Charter Review: Too many chiefs?

County Administrator Pete Rose, center, fields questions following a presentation to the Charter Review Commission, Saturday, in Friday Harbor. Auditor Milene Henley, right, presented a report to commission members as well.  - Scott Rasmussen
County Administrator Pete Rose, center, fields questions following a presentation to the Charter Review Commission, Saturday, in Friday Harbor. Auditor Milene Henley, right, presented a report to commission members as well.
— image credit: Scott Rasmussen

Talk isn’t cheap, at least not when the County Council gets involved.

In fact, San Juan County Administrator Pete Rose contends that the proliferation of council subcommittees, a byproduct of the county’s Home Rule charter, has taken a toll on the effectiveness and the efficiency of local government.

Rose said the amount of time and resources required of county staff to fulfill the various requests of those subcommittees is “off the charts”. And the administrator is not immune.

“It’s taken me off my A-game,” Rose said of the additional demands.

On Saturday, in a presentation to the Charter Review Commission, Rose unveiled a package of mixed reviews regarding the benefits and drawbacks ushered in six years ago by the charter, including that no-holds-barred critique of the council’s involvement in day-to-day operations.

The Review Commission meets this Saturday on Orcas Island, tentatively at the Orcas Hotel, beginning at 7:30 a.m.

On the plus side, Rose said the budget process is improved, computer and electronic capabilites have been enhanced, and quality of the workforce is increasing. Still, he notes efficiencies might be gained by merging the financial departments, all of three which are managed by independently elected officials.

“Don’t be afraid to consolidate financial offices,” he said.

Auditor Milene Henley, who oversees the Elections department as well, followed Rose in offering the commission a presentation of her own.

Elected in November, the 21-person charter review panel is tasked with recommending possible changes to the charter that voters would then decide upon in the November.

Ratified by voters in 2005, the charter ushered in changes in the way local government is structured, how it operates and in the amount of influence islanders have over decisions made by local lawmakers, primarily through the process of initiative and referendum.

The charter stripped the former county commission of its executive powers — management of personnel and day-to-day business — in favor of an appointed administrator that serves at the pleasure of the council. It divided the county’s previous three legislative districts into six, with a mostly equal number of residents in each, allowed for each to elect its own council representative, did away with countywide elections for the legislative body — the council.

The charter also turned the three former commissioners into six non-partisan, part-time posts, and created a citizens’ salary commission to determine how much county elected officials should be paid. Council members earn roughly $35,000 a year, plus benefits.

The Charter Review Commission meets Saturdays (see schedule above), and will have dedicated space for meeting minutes, reports and schedules on the county website in the near future;

Pete Rose, in brief:

:On Partisan elected positions:

“Personally, I feel it’s a mistake. I like to think small local governments don’t have to operate like the U.S. Congress.”

:On a six-person council:

“It’s been cumbersome at times. Especially when a council member is absent.”

:Working with eight independently elected officials:

“It’s a matter of persuasion and negotiation to get to where we need to be.”

— Editor's note: The next meeting of the Charter Review Commission is  Jan. 21, 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m, at the Orcas Hotel. Time has been set aside on the agenda for public comment.

The commission will meet on Orcas Island, Feb. 11, March 3 and March 24, at the Orcas Hotel. Dates and times of commission are subject to change and will likely be modified following the end of the ferry system's winter sailing schedule.

The commission meets on Lopez Jan. 28 and March 10, at Grace Episcopal Church, 8:30 a.m.. to 2 p.m. It meets Feb. 4 Feb. 18, Feb. 25 and March 17 on San Juan, at the Grange Hall in Friday Harbor, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.



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