every town, city, and county in the U.S. For our county, this is even more critical as our financial dangers are real and popularity contest winners do not make good financial, nor people Managers.

It’s 2012! San Juan County must separate the legislative body from Administration. It’s a fundamental of good government and it’s called “Separation of Powers!” The Council does hire our Administrator, and now with errors of the past three years behind us, he’ll have the power and tools to operate our great county efficiently, effectively, and economically. The problem was NOT with the Home Rule Charter. It simply needed to be properly implemented! PROP 2 will propel us into a backward spiral of chaos, confusion and anger. You voted for Home Rule! Now defend it. Reject Proposition 2. Vote NO! NO! NO!

Pat O’Day
San Juan Island

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(09-14-12)
Thank You Past Freeholders, But No Thanks


Dear Editor:

I write in support of the three charter amendments proposed by the Charter Review Commission (CRC).

I agree totally with their findings that:

Six council members are an awkward number - and just too many.
The addition of a county administrator added too much expense without any real accountability to the voters.
The committee system led to too many meetings being closed to the public.

I do appreciate the arduous work done by previous freeholders and the recent charter review committee. Democracy can be a slow, even painful process. We are lucky here to have citizens willing to put in the time to try and improve our local government. I sincerely thank them all. We’re also lucky to have a charter government that can be changed.

But what a bad joke to claim that the CRC recommendations will lead to a county takeover by the people of Lopez.
What about Waldron? I’ve heard the real revolutionaries are hiding out over there, waiting for their takeover chance.

Meanwhile, I will vote yes on the charter amendments. I hope many others will too.

Regards,

Lee Sturdivant
Friday Harbor

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(09-12-12)
CRC Prop 1: Six vs. Three


Dear Editor:

There have been recent letters expressing concern that Lopez Island would have equal footing in county governing along with Orcas and San Juan. This was the status for about a hundred years, that is, until we created six commissioners five years ago.

Now we, the big boys on the block, demand that we must retain this 3 to 1 representation. Why? Are we smarter? Do we know what is best for everyone? Do we need more jobs here? The State Supreme Court in their wisdom many years ago recognized that islands develop different personalities, from which come different needs and desires and that they should all have equal representation. Therefore, San Juan County was given a waiver from the “one man one vote” rule. That is how it worked for our entire history, except these last five years.

So now we have been the Big Guy for five years. Have we taken the reins and led the county to new highs of accomplishments? Hell no. But we have learned that six people dither and worry a problem to death much, much more than three people. Also, a case can be made that six people will spend more and cost more than three.

Demanding all the power is often counterproductive. We will still have the majority of votes for all three commissioners. Vote YES on the CRC changes.

Jim Stegall
San Juan Island Member of the CRC

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(09-11-12)
Vote Yes For Proposition #2


Dear Editor

The Charter Review Commission’s platform is simple. We the people should control our local government instead of being controlled by it. We should take steps to improve the Charter, downsize, and get our financial house in order. To do this we need to put all voters in control of all Council positions and make the Council in charge of administration. We need to take control of our government.

I urge you to vote for the Charter revisions.

In our current Charter, citizens are two steps away from keeping their County Administrator accountable to the people. The people have no direct control over this very powerful position. This needs to be changed. Your Charter Review Commissioners are recommending in Proposition #2 to require a County Manager who’s duties are delegated by the Council who’s members are all accountable to all the voters. We will hold them accountable for their actions or failure to act.

County spending is out of control. Your Charter Review Commissioners looked at the Council’s own predictions of enormous growth in budgets which will result in deficits, debt, and increased taxes. Salaries are going up and services are going down. As the county government accelerates in size and complexity our current Council appears helpless to fix it. We the people need to fix it now by voting for sensible changes in our Charter that will bring control back to the people.

Ralph Gutschmidt
Orcas Island

[ Mr. Gutschmidt is CRC commissioner]

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(09-10-12)
Petersen Takes Issue With O’Day On Separation Of Powers In SJC


Dear Editor

In Stephanie O’Day’s letter she makes a common mistake. Her use of the term “Separation of Powers” in context of the Charter reveals a basic misunderstanding of the concept. She states, “Proposition 2 would annihilate the constitutional principal of Separation of Powers.” This is simply false. Here’s why.

Separation of powers is based upon the concept of co-equal branches of government. At the heart of this doctrine is the fact that no branch of government is subject to another. In terms of our Constitution, branches are separate, independent, and equal. The President can’t fire the Congress for doing a bad job and vice-versa. Judges are appointed for life and their jobs are protected until resignation or death. The 3 branches of government are independent of each other. They each have a political base and can stand separate from each other.

This has nothing in common with how our Home Rule Charter works. The way the Charter is set-up defines the Administrator as an employee of the Council. If they don’t like him they can fire him. Standing up to his employer in any way puts his/her job in jeopardy because the position is subject to the Council. The truth is that under the Charter the Administrator isn’t even equal to any independently elected department heads. This has created serious problems in the budget process especially when cooperation breaks down between the independently elected Auditor and the Administrator. It is not separation of powers at all and it isn’t working.

Charter Amendment (Proposition 2) is an attempt to correct this. Instead of putting all Administrative power in the hands of an unelected and unaccountable bureaucrat this amendment requires the Council to delegate it to a manager who runs the day-to-day operations of the County. Voters hold the Council accountable for the manager’s actions or failure to act. They work as a team instead of against each other in petty power struggles.

There are 30 counties in Washington (with larger budgets than ours) that operate within similar structures. None of them have the structure Ms. O’Day wants to keep. It was an experiment and it doesn’t work. It’s not Separation of Power. Please take time to learn the facts and vote to improve our Home Rule Charter.

Gordy Petersen
San Juan Island
[ Mr. Petersen is the former chair of the CRC (Charter Review Commission)]

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(09-08-12)
Council Must Stay Out Of Day-To-Day County Business


Dear Editor

You may remember the confusion and chaos which had escalated prior to Home Rule, when the Board of County Commissioners wore all the hats. Our prior governmental system was established in the 1800’s when the commissioners were elected to simply oversee the roads.

Things have changed since then - notably we now have a $45,000,000 County budget, which necessitates professional management.

The Home Rule Charter we adopted in 2005 embraced the sound federal and state principle of separation of powers. The Charter created three efficient branches of government:

* the Legislative branch to create the laws (County Council);
* the Executive branch to carry out the laws and manage the county (County Administrator);
* the Judicial branch to interpret the laws (Hearing Examiner).

Unfortunately, some members of the CRC (Charter Review Commission) want to take a giant step backwards. Proposition 2 would annihilate the constitutional principal of Separation of Powers. The power granted by the citizens to the Administrator would be given it back to the Council.

This is a really bad idea.

These are not the old days. Citizens deserve to have one professional individual at the helm who has the education, background and credentials to properly run our county. This individual must be given the power to carry out the laws. It is unfortunate but true that the former BOCC refused to cede power to the Administrator, but these things take time.

As Pete Rose said, six years is the blink of an eye in government. Give it time. It is working. It will work even better when new council members are elected this fall.

Please do not give the Council the power to micro-manage county department heads. The Council must stay out of day-to-day county business. It did not work then and it will not work now.

What successful company is run by three Presidents?

Separation of Powers is a sound principle. Please reject Proposition 2. We must move forward, not backward.

Stephanie Johnson O’Day
San Juan Island

(O'Day is a local attorney)

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(09-06-12)
Vote In Favor Of All Three Amendments


Dear Editor

Strip away the politics and islanders are all decent and exceptional people. One thing we all have in common is that our highest priority in life is not what we do but where we live.

As independent islanders we will always disagree and argue about every issue. But losing control of our local government means that we can’t do much about it anymore. The good news is that we can take control again.

The people’s control of our government is the core principle of Home Rule. I believe we have lost it and become increasingly divided because of the way the Charter was set up. Here’s why.

Since the inception of San Juan County voters had the ability to control their own destiny by voting for all of their representatives. The Charter changed that. Now we can only vote for one and we are divided into 6 small districts pitted against each other. Not only do we have geography separating us we now have our government structure working to divide us. Under a flawed Charter we have created an artificial way to divide ourselves.

The islands need to be unified. The Charter damaged this concept. We should never forget that our islands, with their diverse interdependent communities, must be unified in the way they are governed. The people we elect should always act in the best interest of the entire County not just their own island.

The recommended changes to the Charter are simple, tried and true. Reduce the size of the Council. Limit the power of the Administrator and put it more clearly into the hands of the leaders we elect to delegate as they see fit. Make government transparent. Give control back to the people. And most importantly, bring our islands together again. Please consider voting in favor of the 3 Charter Amendments!

Gordy Petersen
San Juan Island

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(09-05-12)
Vote NO on Prop 1


Dear Editor

Vote to reject Proposition No. 1 as put forward by the Charter Review Commission. Here’s why.

The proposition includes three distinct elements:

The County Council is reduced from six (6) members to three (3) members

Council Districts are reduced from six (6) districts having nearly equal population to three districts having very unequal population.

Voting changes from nominating and electing council candidates within each Council District by only the voters in that district to nominating and electing council candidates within each Council District by the voters of the entire county.

Consider each element.

Why would three be better than six? The reasons advanced in the findings of the Charter Review Commission rely exclusively on opinion and on the fact that most counties in Washington have three Commissioners. We were doing it that way before we adopted the Charter. When we voted for the Charter specifying six Council Members we intended to improve representation. I think six has given us that improvement. My Council Member is elected by me and the other voters in my Council District. Likewise, your vote, in your District, gives you better choice and a stronger voice. Why would we go back?

Why would three unequal Council Districts be better than six equal Districts? The 2010 census put the county population at 15,769. The council structure being proposed divides that total into three districts (San Juan, Orcas, and Lopez/Shaw) with populations of 7,662; 5,354; and 2,753 respectively. One Council Member would have to come from each district. Why would we do that? Geography should not override equal representation.

Finally, I think electing our representatives to the Council is better done closer to home. The result is much more likely to elect a Council reflecting a broader spectrum of viewpoint and philosophy. It prevents the same countywide electoral majority from entirely dominating the process for each council race. It’s much more democratic and provides better representation.

Please join me in voting to REJECT Proposition No. 1, Charter Review.

You can find additional information at www.votenocharterreview1and2.com.

Leonard Wood
Orcas Island

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(09-02-12)
Appel Responds To Peterson Response


Dear Editor

Context is everything in decision making. This is absent from Ms. Peterson's letter [see below -Ed] of earlier today:

1. My first discussion concerning number of council members was to suggest five to escape the logjam embedded in the present Charter. That didn't fly in discussion (I recognized serious impracticalities), so I immediately went for three, that being the only alternative that entailed (a) no built-in log jams, (2) no redistricting complications, and (3) constitutional certainty. In this last connection, Randy's opinions were reviewed at length.

2. Randy was asked many questions and asked to respond immediately during our meetings. Some answers were changed upon further reflection. The practice of law is not a slot machine. The CRC is greatly indebted to Randy for his services on a seven-day-a-week basis.

3. As to bias, each came with his or her own views. This is the case in all legislative acts. Some considered the realities of the needs of the County and adjusted their views. One or two felt that retention of their initial views reflected their integrity irrespective of what they heard at meetings.

4. Some of our votes were close, some lopsided. I suffered a number of lopsided losses, but I do not believe anyone got everything they hoped for. This is the nature of a group decision, and by its nature, some will suffer personal disappointment. Such disappointment is irrelevant, even if it continues to be selectively expressed.

5. Other matters are matters of personal opinion. This is now for the voters to decide.

Bill Appel
Waldron

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(09-02-12)
Disagreement With Bill Appel’s Facts & Conclusions


Dear Editor

Like Bill Appel, I am a member of the Charter Review Commission. (CRC) In my opinion, our meetings were characterized by predetermined outcomes, tenacious disregard for opposing opinions, and a set of final recommendations that illustrate the substantive weakness of the entire process.

Fortunately, there are records any interested voter can explore, records such as the minutes of the January 14 meeting of the CRC, a meeting I missed because of illness but was able to watch on video. The CRC had only convened one time before that meeting. My expectation was that we would launch a review, as the Charter specified - a study of issues, a plan to research all sides, and, after weeks of interviews and deliberation -proposed amendments to make the Charter better.

Isn’t that the way you would proceed if you were a CRC member? Collect facts and testimony and then draw conclusions? But it wasn’t to be. The CRC made their decisions and then set out to find the carefully selected evidence that supported them.
The fateful second meeting of the CRC included a motion made, seconded, and passed unanimously to recommend going back to the old 3-member legislator model. Bill made that motion. Bill’s next motion was for 3 legislative districts. According to the minutes, there was no discussion. The motion passed unanimously. A motion to define the districts on the basis of the old 2005 boundaries also passed unanimously.

The so-called “working model” was drawn and taped to the wall for every meeting thereafter. Any attempt to revisit the January 14th motions so we could talk about numbers other than three and districts other than the preferred unequal ones, was quickly dispatched, often with little or no discussion.

Bill says “we all had a job to do, rolled up our sleeves and did it.” If the job was to steamroll the process, make the major changes 8 days into our deliberations that would gut the Charter, and then commence to interview the very people (former members of the Board of County Commissioners) who could be counted on to support the CRC majority, then the CRC did its job.

On the matter of our small County and its supposedly poor voting record, that is a matter of opinion, an opinion Bill does not share with Sam Reid, the Secretary of State. According to SJ County’s Annual Report, our 2011 population of 15,900 had 11,574 registered voters. Even more impressive is how many of us voted. “69.55 percent of San Juan County voters cast ballots, tops in the state,” according to Secretary Reid.
Bill then uses his incorrect information to conclude that we may very well “vote on personalities, stories heard, rumors, and yes, fear and uncertainty.” I believe this is representative of what I witnessed from the CRC majority -poor data (or none at all), weak reasoning, and unsupported claims.

Bill says the CRC chose reality over theory. I disagree. I believe they chose bias and the absence of genuine review over methodical inquiry. As all attorneys know, inquiry must precede advocacy.

Janice Peterson
San Juan Island

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(09-02-12)
Charter Review Commission Recommendations Explained


Dear Editor

As I read some of the letters in The Island Guardian and other publications I feel the public is being given less real information than they need in order to evaluate the changes proposed for our Charter. I hope the following description of the amendments is helpful to simplify and clarify what is being suggested. The public is invited to consider as individual voters whether what they read below would lead to “gutting” the Charter or merely improving it:

Description of Charter Amendments to be on the ballot in November:

1. The first amendment will reduce the County Council from six members to three members, each from one of three districts but elected county-wide. Each voter will vote for all three Council positions.

2. The second amendment will replace the County Administrator with a County Manager accountable to the elected County Council.

3. The third amendment will require that all meetings among members of the County Council be public.

Rationale

For amendment 1: The present charter requires that County Council members be elected only by districts. Council members are therefore accountable to only one-sixth of the electorate. This has fostered disunity in a county already fragmented by geography. Making Council candidates campaign county-wide, as they did before 2006, will give each voter more power, unify the county, and make council members attend to the needs of the county as a whole.

For amendment 2: The present charter gives all executive authority to an unelected administrator. This has resulted in virtual autonomy for the county administration and created conflict with the Council. Amendment 2 replaces the administrator with a manager accountable to the elected Council.

For amendment 3: Because the Council has six members, under state law committees of three can meet in private, as they are not a majority. But they have the power to design legislation without public scrutiny and to block legislation they do not like when the Council meets. Recently the Council was persuaded to make committees of three meet publicly. However, committees of two can still meet privately, and the Council could in the future reverse their policy. Amendment 3 would prevent both from happening.

For more information, see the official findings of the Charter Review Commission and read the Commission’s minutes. Both can be found at sanjuanco.com under “Charter Review Commission.”

Richard Ward
Lopez

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(09-02-12)
Charter Review Commission Responded To Reality


Dear Editor

I am a member of the CRC, and am well aware of Randy's advice concerning the institution of separate voting districts having unequal populations. As Prosecutor, Randy has been invited to respond (I am a volunteer civil deputy but am not writing in that capacity) on this issue. CRC discussions included this topic in depth. This included the possibility of a lawsuit because a San Juan County voter who doesn't fully understand the last US Supreme Court decision on the topic will feel the need to find out for his/herself at considerable expense, and hope to delay the election (which it won't). In fairness to such people, the three members from separate residency districts does seem counterintuitive. But the US Supreme Court held that so long as all qualified voters get to vote on all candidates, and the effect is not motivated by impairing the rights of a constitutionally protected class, such arrangements do not violate the US Constitution. As a result, similar voting structures have been consistently upheld.

On other matters, we are a small county. The number of people who actually vote is relatively few. Considering how hard our forefathers (and mothers) fought for this right, it's embarrassing. With so few voting, we are tempted to vote on personalities, stories heard, rumors, and yes, fear and uncertainty. The early CRC meetings were meetings of relative strangers. But we knew that the current Charter, though beneficial to some, had real problems. I never thought I would be working so closely and cooperatively with some with whom I have so little politically in common. We were charged to work together, and practicalities, not ideologies, had to control. This caused people all along the political spectrum to work together. Some early on had strong views, not all of which prevailed. Faced with an existing Charter that had built-in contradictions of purpose versus effect (such as having six council members), and recognizing the impracticalities of other numbers (such as five which I first supported), we reverted to three because it fit the understood historical pattern, and in light of the US Supreme Courts decisions, represented a workable "safe harbor" from constitutional attack.

The Administrator/Manager issue has less to do with separation of powers than with making the elected council members politically responsible for the acts of the Manager. We discussed electing the Manager, which would mimic state and federal models of separation of powers, and decided that for a county of our size, enough is enough. The existing system, with no political accountability on the part of the Administrator who had no policy latitude, clearly wasn't working, and our current council members already duplicate many functions of the Administrator. There is theory, and there is reality. The majority of us chose reality.

But we all had a job to do, rolled up our sleeves and did it. We are not sages; the voters will decide. It is our hope that the voters will not be misinformed or treated with statements taken out of context. That would be a disservice to those who sought to serve you all. I am, however, mindful that it is a lot easier to be an anti-aircraft gunner than a pilot.

Bill Appel
Waldron

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(08-29-12)
Keep Checks & Balances/ Vote No On Charter Review Proposition 2


Dear Editor

Charter Review Proposition 2 wants to give our County Council the responsibility of managing operations. What a dangerous, double-edged sword to give them. On the one hand, as our elected representatives they could advocate for constituents who feel they have been wronged and intervene on their behalf. That sounds like a pretty good thing. On the other side of that sword, it would open the door to “advocating” selectively on behalf of their “friends” who may have helped them get elected.

The founding fathers of our country understood this dilemma well when they designed a system of “separation of powers” with “checks and balances”. The same issues exist for our local government today.

The Freeholders in 2005 proposed our present system of checks and balances and it was passed by us voters. Proposition 2 would go back to a system that we voted to change because it was flawed at that time. It won’t be any better this time around either.

Several checks and balances already exist within the present system to ensure that constituents receive fair and proper treatment. Let’s continue to move forward in an intelligent manner rather than revert to an already proven flawed system.

Please vote NO on Charter Review Proposition 2.

Elizabeth Barth
Eastsound

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(08-28-12)
Vote Yes On 1, 2 & 3 Charter Changes


Dear Editor

I am recommending that you vote yes on the Proposed Charter Amendments, Propositions 1, 2, and 3, for the following reasons.

Overkill - We don’t need 6 people on the County Council. We only need 3. Observing the meetings of the current council, one can’t help but note the long list of issues they seem to think are worthy of their docket, and the laborious discussions that ensue. Much of this has to do with the multitude of outside committees and issue groups being attended by the 6 council people. They have too much time on their hands and need to spend part of their valuable time handling executive/management decisions. This leads me to the next point.

Administration - Administrative/Executive authority needs to be returned to the Council. With an experienced county manager and competent department heads, the Council can, and should, be actively involved in running the affairs of the County. Any citizen should be able to call or meet with their Councilperson on practically any subject and seek assistance or express ideas and opinions. This is the way it has always been in our County. But the recent Charter provision took away the Executive role from the Council and gave to an Administrator who doesn’t report to the citizens.

Open meetings - Please, no more sub-committee meetings. All the council business needs to be done in open, properly advertised sessions.

With 3 conscientious, committed , and reasonably intelligent council members, the proper management and supervision of all the County functions can take place. This is the way it happens in 33 of the 39 counties in Washington, and we know it can work in San Juan County as well.

Tom Starr
San Juan Island
(Tom Starr was a County Commissioner: 1993-1996)

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(08-26-12)
Vote NO on 1 & 2 Charter Changes


Dear Editor

I am urging a no vote on both Propositions 1 and 2 of the Charter Review. We owe a thank you to the review commission members who considered the issues. We owe it to ourselves to vote no on Propositions 1 and 2 Charter Review.

I see no benefit in reducing the current 6-member council to 3 members. There will be no cost savings. Under the Open Public Meetings Act, any two of them are a quorum so they can never meet, exchange emails, conference call or even research a problem outside of a public meeting. The County is a $40 million dollar, complex enterprise. The best chances for creative decision-making under these draconian conditions will come from having 6 brains, 6 sets of expertise and life experiences tackling the issues. Why pay the same amount of money to get one half the level of input and expertise?

The cost of running a countywide campaign under Prop 1 is too dear a price to pay. It is estimated it will cost between $30,000 to $50,000 to campaign countywide. Currently it takes $7,000 to run in a district. That means we now elect our council for a combined campaigning cost of about $42,000. If we pass Prop 1 we will spend somewhere around $90,000 to $150,000 electing our council. Unless you consider signage an “investment” that money is forever lost to community. Does that make any sense to you?

Candidates will not go into personal debt to finance a $30,000+ campaign. They naturally will seek outside “support”. If there is one system we all loathe it is one called “the best candidate money can buy”. Passing Prop 1 means we reinvigorate the vested, special interest, political financial support game we have thus far managed to largely avoid. Do you really want to up this ante?

Finally, passing Proposition 1 would give disproportionate representation to Lopez. They have fewer people but will end up with 1/3 of the vote. One vote per major island is a flawed model. Currently we enjoy as close to the one vote per person model as we can get. We are better off for it. Vote no on Proposition 1 and 2 of the Charter Review.

Respectfully,
Martha Farish
Co-chair with Art Lange
Vote No on Proposition 1 and 2 Charter Review Committee

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(08-25-12)
Charter Can Be Changed Next Year


Dear Editor
As a member of the San Juan County Council, I read John Evans’ recent letter with interest and some amount of surprise. I would appreciate the opportunity to offer my own perspective on our Home Rule Charter.

John regards the Charter as an experiment that will be improved by the “adjustments recommended by the Charter Review Commission.” I would like to suggest that going back to 3 council representatives, reprising the old districts with unequal population (one island with1/6 of the population and another with ½ the population receiving the same amount of council influence), going to full-time legislators, stripping the Charter of the separation of powers (investing all administrative authority with the 3-member Council), and inserting a manager for whom delegated powers and duties are unspecified and unknown, could not possibly be described as mere “adjustments.”

The CRC recommendations cut out the major Charter elements, leaving very few of its significant features behind. Several observers have said that Propositions 1 and 2 essentially “gut” the charter. I think this is a more accurate description.

I believe the 6-member Council gives citizens the most direct and effective access to their government, especially when compared to the experience we had with 3. Despite allegations from the CRC that Council members are not responsive to anyone outside their districts, my experience has been that I am very actively engaged with citizens outside my district, including lots of communication with Mr. Evans.

John is asking voters to return to a system that he himself criticized back in 2004 when he said, “The major difficulty in the existing organization is the inability of the commissioners to talk, to create teamwork.” I believe this defect was a major obstacle to effective governance and one of the reasons why the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) left so much unfinished business behind for the 6-member Council to address. I should add that most of the BOCC legacy has been dealt with by the 6-member Council.

I am glad John sees merit in the “experiment” of our Charter, and I believe it deserves continued support in order to be fully implemented. The last of the former BOCC members -who was on record as being opposed to the Charter from the beginning- did not leave the Council until 2010.

Our Charter is working. I urge voters to join me in rejecting Propositions 1 and 2, neither of which moves us forward and both of which will be expensive, needless, and likely result in chaos. The CRC claims no cost advantage in going backward and offers no assurance of problems being solved. Problems inherent to the structure of the Charter, in fact, have not been identified, and most complaints can be linked to individual Council members, not the underlying structure.

I believe it would have been a far better service to County residents if the Charter Review Commission had focused on its assigned task to review the Charter rather than seizing on a plan to revoke its major provisions. True “adjustments” would have been welcome and can still be considered next year as part of the County Council’s work plan.

Richard Peterson
San Juan Island
[Peterson is a member of the current SJC Council -Ed]

---------------------------------------
(08-24-12)
Evans Supports Charter Changes


Dear Editor

To the editor:

There a few endeavors that are perfect the first time. Most benefit from some improvements based on experience. The proposed changes to improve the SJC Charter are a good example.

The broadly based elected Charter Review Commission worked diligently in their review of how the existing Charter was working. They conducted months of Saturday all-day meetings on the three main islands to accept public input. They interviewed community leaders, including private citizens with experience dealing with local government. Local government officials, who are working under the current Charter, were interviewed for their experience. Public access was available at every meeting.

Based on the public input and the Charter Committee’s review and analysis, the Committee is recommending that all the voters of the County choose three County Council representatives rather than the current system where voters can only vote for one of six representatives. A Council persons accountability to all the voters of the County rather than to the voters in one small district better represents local control. The Charter Commission was told that having six Council members has proved cumbersome, and in some cases unresponsive.

Further, the Prosecutor has cautioned that the activity of two and three Council member meetings behind the scenes are inappropriate. The voters have the right to expect their elected officials to do their business in public, not behind closed doors.

They also recommend a change to have the County administrator work for the elected officials and the citizens rather than being his own drummer. Under the present system, the Administrator is largely independent of both the voters and the County Council.

The Committee found that the office of the County Administrator, under the existing Charter, is very expensive and contributes to the annual budget problems the County faces. Few if any working folks in SJC are salaried at a whopping$15,000 per month as is the interim Administrator. An Administrator who works for the Council, and at a more logical salary, is more appropriate for a small County with 15,000 residents.

After their thorough review, the Charter Commission was nearly unanimous that their suggestions for adjusting the Charter would improve the delivery of local government services, reduce costs and most important, be more responsive to the needs of the public.

I hope the voters will approve the excellent work of the Charter Committee in the November election.


John Evans
Doe Bay
Commissioner, 1992-2004

---------------------------------------
(03-30-12)
How The CRC Arrived At Its Recommendations


Dear Editor

In America, we believe in the presumption of innocence. If someone is going to be punished by the state, a long chain of evidence must be presented before the accused is shipped off to the slammer or worse. In some countries the reverse is true -guilty until proven innocent. That’s the Napoleonic Code.

The presumption of innocence applies (or should apply) to our government at all levels, our legal system, and in social/cultural networks as well. We think before we act, we study before we make critical decisions, we don’t punish before we document the crime. It should have applied to the Home Rule Charter we have had in our possession for five years, but it did not. The CRC majority made sure of that.

The Charter took a whole lot of work from citizens who were disgusted with the BOCC form of governance, yet more effort to elect the Freeholders who hammered out the new Charter, and, finally, the careful consideration of more than 60% of the voters in approving the Charter. It passed in 15 of the 17 precincts in San Juan County. Lopez Island was the only place the Charter was defeated. This was a huge change for us.

The Charter emerged from the Freeholders’ effort with only one opposing vote. That vote came from the person who was elected chair of the Charter Review Commission this past January -the person who announced before he was elected that he would “entertain a motion to rescind the Charter;” the person who wrote a column titled, “Alienated,” in which he cataloged his complaints against the Charter. If you read the column (at Islandguardian.com and also posted on sjccharter.wordpress.com), you will discover that most of his criticism had nothing to do with the structure of the Charter. It had to do with his irritation at people, not the Charter structure.

Concerns about the Charter over the years were bound to arise and that’s why the Freeholders made provision for a review in 5 years. It should have been a priority of the Charter Review Commission to look closely at those worries to identify them clearly and determine whether fault resided in the Charter or in something else. The CRC should have worked toward a common understanding of what the problems were before leapfrogging to a solution that had already been tried and found wanting. As one of the council members said (twice) at CRC meetings, “I need to know what problem you are addressing with these changes.” She also noted that if you ask a number of people to define a problem, you will likely get a number of answers.

Defining the problem is an important first step. It didn’t happen.
In the deliberations of the Charter Review Commission, the Charter was found guilty during the first and second week of meetings. When they made these monumental decisions, there were no interviews. No research was conducted. No public testimony was taken. Nothing was brought forward to prove guilt except the personal opinions of the 15 members of the CRC who were present to vote on motions to gut our Home Rule Charter.

In the early versions of the Findings, it was argued that the CRC members were invested with confidence from the voters to do the right thing. I don’t believe it. If you look at the Voters Pamphlet from the last election, you might agree that voters didn’t have a clue about what to expect. A good number of those elected ran unopposed and without a statement to explain their views in any depth. One submitted no statement at all. Only one or two said -in so many words- that they planned to eviscerate the Charter. The voters were led to believe by the language of the Charter that there would be a review and a process.

I think the voters knew very well that there would be bias, in some cases, pretty extreme, but I can’t imagine that anyone would have foreseen the events that transpired. There was no process in deciding to eliminate the central features of our Home Rule Charter. The CRC majority started at the end and stayed there.

It was a juggernaut.

Well, you might say, so what? They came in with predisposed conclusions and voted to follow through.
• Go back to the old 3-commissioner system.
• Go back to full-time commissioners paid full-time salaries.
• Go back to giving Lopez Island a third of the power with 1/6th of the population.
• Go back to three districts.
Here are some reasons why the CRC majority’s cart-before-the-horse, decide now -justify later plan was and is a hugely flawed operation:

• They did not consider the obvious implications. The population equalization that was implemented just a few months ago on recommendations to the County Council from the Redistricting Committee goes out the window. We go back to a system that was worrisome in the past and will be worrisome in the future if the amendments are approved. A constitutional challenge could arise from someone who believes in the idea of one person, one vote -that “old canard” one of the CRC members told me angrily more than once.

• Inquiry should come before advocacy, not the other way around. If you make your mind up at the start, there is no place to go except follow the path that supports your decision. This is what the CRC majority did. They invited every former BOCC member they could find to come and testify. Was it surprising that they all wanted to go back to the old days? Was it shocking to discover that Alan Lichter, who railed against the Charter six years ago still thought it was a bad idea?

• If your mind is made up, what chance do other ideas have? The answer is no chance at all. When the CRC got around to inviting the current Council members, they heard a lot they didn’t like so they ignored it. Patty Miller asked twice what the problem is that the CRC was addressing in going back to the old 3-member commission and how we thought that going back to 3 would solve whatever the problem(s) is(are). She was ignored. Richard Fralick expressed concern about constitutional issues. They paid no attention. Citizens who said they were concerned about a “rush to judgment” were ignored. The Freeholders were never invited to testify.

• Making decisions in advance of discovering what the evidence has to say increases the likelihood of bad choices. Going back to the old system of three legislators gave no consideration to all the bad things about that old system that caused us to abandon it. 60% of us voted to get rid of it. If we want to change our minds and go backward, we need a lot of good reasons. Where are they? Do we have any assurance at all that things will be better? I submit that we have NO such assurance.

• Making major decisions without research, interviews, and all the other things that define a reasonable process of review gives the advantage to the unproven decisions and leaves options that might be excellent out in the cold. Here are some examples:

1. The CRC majority went immediately to a plan to resurrect the 3-commissioner model. We had no discussion of changing the number to 4 or 5 or 7 or any other number. None.
2. Going backwards to gut the Charter is a costly proposition -not just in terms of money but in time, energy, and hassle of many varieties. Why not look at the possibility of making repairs to fix things without a major overhaul? The CRC refused to look at adjustments to their original decisions, decisions made 7 days after they first convened.
3. Two ideas were presented to the CRC on how to make the population roughly equal across three districts. Both ideas were dismissed almost without discussion.

All of the discussion above gets down to a fundamental flaw in the entire proceedings of the Charter Review Commission. It truly has been a rush to judgment and as a result we have absolutely no idea whether going backwards will be an improvement over the present system.

In the next few months I will write on other topics of importance to your vote in November. I hope you will reject the amendments proposed by the CRC majority.

Janice Peterson
San Juan Island
[Janice Peterson is a member of the Charter Review Commission -Ed]

[Mr. Penwell's revised (03-31-12)l1st paragraph to his letter follows]

---------------------------------------
(03-27-12)
Penwell Responds To Peterson Letter (2nd Letter below)


Dear Editor

Janice Peterson was a college debate professor. Debate coaches teach their students to win points in a debate, and not to point out information helpful to others who may see things differently. Some inaccuracies were stated in Janice Peterson's letter, as well as information known to Janice, but conveniently left out for effect. For the record, and to correct the misrepresentation that I do not care for my constituency:

1. Not enough candidates stepped forward as Charter Review candidates for San Juan District #3.

2.) The County extended the filing deadline and sought volunteers for that position. I stepped forward, volunteered, and ran unopposed, so our district would not go unrepresented.

3.) I had airline tickets and was scheduled to be out of town for two months, so I asked to have telephonic attendance at the Charter Review Committee meetings, so that I could represent my District properly at all meetings.

4.) Janice Peterson spoke against my attending telephonically, and voted against telephonic attendance. This action, not my actions, showed a lack of concern for District #3 citizens.

5.) While out of the continental United States, I weekly and diligently read all the minutes, emails, and documents provided to all CRC members via the County Website.

6.) Although it is difficult to volunteer one's time and energy to try to make improvements in our Home Rule Charter so that it might function more efficiently, it is especially hard to have other CRC members sniping and edging others to the cliff, mainly because of differing viewpoints. I ask citizens to consider "Actions speak louder than words" as well as my past record and commitment to our community. As Alan Alda said, "Your assumptions are windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won't come in."

Respectfully, Frank M Penwell
San Juan Island

---------------------------------------
(03-27-12)
How Exactly We Should Reform Our Charter(Below this letter)


Dear Editor

I have been following the debates about how exactly we should reform our charter.

Can we agree on 2 basic things, then work forward from there?

1) The old 3 commissioner system, with full administrative duties (read also as "meddling" and "micromanaging") was not successful.

2) The current system has been a failure.

We should therefore look at what elements from each worked best and what didn't. Without spending too much time, it should be clear that county wide elections are appropriate.
Next, we need 3 commissioners/council people. The reasons for this have been widely put forward by others and make good sense.

Make them full time. This again is a no brainer. This opens the field to a whole host more individuals for consideration.

The next key issue is that of an administrator. I believe that this is a very important consideration. Coupled with that is how much or little "administrative" authority should be given to the new council/board.

Lets point a few things out.
Under the old regime, their administration's ability was flawed to the point that the county citizens threw out not only some of the commissioners, but the entire form of government.
Under the current regime, they have barely and poorly performed their ministerial duties of legislation and budgeting.

Ask yourself this. If you had a company that had 50 million dollars in revenue, would you hire anyone of the currently seated council folks to run it?

Lets keep the council duties and powers to legislation and budgeting. Leave the administration to a professional. Someone with experience in.....here's a shocker.... Government Administration.

The rest of the details should fall in to place.

To me, these serve as the foundation. The other points up for review should receive their due process and debate.

For consideration:
What other similar (size) jurisdictions that have enjoyed success are we studying for guidance?
Is it a good idea to give 3 elected officials that will possibly/likely lack administrative experience, extensive administrative powers?

Thank you to all the Island citizens who are participating in this debate. It is important.
Let's also try to remember, even as the debates get heated and the words fly, we are all neighbors, we are all islanders, and we have a large common interest in the economic and social well being of our islands.

Thank you.
Harold Wilson.
San Juan Island

---------------------------------------
(03-22-12)
Responding To Penwell letter (Below this letter)


Dear Editor:

1. A former freeholder expressed opinions about the bias of the Charter Review Commission (CRC) chair -and supported his views in detail, I do not see this as an unjustified personal attack. Rather, it is an argument readers can accept or reject. It provides supporting data. When the same writer lists specific points to demonstrate his belief that the CRC chair and other members are promoting changes that would “gut the charter,” he is framing an argument he justified with evidence. Is the language inaccurate? Isn’t “gutting” one of the words we use to explain that the most important parts of something are being removed? Isn’t it descriptive?

2. But “gutting the charter” is asserted as objectionable. How about “eviscerating?” How about “voting to eliminate the major elements of the Charter without first looking at any proof that it is badly flawed or that going back to the old system will fix anything?”

3. CRC interviews took place AFTER the CRC majority adopted motions to eliminate the major elements of the Charter during the second week they met. The difference between developing reasoned claims after looking at facts, and drawing conclusions in advance of any factual or expert opinion evidence at all is the difference between logical and illogical. It is the difference between accepting the burden of proof and throwing it out. The CRC majority chose the latter.

4. Mr. Penwell defines the CRC’s job as making sure “that the original intent of the Freeholders is sustained.” A freeholder could be confused that the “original intent is sustained” by removing just about every key element that the charter contains and reverting back to the old BOCC model that was carefully studied and decisively rejected by the voters.

5. I’m assuming Mr. Penwell means the freeholder majority, not the few who voted against the Charter -including the current CRC chair. This is confusing too. A letter published elsewhere today from the CRC chair himself, says that he voted to approve the Charter but his statement in the Voters Pamphlet says, “I was one of several freeholders who voted against this charter.”

6. Frank Penwell is critical of people who are misinformed because they haven’t attended CRC meetings. Note that this is coming from a person elected to the CRC who missed the first 8 or 9 meetings. He might express a little concern for the people in his district who had the mistaken idea that he would be participating in the process rather than dropping in months later.

I appreciate the opportunity to express my views.

Janice Peterson,
Charter Review Commission member
San Juan Island

---------------------------------------
(03-15-12)
The CRC Is Just Doing Their Job


Dear Editor

If you look at the work the Charter Review Commission (CRC) has done, it is clear that the volunteer members have a deep concern for San Juan County and are working hard to correct problems in the Home Rule Charter. Personal attacks on CRC members are not productive or justified.

The CRC has interviewed most of the key leaders in local government who have experience working within the charter structure. These leaders including former County Commissioners, Council Members, as well as administrative and elected department heads, have brought their experiences and concerns to our group.

A pattern has emerged from their insights. Charter government costs more and is less efficient. The Charter needs improvement. Problems with transparency, decision-making, lines of authority, leadership roles, the budget process, and separation of power need to be addressed. The CRC would not be doing their job if they did not try to find solutions to these problems. The voters will decide if our suggested changes are warranted or not.

The Charter was passed with the idea that the citizens of San Juan County could “assert greater control over the actions of County government.” It is the CRC’s job to make sure that the original intent of the Freeholders is sustained.

Inflammatory language accusing the CRC of “gutting the Charter”, “Hijacking the process,” “shallow and destructive opinions” “returning us to the dark days of the BOCC, ” and “throwing out the Charter” are unjustified at such an early stage of the process.

Many citizens, government leaders, and Charter Review members are unhappy with the results of the Charter, and the CRC did discuss rescinding it. However, that is not the direction the CRC is headed. The majority voted to make the Home Rule better, not throw it out. That is what we are doing. The CRC process is open to the public. If one were to attend the meetings, or to read the record, one would be less likely to make misinformed comments.

I do not favor silencing anyone on the CRC, including our elected moderator, just because he does not share the views of some of the past Freeholders. There are many issues that need to be discussed and addressed. The changes and modifications to the Charter that are ultimately agreed upon will be put to a vote of the people.

All of these thoughts and opinions are mine, and I am not speaking on behalf of other members of the CRC.

Sincerely,

Frank M Penwell
San Juan Island

---------------------------------------
Charlie Responds To Gordy


(03-07-12))
To the Editor:

I have a number of reactions to Gordy Petersen’s overly intense response [2nd letter down -Ed] to my guest editorial, all of which suggest that his long-standing prejudices against the Home Rule Charter are becoming a major liability as he attempts to convey an impartial approach in his role as the chairperson of the Charter Revue Commission.

Gordy Petersen says he agrees with my statements on working to improve the Charter rather than throwing it out. He writes, “This is precisely what the CRC is doing. There is currently no discussion about throwing the Charter out.”

So, let’s lift up the rock and see what is going on here:
• Mr. Petersen’s statement in the Voters Pamphlet for the CRC election includes the point that he was “one of several” (3 out of 21) “freeholders who voted against this charter.” (highlighting is mine)

• At the first CRC meeting, according to the minutes, he said, shortly before the members elected a chairperson, that he would “entertain a ballot option to rescind the charter.”

• At the second CRC meeting, the first motion on the floor was to rescind the County Charter form of government and return to the previous Code County form of governance. The motion was referred to committee and returned for later discussion.

Not a very open or neutral image on the subject, is it?

But something went wrong for them. It became apparent that rescinding the Charter would also eliminate the provisions for referendum and initiative. Oops! So the solution was to “gut the charter,” thereby backing into the old BOCC structure.

So what happened? At the January 14th meeting -with nothing to go on but the opinions of the members present, barely 2/3 of the total- the CRC passed motions to: have the number of legislators be three, go back to three legislative districts, return to county-wide elections, and define county districts on the basis of the old County Commission districts, and that is just for openers.

Gordy Petersen’s recent letter to the press concludes with; “…we need to end some of the experiments that were built into the Charter and get back to the structure we know has worked in the past.”

What a short memory! The reason the charter passed five years ago by a landslide was that you the voters, were totally disgusted with the state of affairs at that time and with the with the sitting commissioners who had been elected by the very process that he is so eager to bring back.

How can we hope to get a fair review of the Charter with the CRC chair making it clear that he has despised it since the beginning?

Charlie Bodenstab
San Juan Island

---------------------------------------
To The Members Of The Charter Review Commission


(02-27-12))
An open letter to the members of the Charter Review Commission:

I think you have been doing a thoughtful job, and I applaud you for your work thus far. It seems unfortunate that a member of the prior Commission which drafted the current charter is protesting your work.

You were all duly elected by your districts, and I believe you’ve taken your responsibility very seriously. The fact that you don’t agree with all that the prior Commission did just shows the experience we’ve all had with their Charter -- which was a huge change from what went before and actually an untested form of government.

I believe the experience we've had with that Charter shows that the constitutional form of county government is more responsive, more efficient, and certainly more affordable than what they crafted. Electing representatives by district rather than county-wide has proved to be a disaster, the costs are out of sight, and calling candidates "non-partisan" definitely doesn't remove their individual biases.

Thank you for your careful deliberations. Keep up the good work!

Louise Dustrude
Friday Harbor

---------------------------------------
Gordy Petersen Responds To Bodenstab Guest Column


(02-27-12))
To the Editor:

I understand why politicians want to take credit for all the good things and blame all the “dithering” on past administrations. But the Home Rule Charter began in 2005. Hurricane Katrina also happened in 2005 and that has been mostly cleaned up.

Rich Peterson and other members of the council have repeatedly blamed the past BOCC for their problems today. Mr. Bodenstab echoes this theme in his recent Guest Column. I think it’s about time they step up and take responsibility. Rich Peterson is now well into his second term of office.

The dithering by this Council is busting the budget. Issues like solid waste and the CAO should be behind us but continue on and on in a state of “analysis paralysis.” Many people look at the six-member council and see two things: the budget has gone way up and the effectiveness of government has gone way down.

Mr. Bodenstab was one of the Freeholders who campaigned for the Charter as “revenue neutral.” The Charter has increased the cost of county government substantially. This needs to change.

Mr. Bodenstab is quite correct when he says, “Concerns about how a system of governance is working should aim first at ways to improve it rather than to throw it out.” This is precisely what the CRC is doing. There is currently no discussion about throwing the Charter out.

We need leadership in this county. We have none. Voters thought that having an administrator would be the answer but the way the charter set this up has not worked well. Lines of authority are often not clear and there is uncertainty within the organization and to the public about who holds power over what. Problems have been encountered when the Council interferes with the job of the administrator. This leads to poor service and low morale among employees. It can be improved and efficiencies can be gained.

It has become obvious to me that the ability to make decisions in a group of six members is logically less efficient than with three (try deciding on where to eat dinner with 3 couples). The vast majority of counties in the U.S. have 3 elected legislators. The number of deadlocked votes and extra time that it takes for decisions to be made with 6 has led to hardship for some citizens and has generally not served the people well. I have not seen the 6-legislator system used anywhere else. It was an experiment that has clearly failed.

I would have liked the opportunity to vote for this County Council, but I was denied that chance because the Charter only allows me to vote for one out of six of the people who represent me. How does that make government closer to the people as the Charter intended? We can do better.

I think candidates for council should be evaluated and voted for in countywide elections. We did this here in the islands for over 100 years and it worked well. Our leaders represented all Islanders and we had the opportunity to vote for any one of them. This is our traditional island way of governance. There is nothing radical about it.

The citizens have not been served well by the subcommittee process whereby Council Members spend a great deal of their time discussing and deciding issues out of the public view in committees of less than a quorum of members. The change to 3 Council Members insures that all County business will be conducted in open public meetings. Increasing transparency in government is not “gutting the Charter.”

I would like to get good government back. Home Rule will work better if it does what it was designed to do; bring government closer to the people. In my opinion we need to end some of the experiments that were built into the Charter and get back to the structure that we know has worked in the past.

I hope the former Freeholders like Mr. Bodenstab, and Council Members will help us improve the Charter instead of trying to mislead the public with statements that do not accurately reflect what the CRC is doing. I hope you will attend a meeting in the future so you can see what is really going on. I welcome your advice.

(Note: these are my opinions only. I do not presume to speak for other members of the CRC.)

Gordy Petersen
San Juan Island

(Mr. Petersen is the Chairman of the Charter Review Commission, and a writes a column for The Island Guardian. -Ed)

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