Skagit County is still growing at a rapid rate, with a diversifying economy and population, and we face complex challenges – we have simply outgrown the outdated County Commissioner system. The current system is not accountable to taxpayers, and is hampered by:
With a three commissioner system, any two of them constitute a quorum – just two commissioners’ votes are needed even for major decisions.3
Currently our commissioners serve as the policy setters, lawmakers and administrators. Some of this work is delegated or shared among officers, department heads and other staff. Nonetheless, the power and responsibility is concentrated at the top, with little in the way of checks and balances. The commissioners even play a quasi-judicial role, deciding land use appeals.
There is too much for the commissioners to oversee and to keep track of. This fosters poor accountability and a lack of coherence in the decision-making process. The sheer volume of business that the commissioners must conduct tends to stifle creativity and new initiatives, and produces a cumbersome government that is slow to respond.
We envision a larger part-time county council with five to seven members, with a fulltime professional county administrator appointed by the council. The reason for a hired professional administrator (instead of an elected executive) is twofold -- to take the politics out of the day-to-day business of running government, and because the county needs professional management at the highest level. The charter can specify the role, responsibilities and necessary qualifications for the county administrator. This new form of county government would:
If council positions were part-time, working people who are more in touch with the community could run. A larger county council would better reflect the county’s diverse population and foster more dialogue.
A larger part-time council could meet in the evenings, allowing for more public participation. This would provide for more dialogue with the community, and transparency of decision making. Council members would be more answerable to ordinary citizens for the decisions they make.
The Washington State Constitution allows for citizens to petition for a Home Rule Charter. If enough signatures are collected, the question of the charter then goes to voters in a two-step process. The first vote is to approve or reject starting the charter process, and to select a slate of citizens called “freeholders”. If starting a charter is approved, then the elected freeholders are authorized to work on a proposal for a charter. Their proposal will describe a new structure for county governance. A second vote is then held, and the citizens of the county decide whether or not to adopt the proposed charter.
Western Washington is growing and changing. The old system simply isn’t structured to handle the unprecedented challenges facing Skagit County.
A larger, more engaged council, with members who are not saddled with administrative work can be more nimble and responsive to local needs.
A charter is the only way to give citizens the power of initiatives and referendums at the local level. This is a powerful tool to create more responsive government, and give citizens a direct voice.
We are confident that the combined existing salaries of the county commissioners and their designated senior staff could cover part-time salaries for a larger county council and a professional appointed county administrator.
Footnotes: 3. because of ‘open meeting laws’, a quorum of the commission (any two commissioners) cannot discuss county business with each other unless it is during an advertised meeting that is open to the public. An unintended effect of this requirement is lack of coordination between commissioners, and stifling important dialogue, which can lead to poor decision making. Would you like to learn more, or get involved? Contact: info@HomeRuleSkagit.org