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Former administrator: setting the record straight | Guest column
By Peter Rose
In May of this year before a final vote by the Charter Review Commission and before I left the county, Gordy Petersen delivered his opinion about why I may have left San Juan County, calling it my “dream job” and making other dreamy hypothecations.
Should it have been left at that, I would have remained silent.
Now, my name or how I handled the position of county administrator are coming up with some regularity in letters, editorials or campaign appearances. This puts me in an odd position. I am covered by the ICMA code of ethics, which prevents me from taking a position on an election and I will not.
It does not prevent me from responding to some comments being made, using facts and what is already in the public record. Keep in mind that I am responding with what was already in the public record before the charter amendments were voted out and placed on the ballot.
I left San Juan County in my 72nd month. Six years is a very long run for a “first” person in a brand new chief administrative officer position. I left San Juan County to get my life back.
The council has been pushing, arguably beyond the capacity of the staff, to get a lot of important and overdue things done. I worked nights and spent 40-plus weekends in the office for years unless there was something else that required me to be away. I was worn out and at times irascible.
By comparison, I have long been known as among the most tolerant and thoughtful chief administrative officers in Washington local government. What would behaviorally follow from that low point is cynicism and I cared too much for this county to go there.
Working for San Juan County was a good job in a good economy, not a dream job. The last four years, in tough recession and coordinating staff work on several divisive issues, have been hard.
The proponents of the charter changes are saying, apparently most recently before the SJC bar association, that I asked the prosecuting attorney for a legal opinion to enforce the charter on the county council and was denied. They have it backwards.
The concern I related to the charter review commission was in having no authority to get an independent legal opinion beyond the prosecuting attorney without going through the council — another branch of government. As a city manager on the mainland, I had this ability and it helped maintain the separation of powers.
In a county, elected-official politics can get in the way when the prosecuting attorney sees things differently than the administrator and the council is not willing to rock the boat. The charter provides for council rules of procedure and I think this could be easily resolved by a fair-minded council clarifying in those rules that the administrator does not have to go through the council for a legal opinion, if there is a disagreement with the PA. If not possible, amend the charter.
Most recently, a charter review commissioner has put a baffling letter in the media stating that the auditor had a superior claim to preparing the budget and the administrator actually prepared the budget the first four years of the charter. While I used the auditor as a member of the team, I prepared the budget and Mr. Appel is flat wrong.
The language of the charter could not have been clearer: “At least 75 days prior to the end of each fiscal year, the County Administrator shall present to the Legislative Body a complete budget …”. During the early days of the charter, we heard numerous times from the PA that the charter could speak on matters of local interest, which unequivocally included giving the personnel functions and the budget to the administrator.
The problem my January testimony to the commission presented was that the administrator was “joined at the hip” to the auditor because the auditor controlled the financial software. The charter did not give home field advantage to the controller of the software, but it was something we had to work with and managed to do each year because we cooperated.
At the end of the day, I look at the body of work on the budget with pride. I inherited 240 pages of confusing computer green bar printout and left the county with a complete budget book that clearly described the programs of the county based on a six-year forecast and gave detailed quarterly reports on all funds. Then-councilmember Ranker called the book “de-mystifying of the budget”.
Finally, I have noticed that ads in the newspaper quote me as saying, “Six years is but the blink of an eye in the life of a government.”
Just to be clear, these were my final comments to the charter review commission in January and the council in May, before the amendments were voted out and placed on the ballot. The purpose of my testimony in January was to encourage the charter review commission to fine-tune the charter, but the commission chose another path.
— Editor's note: Following six years as San Juan County's first-ever administrator, Pete Rose stepped down from that position in June, and is now city manager of Lake Forest Park, a suburb of Seattle.