Americans for Representative, Responsive, Responsible Government (ARRRG), proponents of 6-149, the Home Rule Charter, may be right. Coos County probably needs a change in government structure. However well-intentioned it may be, the proposed ARRRG Home Rule Charter is not it.
It is idealistically crafted with little regard to the practicalities of managing an organization of the size and complexity as Coos County. Moreover, it is riddled with ambiguity, conflicting and even dangerous provisions that will undoubtedly have the county mired in costly litigation for years.
County commissioners are elected at large without a primary or run-off. If enough people signed up to run, we could conceivably elect someone with just four or five percent of the vote.
Proponents say the Charter would reduce costs but other than offering up eliminating commissioner credit cards and requiring public bidding for goods and services (already practiced and required by state law) they offer little to substantiate their claim. In fact, with the addition of two commissioners, one chief maintenance officer, an elected human resource director, a chief procurement officer and a librarian for the law library, one can easily imagine cost increases of over $400,000 per year.
The Charter places significant limitations on what commissioners can do. It will take four of the five to constitute a quorum. A quorum is required for an affirmative vote.
Department heads are given open ended expenditure authority (within budget) without regard to revenues. The commissioners will be required to allow public comment, a minimum of three minutes each, at the outset of every meeting and before each action item and at the meeting’s end. One can only imagine how long meetings might last.
Commissioners will be required to maintain and submit for public scrutiny what amounts to time cards detailing their activities each month and the time spent on each. Expenses would be similarly reported. The time and place for commissioner meetings would be set by the Charter. Charter violations could cost officials up to $2,500. The Charter expressly prohibits the hiring of a county administrator.
Elected officials would be hamstrung with requirement for a public vote, or plebiscite, on any contract with a value greater than $100,000, seriously extending the time to package timber sales and issue road contracts, to name a couple.
Indebtedness exceeding, in the aggregate, $5,000 would require a plebiscite. No exception is made for routine accounts payable.
A plebiscite would be required to dispose of assets, $25,000 for personal property and $50,000 for real property. For real property with a lesser value, an appraisal verifying its value, costing several thousand dollars, must be done.
Land use issues referred to state agencies would require a vote adding untold cost and time for many relatively straightforward actions. Partitions, zoning changes and even some conditional use permits could be involved.
Any Urban Renewal Agency activation, modification or indebtedness would require a plebiscite.
Enterprise Zone consents would require an 85-percent affirmative vote of affected residents to pass.
The passing of any ordinance involving nuisances such as litter, noise, etc., not covered by state law, requires a vote.
The Veteran’s Office must remain in Coquille and it must report directly to the commissioners. Change requires a plebiscite.
Elected officials salaries would be set by public vote as will a cost of living policy for non-union staff.
There are typically one or two scheduled elections each year. There is no way to gauge how many “special elections” would be necessary to prevent total gridlock at the county. Elections typically cost $40,000 to $50,000 each.
There are significant budget issues, too. The Charter requires a dedicated fund be established to fund preventative maintenance but does not say from where these funds will come. The general fund is currently underwater and the county is “borrowing” from other dedicated funds to maintain services. Those funds will be depleted in a couple more years.
The Charter requires copies of virtually all documents be made available to the public at no cost. Immaterial? Perhaps, but there is considerable expense in time and copy cost to produce multiple copies of thousands of documents each month.
Other concerns include the county being prohibited by the Charter to participate in “green” organizations, particularly with respect to architectural issues. Health care initiatives could not be enforced nor could the county receive grants or gifts for health care.
Perhaps the worst of all is the “poison pill” provision. Amendments, modifications or repeal of the Charter would require an affirmative vote in numbers equal to or greater than the number that adopted this Charter. And it would take 15 percent of the voters in the last gubernatorial election to petition a change.
There is more, much more, but this Charter must not pass. It would be a financial and operational disaster for Coos County.
Jon Barton was co-chair of the Coos County Structure Committee, which in 2011 conducted an examination and critique of county government and recommended numerous changes and improvements.