Skagit CAPR Chapter: Disappointed Local Environmental Activists Now Want to Change County’s Structure

In Common Voices, News by commonnw

This article was published and read in the Skagit Valley Herald (SVH) in Friday’s paper. Please be advised the following is my analysis after reading between the lines and recognizing the same names of people who were angered over the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) decision to oppose the introduction of grizzly bears into North Cascades National Park and Snoqualmie National Forest, and who attempted to force the commissioners to terminate the contract of the county’s lobbyist in Washington DC.  The article shows the development of an organized effort for a signature drive to get a ballot measure on the next general election for Skagit County; a measure which would seek to change Skagit County to a charter county.  Why? My thought is that they seek to control the county government by changing it. Why? Because our Commissioners didn’t bend to their demands. Read Brandon Stone’s article to see what Margery Hite, their spokesperson, says about it. I’ve observed how this works in Whatcom County; I think it would be a bad deal for Skagit County. SC residents have lost so much already due to the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Swinomish Tribe, Washington State Dept. of Ecology, and the former Skagit County Commissioners; who allowed our water rights to be taken from us.

Currently we elect one commissioner from each of our three districts.  Charter county councils typically are made up of five, seven, or nine members.  Not all may represent districts they live in, but could be what is termed an At-large member.

Definition of At-large:

Relating to or being a political representative who is elected to serve an entire area rather than one of its subdivisions.

  • an At-large City Councilor
  • an At-large election

In that way, the more densely populated cities have a greater political ability to control a county council and leave the rural folks, whose representation is only by the county, with little or no voice in their own affairs. Many of the residents in Whatcom County would like to remove their At-large positions in order to make up a council which is able to represent the districts they live in and were elected to represent. Most of this was achieved when they restored “District Only Voting,” but it’s an uphill fight.  Remember Tom Steyer, the San Francisco hedge fund manager bought himself the Whatcom County Council several years ago?  Since then, that council has been riding roughshod over the people up there.

In the article, Ms. Hite claims that more officials running the county would be more effective.  Effective for who? Not the rural populations.  And from my vantage point, seeing all of Whatcom County’s problems, and they are many, I think our current structure is much better.

~ Gary Hagland, President – Skagit County Chapter for CAPR

P.S.  Note the last time a charter county measure was on the ballot it was voted down 72 to 28%

Group pushes to change structure of county government

By BRANDON STONE @Brandon_SVH , Feb 23, 2018

A group of Skagit County residents unhappy with the structure of county government hopes to open a pathway this November to change that structure. The group is pushing for a county charter, which can allow the county to change fundamental aspects of its government, such as the size and responsibilities of its governing board. “A charter allows voters in the community to decide how their county government looks,” said Margery Hite, who worked as a lawyer for state and local governments.

Hite, one of the community members pushing for a county charter, tested the waters with a presentation Wednesday night to Indivisible Skagit, a local liberal activist group. “The current system makes it hard for the best commissioner to get stuff done,” she said. A commissioner system, the default county government in Washington, essentially combines the legislative and executive branches of government into one three-person board of commissioners. Power is consolidated at the top, Hite said, with few checks and balances. But under a charter, the system can be made to look more like city, state or federal governments, with a larger, more representative legislative council and a separate executive. Hite says she would like to see seven to nine part-time council members, with an appointed executive and nonpartisan races. She said she feels a larger group would contribute to more debate and more transparency, and having a single manager will help county offices coordinate better.

Because there are many ways a charter can dramatically change the structure of county government, there are many reasons people may consider voting for one. “Every charter has a story behind it,” said Eric Johnson, executive director of the Washington State Association of Counties. Charters can expand representation, add more professional management to county government and open council seats to more people by making the positions part time, he said.

To let voters decide whether they want to form a committee to write a charter, advocates must collect signatures equal to 10 percent of the voter turnout for the last general election to have the proposal put on a ballot, Hite said. In addition, 15 to 25 people who want to craft the draft charter, called freeholders, need to put their names on the ballot. The deadline for the November ballot is Aug. 7. If voters approve forming a committee, the freeholders who get elected will write a draft charter. Voters will have the chance to vote on it when it’s completed, Hite said.

Seven of the state’s 39 counties have charters, including Snohomish, Whatcom and San Juan. One of the problems a charter likely wouldn’t solve, Johnson said, is Hite’s concern for transparency. Every meeting the commissioners have, be it legislative or administrative in nature, is public, he said. But a county manager’s meeting would not be subject to the state’s Open Public Meetings Act and would happen behind closed doors. Further, a meeting between any of the three commissioners is public, because more than half the board is meeting. With a larger council, members could talk business outside the public eye. While this would let council members express their thoughts without fear of public ridicule, it would not be more transparent. Hite disagreed, saying holding meetings in the evening would bring more community members into discussions of policy.

A charter proposal for Skagit County was put on the ballot in November 2003, but was voted down 72 percent to 28 percent.