Opinion

Freeholders respond; Ranker gets it wrong | Guest Column

By former freeholders, signatures below

We appreciate Kevin Ranker’s opinions on our charter ("Charter in need of change, here's why" | Guest Column) and we assumed that as one of seven former members on the old Board of County Commissioners, he would endorse the Charter Review Commission’s proposals as soon as the CRC declared its pre-determined agenda.

Similarly, it is no surprise that the CRC would select only former BOCC members for feedback and endorsements who would support the return of San Juan County to their preferred governance model created in the horse and buggy days 130 years ago.

A few years ago, San Juan County was energized to move forward and voted overwhelmingly in 15 of 17 precincts to adopt our current Home Rule Charter. We were essentially saying that the times demanded a new and more equitable form of representation; that the needs of our county had grown, but our governance model had not.

Our discussions in 2005 looked at such things as the enormous cost to candidates who had to run countywide. Some spent more than $40,000. If Proposition 1 passes, candidates face a new primary and a general election in 2013. Add it up. This does not square well with Kevin’s feeling that going back to this would open the field of candidates to “working and young families.”

We freeholders analyzed, examined, interviewed, and researched before we made the recommendations the voters easily approved in 2005. The CRC might have benefited from this thorough and open approach, but they had no interest in seeing if any of us might offer useful suggestions on how to improve the charter and why we supported the move forward.

For example, we found in interviews with BOCC members that there was concern about the lack of communication and teamwork among the BOCC. Our interviews with elected officials such as Paul Dossett, Randy Gaylord, Mary Jean Cahail, Bill Cumming, and Rhea Miller revealed their agreement that the three-commissioner model with legislators, only able to talk to each other in public meetings, “is at best awkward, and leads to confused decision-making, delays in communication and decisions, and causes unnecessary debates and disagreements.”

About our former system, all agreed that the “budgeting process was arbitrary, clumsy, and takes too much effort.” (Ralph Hahn, “Taking on the Big Issue – Commissioner Districts, 02/22/05, San Juan Islander).

The current structure does not “fracture our county or our ability to truly be a representative government”, as Kevin alleges. In fact, we would argue that the old system with three unequal districts did fracture the county.

Recent analysis published in the local media demonstrates the simple math: “In the three-commissioner at-large system we used to have, district vote was “diluted unequally”, and residency requirements do not change this simple math. In this system which the CRC is recommending we return to, if you live on Lopez, five out of six votes for “your” commissioner come from the other two districts. If you live on Orcas, four out of every six votes for “your” commissioner come from the other two districts. If you live on San Juan, three out of every six votes for “your” commissioner come from the other two districts.

We do not see facts to support Kevin Ranker’s opinions. Factual arguments are essential if we are going to set out to, at great financial expense, turn back the clock on our entire system of governance. The arguments are not there.

Problems with the charter’s structure have not been identified. The propositions from the CRC have not been shown to have positive effects. We urge voters to reject and vote "No" on Proposition 1 and on Proposition 2.

By George Johnson, Charlie Bodenstab, Richard Fralick, Jeff Bossler, Lola Deane, Stephanie O’Day, Jeri Ahrenius, Greg HertelDavid Bayley, Bob Querry, Ed Carlberg.

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