Charter Review Commission hears testimony of elected officials: two lobby for non-elected office


By Lois Krafsky-Perry  
Citizen Review

March 7, 2007

Port Angeles, WA  -The Clallam County Home Rule Charter commission met March 5 at the county courthouse.  Approximately 30 citizens heard testimony from four elected officials.
Rob Robertsen, former elected director of Department of Community Development (DCD) and current elected director, John Miller, who is also elected to the Home Rule Charter (HRC) and Chair of the commission, answered questions, posed by the charter commission.
“It is my two months' anniversary,” said Miller.  “I am really impressed with the skills of people on county staff.  We had a nice transition”

Miller reminded the attendees of his commitment last December.  “I said I would not participate on this discussion, elected or appointed, and will not express an opinion, so I will go back in time.  I will discuss prior to holding office in 2002.  I voted against and spoke out about it being elected,” he stated.

He complimented “well skilled individuals” in his office and said he has only had to make two technical decisions since he has been in office. One dealt with adequate vehicle access and another had to do with abandoning an approach road. Miller handed his gavel for the chair to the 1st Vice Chair of the commission before giving his testimony as DCD director.

When questioned about what they might or might not want changed regarding the DCD elected or appointed position, Robertsen said an appointed position takes a certain amount of expertise, not guaranteed in elected official, along with budgeting and understanding the law.  “I’m afraid it could go the other way if someone without expertise; the county could be driven into lawsuits,”  he added. 

Robertsen then gave a glowing report of his four years in office.  He said the past DCD budget was “screwed up every year”  He credited himself with fixing it and stated, “the next budget meeting was a ‘love fest’.”

Robertsen said since the election, things have gotten better.  “The department is working better, not as well in the past 20 years, not because we went to an elected position, but we got someone in there who knows how to fix things,” he announced.

“When I took it over, it was one of the worst in the state, and after I took it over, it was one of the best,” said Robertsen.

HRC Commissioner Randy Simmons responded, “If it is well, then why fuss?  If it is not broken, there is no reason to fix it.  This is what people wanted.  The people made a good decision.”  Simmons was referring to the almost 60 percent vote of the citizens in favor of the DCD elected position. “The sky is falling?  We need to explain to the people who have elected us.  Why change?” Simmons queried. Clallam County is the first and only county in the nation to make the director of DCD an elected office.

“Is the issue whether we should trust the voters to make good decisions,” joked Rod Fleck, an elected commissioner from Forks.
Dave Cummins of Sequim, who received the most votes of the 15 freeholders, said, “Five years ago there was some argument on the opposite side.  Now the sky would fall?” Cummins explained that he has worked with the county for the past 27 years and these past three years have been the easiest, since there has been an elected DCD.  “It has been a successful thing,” he said.

Elected HRC commissioner Patty Adler of Clallam Bay voiced some concerns of her constituents.  “Too much appointed are concerns of my citizens.  How do we get them out?”  

Miller and Robertsen talked about the inconvenience and expense of campaigning. Robertsen said his past campaign was enormous and grueling. He said the staff was stressed and their “morale was rock bottom” because of the campaign.

Patty Rosand, Clallam County Auditor, spoke to the commission about voting issues and addressed the Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) issue posed by several who have testified in favor of that voting process. “The decisions the charter makes is very important to the auditor,” announced  Rosand. She said she is neither for nor against IRV.  She explained, however, that IRV is not compatible with their county office. “Rules would  need to be established for conducting IRV elections, as they would not be subject to state laws.  Who would determine the rules and who would have the authority to change them?” she asked.

Rosand said she understands that some IRV proponents are saying that primary voting would be eliminated.  “In review of the past ten years primary elections, I don’t see where IRV would eliminate any primary elections.

Deb Kelly, Clallam County Prosecutor addressed her concern of the county’s need for a coroner.  This issue has been addressed several times by other prosecutors to past charter commissions.  She said they rely on law enforcement for autopsies and many investigations. 

Kelly said Mike Glenn at Olympic Memorial Hospital told her they would “talk business” for $100,000.  Kelly said she has $60,000 to work with at this time. Medical qualifications and expertise would be important in hiring a coroner.  Having an elected coroner was also mentioned.

Public testimony was given by Richard French, Marv Chastain, and Ron Richards. Diane Nelson, and Sonja Roller submitted written testimony.

Several people testified in favor of an elected DCD and some favored an appointed director.  Some spoke in favor of electing commissioners by district and another asked for the vote to be done by the whole county. Richards spoke again in favor of IRV.

Other business included the commission setting up several committees, including: Instant Runoff Voting/All Forms of Voting; Commissioners/Administrator; Elected Officials (excluding Judicial Branch); Charter Review Frequency/Term of Charter Review Commissioners; Initiative/Referendum/Recall; and General Provisions (Eminent Domain). Other committees may be appointed depending upon the interest citizens show in other issues.

The next HRC commission meeting  will be held on March 19, at Sequim’s Guy Cole Convention Center, located at Carrie Blake Park. Public testimony will be taken at that meeting.



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