In Our View: No Change Needed

Efforts to reform county government have been fully vetted; it’s time to move on

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Clark County commissioners have spent enough time and money studying a fourth possible trip down the home-rule charter road. Nothing even approaching a broad public outcry has been heard for changing the way our county is governed. It’s time to abandon this solution in search of a problem and move on to more crucial issues, such as ushering Clark County through and beyond the Great Recession.

Commissioners will consider the matter again today. The correct decision would be to call the extensive research (including six lightly attended public meetings) fully completed and drop the issue that local voters have rejected three times in 20 years. What commissioners might do instead is require supporters to meet a threshold of proof of community support through the petition process. Supporters would have to receive signatures from 10 percent of the number of voters who participated in the most recent general election (14,904 signatures). Either way, the commissioners should suspend any attention by themselves and other county employees on changes that only a few people seem to want.

The types of reform mentioned most frequently by local activists are giving residents initiative and referendum powers (rejected by more than 52 percent of voters in 2002), and electing county commissioners by district (currently they are elected by district in the primary but appear on ballots countywide in the general election). The status quo of requiring all three of the county’s most powerful politicians to be held accountable to voters countywide is an excellent system. Changing it to what the few activists want would create three fiefdoms, with each sovereign servant ignoring the needs (and, especially, the voters) of two-thirds of the county.

Another bad idea is the possibility of expanding the number of county commissioners from three to five; almost 62 percent of voters shot down that notion in 2002.

Other facts to consider:

Only 113 people attended seven meetings this year (six public hearings and a special meeting for the county’s neighborhood associations). Even as low as that number is, it’s probably misleadingly high in measuring community support, because an unknown number of people attended multiple meetings.

These meetings and the required staff time already have cost taxpayers about $5,000. Admittedly, that’s no earthshaking expense when it comes to the overall county budget, but in this economic crisis, every dime counts. The few supporters who keep pressing this issue should be satisfied that the county has spent that much money listening to their concerns. Other groups would love to have that kind of commitment.

Ultimately, putting the matter on the ballot could cost $100,000, which is a substantial figure in itself, but which is especially troubling in view of the thrice-defeated record of this issue when put before voters.

Another indication that efforts to reform county government are gaining no meaningful traction: Neither local office of the two major political parties supports this effort. The Clark County Republican Party has taken no official stance, and the Clark County Central Democratic Committee unanimously opposed it.

Six counties in Washington have adopted home-rule charters. Local activists argue we should become the seventh. Our argument: 33 counties have stuck with the state’s default model for county government, so they must be happy with it.

If this goes to the voters in November, 15 freeholders would need to be elected. The local Republican Party says eight to 10 people have expressed interest.

The conclusion from the evidence is clear: It’s time for county commissioners to move on to more important things.