Why change the form of Skagit County government?
A Home Rule charter is a way for voters to modernize their county government to a system more responsive to local needs. A new form of government can be created that would reflect the county’s diverse population, provide meaningful public participation, support accountability and transparency of decision making, and result in a County Council that is more responsive and effective.
A quorum of two
With a three commissioner system, any two of them constitute a quorum – just two commissioners’ votes are needed even for major decisions.3
Combined legislative and executive functions
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.
Too much concentrated power and responsibility
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.
What would a Skagit County charter look like?
We envision a larger part-time county council with seven to nine 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:
Spread out the power
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.
Provide accessibility and transparency
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.
Provide for professional management
A full time professional administrator (appointed by the council) would fulfill the executive functions now carried out by the commissioners. This would free up the council members to do the important work of community engagement, policy and legislation.
Position Skagit County for the future
Western Washington is growing and changing. The old system simply isn’t structured to handle the unprecedented challenges facing Skagit County.
Get more done
A larger, more engaged council, with members who are not saddled with administrative work can be more nimble and responsive to local needs.
Allow for initiatives and referendums
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.
Cost less or the same
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