By Don Pollard
I was truly surprised by the endorsement of the Charter Review Committee’s recommendations by the Republicans for a couple of reasons.
And I am not meaning to be argumentative in writing this. Even though I tend to think of myself as an independent, I find myself “on the other side” in this non-partisan dust-up.
I happen to share the desire for smaller government and am surprised that people have assumed that because the recommendation to reduce the number of council members from six to three, that it is a move to smaller government. Since both sides of the issue seem to agree that the recommendations are revenue neutral, I had considered the real concern should be a question of not what is smaller government, but what is good government.
Republicans profess to stand for efficient governance, based on good administrative practices. Like in business. So I have to ask myself why is it better to have three full-time council members, elected from disproportionate populations areas, with the power to bypass the administrative powers of the chief administrative officer. Maybe this goes to the question of whether you want a well-qualified CAO. Well, I am not impartial on this subject since I was a city manager.
But I think that any business with a budget similar to that of our county ($45 million) needs the best administrative talent that can be afforded.
From my experience, I know that the goal of any manger is to recommend what in his or her view is the best solution and the best expenditure of money. But the one thing that cannot be tolerated is for the council to have the power to go around the administrator and either discipline or fire department heads that don’t agree with them.
Though stated in the negative in Proposition 2, this is exactly what any two council members could do. What business could operate that way?
This is where I feel we have to support good government principles, rather than entrust them to full-time bureaucrats who require no other qualifications to run for office than to be alive and to live in a certain area.
A second concern I have is the move to at-large elections. It may seem attractive to vote for all three members. But this is taking away the option of most good potential candidates to either afford to run a countywide election or give up their daytime job to take on a full-time government job. This seems to suggest that the most likely candidates would be retired persons, or unemployed persons looking for a job.
The bumbling that has taken place with the critical areas ordinance is probably the best example of inappropriate council intrusion into the planning process. I can see why some would say that this is a good excuse to vote for the CRC’s recommendations. But I think this would be to miss the mark, since it is the people, not the charter that make the problem. So here is my bottom line: Maybe we need to change the people, not the charter.
— Editor’s note: A 20-year resident of San Juan Island, Don Pollard is a former public and city administrator