Inefficient Administration of County Government – the Blanchard Quiet Zone Example

The Home Rule Skagit movement is about structural deficiencies in the commissioner form of government; it is not directed at individual county commissioners.  The Blanchard Quiet Zone is an example of a case where the commissioners supported a small community request as a policy matter  but it still took years to accomplish it as an administrative matter.

The Blanchard Quiet Zone was an effort by a neighborhood group to replace train horns with enhanced crossing safety in a ½ mile stretch of tracks running through Blanchard.  Under federal law, county government can request that no train horns be sounded at specified crossings if local government makes improvements to the crossings so that a train horn would not be necessary for safety.  The Blanchard community requested that the County do this and the Blanchard community agreed to pay for the improvements upfront. Two county commissioners announced their support from the beginning; the third commissioner supported the request after some initial reservations.

Yet despite commissioner support and a citizen commitment to pay before work began it took the County over four years to establish a Quiet Zone where the crossings already had gates, bells and flashing lights.   In all the time the Quiet Zone was under consideration, no one came forward to object to the Quiet Zone yet hurdle after hurdle was put forward to what was a simple, straight-forward Quiet Zone, common throughout the U.S.  See Federal Railway Administration web-site https://fra.dot.gov/ and safetydata.fra.dot.gov/quiet/overview.htm.

It took years of public meetings, false starts, mistaken estimates and burdensome requirements imposed upon the citizens, but finally the Quiet Zone came into being.  The Blanchard community is grateful to Commissioner Wesen for his hard work on the Quiet Zone; to Commissioner Janicki for her steadfast support for rural community quality of life; and to Commissioner Dahlstedt for giving the project its final push.

However happy the Blanchard community is to finally have a Quiet Zone, the Blanchard Quiet Zone illustrates that the administration of the County does not do something new efficiently, even when the county commissioners want it to Years after the commissioners decided to proceed with the Quiet Zone, the citizens and the county commissioners were mired in multiple public hearings to establish procedures that dragged on for years.  This is something an effective, independent administrative branch of government could have handled quickly after policy direction from the commissioners.



As a counter-example, in Whatcom County, after policy direction was provided by the County Council, a Quiet Zone was established north of Blanchard in about a year.  Whatcom County started after, and finished before, Skagit County. Whatcom County is a charter county with an independent executive branch and a county council. Once the policy decision was made, the administrative/executive branch worked efficiently and effectively to make it happen.

The example of the Blanchard Quiet Zone demonstrates the importance of separating legislative and executive/administrative functions.  Blurring those distinctions (which are central to every other type of government in the U.S.) makes county government slow, inefficient and wasteful.  When county government can only do what it has always done, then it is not responsive and can appear to favor some citizens over others.