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Charter Commission: putting the cart before the horse | Guest Column
By Charlie Bodenstab
When the charter was written we freeholders were careful to include a provision for reviewing it in five years.
We specified a “Charter Review Commission” to perform this task in order to make the adjustments that would inevitably be needed for something so new. The process of forming this review group has taken place and the CRC has started its deliberations.
I say deliberations, but in reality I’m thunderstruck at what has really taken place. Frankly, it strikes me that the process has been hijacked.
There is little deliberating taking place and much endorsing of pre-established opinions. As the CRC minutes confirm, major decisions to resurrect the Board of County Commissioners took place in the second week, without review and evidence gathering.
It appears that the committee has been populated with many members whose minds are made up and are dogmatically following a process of gutting the charter, and working to return us to the dark days of the BOCC.
Are we content with the performance of the county government? I’m not, and I suspect you are not as well. Let’s review the issue on two fronts, however.
First, what has been the actual performance of the new system and particularly in comparison to the old BOCC system that you voters replaced overwhelmingly with the charter?
Rather than going through the issues item by item, I refer you to the outline Rich Peterson, a County Council member, has written. He makes it clear that we inherited a total mess from the past commissioners—as voters recognized back then—and a good part of the effort in the past five years has focused on cleaning up the disastrous BOCC legacy. (You can access his paper by going to the county web site — “Charter Review Commission”— then “Minutes of the CRC Mtg”). It is extremely informative.
A second point is more basic.
Concerns about how a system of governance is working should aim first at ways to improve it rather than to throw it out.
Confidence in our national government has currently been badly eroded. Are we therefore suggesting the elimination of the U.S. Constitution? If that sounds absurd at the national level, why isn’t it absurd at the local level?
I’m actually amazed that the charter is working as well as it is considering the history of its implementation.
You may not be aware, but after the charter was approved, the sitting group of the three BOCC members fought the charter every step of the way.
They dragged their feet on item after item and when it came around to finding and appointing the very crucial position of administrator, they really dug in.
They were careful to avoid consideration of a very talented, strong, and experienced administrator who had been identified, but who could have been a challenge to them. We have had to live all these years with the results of their manipulation of the selection process.
Our democratic system of government is the best imaginable, but it does have the unfortunate characteristic of occasionally empowering small focused and dedicated groups when the remainder of the voters are relatively tuned out of the process.
I plead with you to make it clear that the charter you overwhelmingly approved five years ago is to be fundamentally preserved, but improved, step by step, not capriciously gutted.
— Charlie Bodenstab is a former member of the Board of Freeholders, which crafted the Home Rule Charter approved by voters in 2005.