Charter Review hearing zeroes in on law enforcement, number of county commissioners

By Sue Forde, Citizen Review Online

Sequim, WA – 6/17/02 - The Clallam County Home Rule Charter Commissioners held the first of three public hearings on June 13, 2002 at the Sequim Community Center to obtain feedback and ideas from constituents about the changes they’ve brought forth so far.

Each chairperson of the various committees provided a briefing of what their changes were, and how the committee members brought them about.  Dave Lotzgesell reviewed the articles he and his committee had covered, and also submitted Martha Ireland’s column into the record favoring a three-member county commission.  Accountability and representation is the major emphasis, he said.  Their proposal to add the director of the Department of Community Development (DCD) as an elected position (he is appointed now) was done on the basis of accountability.  The power is not being checked by the county commissioners, he said.  Added to that is the current cost of $87,380 for the appointed position, versus what an elected position would be paid – usually much less.  One by one the chairs of each commission reviewed the changes they had presented.  The public comment period was then opened.

Pat McRobbie asked about the “shall” definition, as did Robert Crittenden.  They wanted to know the meaning of the work.  Commissioner Rod Fleck responded that the intention was to be “imperative”, to do something without delay.

Bob Forde brought his thoughts about the newly added Article I – Protection of Life, Property and the Peace.  “It is the paramount duty of Clallam County government to provide ample law enforcement and criminal justice services for its citizens,” states the newly proposed addition to the Charter.  Forde stated that the article should be removed, and commented that there needs to be a limit to the power of the sheriff’s department, especially with the budget.  He favored the change to having all offices be partisan (with the exception of the judges, as required by state law), and added that the salary amounts for each office should also be shown on the ballot, so the people could know what they’re paying for each position.

Forde also questioned the wording in the mini-initiative section, saying that it’s “confusing the way it’s written.”

He wanted to know how the Charter could be enforced, other than by lawsuit.  “A bond might be the answer,” he stated.

Susan Riesen was the next to speak.  She opposed partisan positions, stating they should be “trained professionals”.  Partisanship created “polarized and rankerous philosophies,” she said, and could “stalemate government.”  She would also support a nonpartisan county commission. She also opposed the creation of Article I, saying it was against the people’s constitutional rights.

Tom Santos voiced favor for the three-member commission board.  “Part time people are only part-time for so long,” he stated, referring to a council form of government.  He offered as an example that Harry Lydiard has served as a part-time “volunteer” commissioner at first; and then the commission had voted themselves into full-time positions with salaries. 

Bob Martin, current director of the DCD, stated he was “here as a private citizen.”  He said that is a “lack of clarity, some ambiguity” and was there to offer “constructive criticism.”  Referring to the change in emergency ordinances, he said he sees no reason to “tie the hands of the county regarding land use, comp plans,” etc.  (The change prevents emergency ordinances to be issued in these areas.)  Emergency ordinances currently end in 60 days, and he said they shouldn’t be longer than that.  “It’s dangerous,” he stated

Martin said he opposes having his current position as director of DCD changed to an elected, rather than appointed, position.  He corrected a media report that he manages the largest department in the county; his is the fourth largest, he stated, with 16 employees.  He said there are no defined duties for his position, if elected, except “as established by law.”  He opposed the idea of the job being partisan.  “I don’t know what box I’d put myself in,” he said.

Leo Shipley simply congratulated the commission on the work they had done.

Mickki Ruden of Port Angeles spoke “on behalf of the League of Women Voters.”  She said the League had come up with “consensus positions”, and stated that several of the proposed changes “would move the county backward.”  There needs to be a climate of “cooperation and accomplishment”, she said.  She spoke against the Article I addition.  She continued that making the director of the DCD an elected official would “not ease land use issues”.  She spoke in favor of a council/manager form of government instead of the current 3-member board of county commissioners that already exists.  She said that all candidates should be nonpartisan. 

Bill Thomas, former Sequim mayor and candidate for the 24th district representative (D), also commented on Article I as an “onerous statement.”  He is opposed to voting for county commissioners by district, since we have a “regional” economy.  Referring to the director of the DCD as the “Department of Public Works, or whatever that is”, he said that making the position an elected one is “a loser all the way around…They’re responsive now…they work very hard for us…” he said.

Mary Ann Grant of Sequim said that having elected department heads “won’t do good for the county”, that it “politicizes and detracts” from their work.  She also opposed the definition of the word “shall” as imperative and ministerial.

Steve Marble spoke in favor of three elected county commissioner by district.  “It brings better representation,” he said.  At the federal level, we’re paying for representatives far away from us, he added.  Partisan positions will allow the voters to get an idea of their ideology, he said.

Marble favored the initiative changes.  “The people are supposed to have a recourse; we continually see lawyers bandy the word meaning of ‘shall’ around.”

As a real estate agent dealing with DCD, he stated he’d “like to see accountability, where now there are ‘paybacks’, and employees that don’t even return calls.”  He emphasized that an elected director would be accountable and have a more service-oriented attitude, like that which exists in the Treasurer’s and Auditor’s offices now.

Al Courtney said he’ll be interested to see the final vote on the form of government.  How much “rules and regulations” do the people need? He queried.  “Three commissioners are enough; we don’t need seven commissioners representing 5,000 people each,” he added, after he said there are approximately 35,000 voters in the county.  “It’s a waste of money, and not good accountability,” he said.  “We need accountability from the bureaucrats,” he said, and told a story about one of his experiences with the DCD staff.  He had gone in to get a simple permit to build a small garage.  The person at the counter said he’d have to talk to his supervisor, who was sitting at a desk nearby.  The supervisor said “Tell him to come back Monday, and I’ll talk to him.”  After awhile, Courtney said, the “public becomes the enemy” in a bureaucratic society.

Norma Turner, Port Angeles, said the commission has added “3,000 new words” to the charter.  She compared it to 1989 regarding elected officials, and spoke in favor of nonpartisan positions.

Referring to the director of DCD position, she said that electing the “county planner” is not a new idea; it has always been rejected.  It’s an unnecessary expansion of local government, she stated.  “Land use planners have extensive background…” she said.  There is no requirement for elected officials to show up for work.  There are  “a lot of folks around here that follow land-use issues,” she said.  She also spoke against the new article regarding law enforcement.

Mike Lemon spoke about the new law enforcement addition as well.  “It took my breath away” when I read it, he said.  Who defines “ample law enforcement”?  How far does that go? he wanted to know.

Robert Crittenden was the last to testify, stating his objection to Article I about law enforcement.  “I don’t particularly wish to live in a police state,” he said in closing.


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