Charter Review Commission hears from department heads - DCD Director Martin tries to defend his unelected position status

by Sue Forde, Citizen Review

Port Angeles, WA - 3/14/02 - Bob Martin was one of the individuals questioned by the Clallam County Home Rule Charter Commission on March 14, 2002.  Martin is the director of the Clallam County department of Community Development (DCD), which position may have the potential to become elective, if the Commission places the issue on the ballot in November.

There has been many cases of citizens issuing complaints about the power that Martin in his position wields.  He and his department wrote the infamous Critical Areas Code.  The onerous regulations are subject to interpretation, and his department always interprets them to the harshest extent possible when it comes to private property owners. 

It was a result of Martin and his department that Initiative 6 came into existence – some 3,700 citizens signed the Initiative to Repeal the Critical Areas Code.  It never reached the ballot box, however, as the county prosecutor’s office in conjunction with two of the county commissioners, tossed it into the court system, where it will be winding its way toward the state Supreme Court, possibly over a number of years.

About the Initiative/Referendum process in Clallam County, Martin said “it doesn’t work well.”  He said he comes from Oregon, where the process is handled differently in that an initiative or referendum goes first to the county auditor, then for legal review.  He added that the initiative to repeal the Critical Areas Code (Initiative 6) “created a lot of unnecessary concern” in the people of the county.

Martin told the commission he had served six years in his position; he manages 41 people in his department.  The areas of coverage include natural resources, environmental health, planning and building, development activities such as permits, regulations, etc..  Having all these areas under one department’s coverage “avoids one department from granting a permit versus another department denying it,” he explained.  (See Mike Brown story for an example as to why this statement is false.)

The department has grown: 25 years ago, the county spent $85,000 on the “planning department”.  In 2001, the now “department of community development” budget was $3.7 million. Martin’s income, including benefits, is $92,896 per year.

He told the commission that he doesn’t see his position as holding “power”, but one of “responsibility.”  He said that he would recommend his position to remain appointed rather than to become elected.  “I serve at the pleasure” of the county commissioners, he stated.  He added that the county executive “holds me accountable.”  If the position were put up for election, the people wouldn’t get someone as “expert” as Martin, he indicated, stating that he holds a Masters degree in Engineering and a BS in forestry.  For someone to get elected, all you have to do is pay the filing fee and run – there is no “guarantee you’d get ‘professional’ capability, he explained nervously.  Someone who is elected must deal with “media scrutiny” and “media distortion” he said – “not the best way to get a ‘qualified’ person.”

“Unpopular decision could mean someone would get unelected,” he stated.

Commission member Don Alexander questioned Martin about whether he receives written or verbal policies from the county commissioners and others.  “They [county commissioners] make it clear where they’d like to go,” Martin responded.  “Other policies I get in work sessions.”  There’s also “one-on-one dialogue with each of he commissioners to try to collect some kind of consensus about what they want.”

Alexander continued his query, stating there’s an informal process, and wondered where a person could get the policies and decisions in writing.  Martin responded that there are “lots of ordinances that are policy.”  I don’t get much “smoky room” type of policy directions.  Alexander:  “I find that people in your department hurt more than help the people.”  Martin:  “No, I wouldn’t agree with that.”  It’s the fault of the ordinances, he declared.  “I don’t find that my people are trying to ‘thwart’” anyone; they’re just following the constraints of the ordinances.  [Martin’s department produces the ordinances which are later passed by the commissioners.]

Lawrence Gaydeski asked a question about rezoning: Why weren’t people notified when there is to be a rezone?  Martin replied that when there is a change in the zoning code, the entire county was rezoned, because there was a ‘public process’, the owners weren’t notified.

In stark contrast to Martin’s testimony, Linda Owings-Rosenburgh, the elected county treasurer, talked about how her department is “people-friendly”.  She reviewed the process of talking to each individual who has a question or problem and helping them to resolve them.  I believe in the term “public servant,” she stated.  Her department is considered one of the easiest with which to obtain information and do business with.

Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Chris Melly then offered his review of how the initiative and referendum process works – or doesn’t work.  He said that no initiative has passed in the county during his tenure.  Commission chair Dave Cummings corrected him that there was at least one initiative to repeal a land use ordinance that had passed. 

Melly talked about the power of the courts, pointing in particular to the Initiative 6 battle.  Is it within the power of the people or not?  It’s up to the court to decide, he said.  Once the court speaks, their answer become “presumptively constitutional.”  He misstated several of the facts of the Initiative 6 case, which is still in the court system, with an outcome yet to be determined.

Several members of the commission raised questions as to how the home rule charter could be dissolved.  Melly gave them several methods of doing so; however, it would not be an issue that could come to the ballot this year, he said.  It could be brought up as an initiative of the people, he added.  Cummings read from the charter: Some 35% of the registered voters would have to sign the initiative before it could go on the ballot.  “Can we reduce that requirement as to the number of signatures?” Jean Hordyk wanted to know.  Yes, Melly responded.

The Charter Review Commission will be accepting comments from citizens around the county for the next month before beginning to decide what issues to place on the ballot.


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