I am someone that helped craft the Home Rule Charter and is familiar with how the county operates. There are several issues I am currently concerned about;
One of the primary purposed of the Home Rule Charter was to separate the Legislative and Administrative branches of the county government. It is no mistake that the first section contains the following language, “the legislative and executive powers shall be separated into two (2) branches of government. Each branch is to dutifully fulfill its responsibilities, and shall not extend its authority into the other branch.”
Section 2.4 of the Charter lays out the powers of the Council including; levying taxes, adopting ordinances, conducting hearings, and appointing some board positions. Whereas section 3.2b grants the County Manager the responsibilities including supervising administrative departments, enforcing ordinances, preparing a budget, and managing county property.
This has not really happened. The county manager is too involved in the legislative branch, and some would say the council is still too involved in operations. The reason may be, that the council has no staff of its own.
The county manager is involved each week in managing several legislative branch meetings. The county managers staff is relied upon to provide reports and analysis for the council members.
This would be like the Governor providing staff to run the state legislature. He would provide the legislative assistants for each legislator and also provide legal opinions and analysis. Surely you can see the conflict of interests. I am sure our legislators would recoil at such an absurd suggestion. Yet, that is what we have at the county level.
We are the only county in Washington that has a legislative body with no staff.
This should be corrected with clarifying language to the charter.
The cost would be negligible. The county had 7 staff members in the Commissioner’s office before the Charter was adopted. Moving these positions to report to the Council, and be a part of the legislative branch, would enable the Council to fulfil their duties without the involvement of the administrative branch. It would also distance the county manager from policy making and attempts to “Manage” the council members. He can then focus more on administration.
Just as the charter calls for.
Another issue that concerns me is the ability to raise taxes.
The county is currently limited by state law to raising their tax levy amount by less than 1% each year. If they want to raise it more, they can, but they need to get voter approval. It is a good law and has limited the growth of local government budgets, and taxes, for years.
The problem is that many counties, and other local governments, are currently lobbying your legislature to do away with the law.
We have the opportunity to enshrine this taxpayer protection in our own charter. Just in case the legislature is tempted to remove it.
The last issue I currently have is elections.
When the Charter was being crafted, many people wanted a strong administrator to have the power. When that failed to materialize, they opted for a Council Chair. They would be elected by a county wide vote, while the remaining four would be elected in districts.
The problem is, the Council Chair really doesn’t have the ability to lead without the backing of the council. Just ask the current one.
This was not the first form that was adopted by the Freeholders. The first would have mirrored what we had with a commissioner form of government. Commissioners had to primary by district and then were elected countywide. They would elect a Chair from amongst themselves.
Returning to this form of election, and appointment of the Council Chair, may allow the Council to run better by assuring the Chair has the needed support of the majority.