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County Commissioners, Administrator speak to Charter Commission

By Lois Krafsky-Perry  

February 6, 2007

Clallam County, WA - The fourth meeting of the Home Rule Charter (HRC) Commission included interviews of the Clallam County Board of County Commissioners and the County Administrator, Jim Jones, Jr. with approximately 30 people in attendance.  The meeting was held February 5 in Port Angeles, at the county courthouse.

Jones passed out a survey showing salary comparisons from several other counties.  He encouraged the charter commission to consider the current salaries of local county employees and suggested a pay raise for local employees as well as the county commissioners. With only seven months on the job, Jones also answered questions from the commission. "It is  my opinion that the method of determining the salaries of elected officials in Clallam County is highly political, not good government, and should be changed through the Charter Review process,” Jones wrote in a memorandum dated February 2, 2007. Jones said, “we are paying each position considerably less than the average of the peers in similarly sized counties, and this is not fair, equitable or justifiable in any way.”

Jones referred to State Law, (RCW 36.17.024) and said that it suggests that salaries for commissioners and council members might best be set by independent salary commissions set up for just that purpose, in order to insulate the executive body from possible conflict of interest concerns. He called the current method of payment to the county commissioners "archaic".

HRC Commissioner Terry Roth asked whether an increase in pay would reduce the county workforce, in order to keep the budget in line.  Jones responded that the goal is to pay everybody at the county at the "midpoint" rate.  County Commissioner Steve Tharinger said the county trains employees and then loses them to other counties who pay more.  Jones said he felt it best to "tie into the state independent commission" rather than do our own.  According to County Commissioner Mike Doherty, the Board of County Commissioners established their own salaries in 1998, with a 2% increase per year.  County Commissioner Mike Chapman said that people running for election to the office are well aware of what the current salary is, and that doesn't seem to stop them from running; he doesn't see the need for a salary increase. There's a "lot of flexibility" in the position, he added.

HRC Commissioner Randy Simmons queried whether the reports furnished by Jones took into account the income per capita in our county compared to other counties; Jones replied that the study did not take that information into account.

HRC Commissioner Dave Cummins asked Jones how long it took him to get "up-to-speed" in his administrative job.  Jones responded that it took approximately four months, but he had been involved in management locally for some time, which he believed helped him.  "What would you say your top priorities in the job are?" Cummins wanted to know.  Jones answered that his work involved mostly review, he asks a lot of questions, gives "reasonableness tests", communication with personnel, intergovernmental relations, like the City of Port Angeles, Sequim and Forks; and with contract partners, vendors and attorneys.

Cummins, who received the majority of votes in the election, asked the county commissioners several questions.

“With your current workload, do you feel you have the ability to meet or talk to constituents about their needs sufficiently?” All three of the commissioners answered affirmatively.  He asked if the county commissioners’ job is a full time one.  “Yes” answered Tharinger and Doherty.  Chapman answered, “no comment.” He also made the statement, “I have chosen not to go 100 hours,”  in response to Tharinger's dissertation about how many hours he spends speaking for constituents on various matters at the federal, state, and county levels.  Doherty defended Chapman and said there are not as many road calls and land issues in District 2. “This Board...three commissioners have worked very well together as management team in this county,” offered Tharinger.

Cummins asked if a 5 to 7 part-time board might be any more effective than the current three-person board. 

“It depends on dynamics of people,” said Doherty. He said there are some 23 advisory boards to assist them currently, and approximately 1,500 volunteers working for the county.  He commented that the larger the board, the more spending there tends to be.

Tharinger suggested there would be extra costs, like travel expenses, with a larger number on the board.

Chapman commented that with a 5-7-person board, there could potentially be avoidance of the spirit of the Open Meetings Act.  "Three could talk without violating the Open Meetings Act," he said.  And how do you quantify a full-time job? he queried.  "Everyone goes their own way."  He said he likes it that way; the only time the current board talks with one another is during an open public meeting. He said he would like to know what differences there are…we effectively have "two and three quarters commissioners right now,” he said. “I appreciate what they do and they don’t know what I do.  I like the separation.  I have made it a policy, I don’t think it is healthy to be here all those hours.  Nobody should be here 40 hours a week 'cause what would we do?” questioned Chapman.

Doherty said that with a larger legislative board could be more spending. Tharinger said he does not see the advantages unless the county gets a larger population such as 150,000. “Not much more to be gained for the extra costs” involved, he said.
Norma Turner from District 2 asked the commissioners, “Is there any part of the charter that needs to be changed to make your life easier?”

Tharinger answered that he thought the charter commission could meet every ten years, instead of five. “It is best for the charter to be a Constitutional document rather than a specific policy document, “ he said.  Chapman commented, “No, It is pretty easy…my life is pretty easy.”

HRC Commissioner Rod Fleck commented that the counties are losing their discretionary powers more and more in favor of the state, to which all county commissioners agreed.  Doherty added that there are many unfunded mandates placed on the county by the state.

The question was raised about the elected position of the Director of Community Development (DCD).  The position is currently the only elected one in the state, and perhaps in the nation.  Chapman stated that he began as an opponent to the idea of the position being elected; however, he is now a strong proponent.  The voters know what they're doing, and they like to elect their representatives, he said.  Both Doherty and Tharinger expressed their sentiments against the position being elected.  Tharinger, who acts as the liasion to the planning department (DCD), said the choice is to have either a "professional" person who is appointed, or an "elected official."  Chapman reiterated that the people like electing the person for the position, and doesn't think they will change their minds.  Fleck wanted to know if the position were appointed, "what level of controls would there be differently, if it went back the way it was."  No real answer was given.

With the interview time over, the public comment period was opened up.  Only one person came to the podium with a request: Kaj Ahlberg of Port Angeles.  He presented the HRC Commission with a copy of the section added to the Pierce County Charter protecting private property from eminent domain takings when used for "public use".  He explained that the KELO decision by the U.S. Supreme Court affects us all, and that a number of properties have been taken by eminent domain for the "public good", only to be resold at a profit to a business enterprise.  He requested that the Commission consider placing the language on the ballot to be considered for inclusion in the Charter.

Norma Turner then passed out a short history of the Charter commissions, including who had served in prior years, and questionnaires that had gone out to the public.

Commission Violates Open Public Meetings Act

Mark Nichols, county attorney for the Clallam County Charter commission (Freeholders) addressed the commission about the Open Public Meetings Act and recommended corrective action for the past meeting of January 15, which was Martin Luther King's birthday, a national holiday.  According to RCW 42.30.070 a regular holiday meeting scheduled should take place on the next business day, instead of the holiday. 

Nichols recommended the planned meeting for February 19, be moved to the next business day, which is the 20th.  The commission, with the exception of David Cummins voted to meet on February 19th, although it is President's Day, a holiday.  Cummins recommended to the commission that they not meet on the public holiday. 

Cummins had also opposed the January 15 meeting of the commission in a January 12 emailed letter to the chair, John Miller. Miller did not submit that letter, for the record, to the commission. Cummins did not attend that meeting and informed Miller that he would not be attending.  Miller stated, at the January 15 meeting, that he heard from Cummins who would not be attending, but did not mention the reason why. The commission was not advised to change the meeting date by the chair.

“The January 15 Open Public Meetings action taken should be null and void for oversight,” announced Nichols to the Freeholders, near the close of the February 5th meeting. He recommended they redo the actions taken at the January 15 meeting.  It would include the approval of the December 13, 2006 minutes and adoption of the agenda, adoption of the By Laws, adoption of Rules, and adoption of the media list.  “In public open session,” Nichols insisted. Nichols said that Washington law cannot ratify it and asked that there be an actual vote for Rules and another vote for By Laws. All action taken by the commission will have to be redone at the February 20th meeting.



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