Opinion

County Charter needs change, here's why | Guest Column

State Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island.  - Contributed photo
State Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island.
— image credit: Contributed photo

By State Sen. Kevin Ranker, 40th Dist.

As a past San Juan County Commissioner, County Council Member, and now as your state Senator, I have followed closely the work of the Charter Review Commission and their proposed improvements to the San Juan County Home Rule Charter.

I strongly support the recommendations of the CRC. In fact, I believe they are absolutely critical.

We need fulltime leadership from a County Council that attracts the diversity of our community to public service. With a part-time salary, but a fulltime commitment, we will continue to have council members who have another job that is their actual priority, or worse, their job that actually pays the bills suffers, or they are retired and/or independently wealthy.

Our council should represent the diversity of our community – not only the wealthy and retired, but the working and young families. Our council members should prioritize the county’s business and future and not have to sacrifice their income to do so. The current structure severely limits who will consider running for this office.

Further, with the current part-time council, much more power falls to the county administrator, who is appointed and not elected by the people. A full-time council, elected by the people, possesses more authority.

I believe it is extremely important that the people making decisions for our future directly answer to us.

Every council member making decisions for the entire county should have to answer to the entire county. For over 130 years, we elected a legislative body countywide and it worked pretty well.

While I did not agree with every decision John Evans made during his years of public service, I know that he took the time to understand issues on Lopez and San Juan not only because he cared, but because he was a fulltime legislator and he answered to those voters, as well as the voters in his own district on Orcas.

Currently there are six members and all six make decisions for the entire county. Yet, we only vote for one. The current council structure fractures our county and our ability to truly be a representative government.

Lastly, representation of our county in Olympia and other governmental organizations is imperative to our future.

For decades, full-time county commissioners spent considerable time working for our county off island —recognizing that many of the most important decisions that effect our communities are not made in our communities. It is critical that the council have a voice off island. Since switching to a part-time council, this representation is nearly nonexistent.

The beauty of our Home Rule Charter is that we can make improvements. This is exactly what we voted on— an ability to make important improvements and adjustments after the first five years with the next full review not for 10 years.

Please join me in supporting the improvements to the charter by approving Propositions 1, 2, and 3.  We all recognize that county government can be improved.

Let’s not wait another ten years to do it.

— Editor's note: Initially elected as a County Commissioner, from San Juan Island, state Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island, served on the County Council during the transition to the Home Rule Charter.

 

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