Wither home rule? | Guest Column

Susan Meister - Contributed photo
Susan Meister
— image credit: Contributed photo

By Susan Meister

Observing the machinations of the Charter Review Commission has been instructive.

As county residents may remember, the Home Rule Charter of 2005 was the first to succeed in over 20 years in Washington state, with a 65 percent majority of San Juan County voters. Now, it is clear that the CRC is hoping to persuade voters to overturn two of its key provisions, sending San Juan County back to an unsuccessful past.

It should be noted that at least three of those who have dominated the CRC’s questionably democratic deliberations were the very same Freeholders who were against Home Rule in 2005. Even more of note is that three of those who have signed onto arguments for the amendments that would effectively return the county to the old board of commissioners form of government, were previous members of that board.

I note that Kevin Ranker has descended from his high post as state senator to sign onto the arguments to eviscerate the heart of the charter. He appears to be one of those waiting in the weeds for the chance to resurrect an antiquated vehicle that some of his former colleagues might even wish to hop onto again.

What credibility do those possess who opposed home rule from the beginning, whose livelihoods and social status were adversely affected by the charter, to propose that it be gutted? Surely the enlightened voters of San Juan County will see the CRC exercise for what it is: a folly.

The charter made significant strides in returning government to the people, taking it out of the hands of partisan politicians whose meddling in the administrative branch of county government was a disaster for the taxpayers. Because of the lack of separation of the administrative and legislative branch — a key separation that Proposition 2 seeks to undo — the three members of the BOCC meddled in administrative matters continually.

They often gave conflicting direction to administrators so that certain of their constituents would receive preferential treatment. If these conflicting instructions were not followed, unlawful terminations and thousands of dollars in personnel lawsuits ensued. This is the administrative and legal chaos to which the CRC proposes to return.

As importantly, the CRC proposes gutting another key provision of the Charter. Returning to the full-time, three-member, at large commission form of government would also return to unequal representation of the islands’ communities. Less populated islands would regain the same voting influence as the more populated ones. No rational explanation for retreating from a one-person, one-vote democracy has been offered for adoption of Proposition 1.

Charters are not born perfect. Those who wrote the charter wisely envisioned that it would need improvement. In focusing on simply taking it down, the leaders of the CRC wasted the opportunity to make it better.

In the end, government is only as good as those who are elected to carry it out. It is a mistake to blame the structure — the charter — for the quality with which it has operated. If you do not like the job your representatives have done over the last five years, elect new ones. Otherwise, it is like burning down a building you have lovingly constructed because the plumbing doesn’t work.

Forward movement is the definition of progress. Do not be deceived by arguments that going back to the past will burnish the future. Those of you who voted for home rule in 2005, who believe in the separation of powers, and in the one-person, one-vote ideal, should stand in the voting booth proud to cast a vote for progress.

Vote No on Propositions 1 and 2.

— Editor’s note: Susan Meister, a long-time resident of San Juan Island, was the creator of Pelindaba Lavender and a founding principal in the Charter movement. She lives now lives in San Francisco and Pebble Beach with her husband, Robert Montgomery.


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