In Our View: Home Rule Process Here?

Freeholders, start your engines; long process begins next week

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The process to maybe, perhaps, possibly alter Clark County government enters its embryonic stage next week. In other words, there's a long, long way to go, but a step will be taken toward the formation of a home rule charter with the start of the filing period for freeholder positions.The Columbian encourages readers to get involved in the process, either as informed citizens or as freeholder candidates.

Five freeholder spots from each of the three county commissioner districts will be selected in the Nov. 5 general election. Those 15 freeholders will conduct numerous public meetings, devise a proposal for changes to county government, seek approval from county commissioners, and then put the plan before voters. As we said, it's a long process. But sea changes to government require due deliberation and thoughtful consideration.

Those wishing to be placed on the Nov. 5 ballot for consideration as freeholders can declare their candidacy in one of three ways:

• Apply in person at the Clark County Elections Department, 1408 Franklin St., Vancouver. In-person filing begins at 8 a.m. Aug. 5 and runs during office hours through 5 p.m. Aug. 9.

• Apply online at http://clarkvotes.org, between 9 a.m. Aug. 5 and 4 p.m. Aug. 9.

• Apply by mail to Clark County Elections, P.O. Box 8815, Vancouver, WA, 98666. Applications must be received by Aug. 9.

To qualify as a freeholder candidate, applicants must be a registered voter in Clark County, a resident of the commissioner district for which they are filing, and reside in Clark County for at least five years preceding the election. Read the "2013 Freeholder Election Guidelines" at http://clarkvotes.org.

The filing period coincides with the Aug. 6 primary, so here's a friendly reminder to take some time and remember to vote. To view Columbian endorsements for the primary: http://www.columbian.com/opinion.

The freeholder process could, in the long run, foment vast changes in our local form of county government. Possible changes that have been mentioned include increasing the number of county commissioners from three to five; altering some elected offices to non-partisan positions; or switching some elected offices to appointed positions.

The possibilities are endless.

Clark County voters have rejected home rule charter ballot items in 1982, 1997, and 2002, but there appears to be renewed interest this time around. At a Clark County commissioners meeting in June, 25 people testified about the proposal, most of them speaking in favor of it. And county Commissioner Steve Stuart, a Democrat, has teamed with county Auditor Greg Kimsey, a Republican, to form what they are calling Team ClarkForward, an effort to update the county's form of government.

That kind of bipartisan support represents the sort of effort that will be required for any beneficial result. While only six of Washington's 39 counties have adopted home rule charters, four include large or midsize cities: King (Seattle), Pierce (Tacoma), Snohomish (Everett), and Whatcom (Bellingham).

But regardless of a county's size, we feel it's always a good idea to examine how a government conducts its business and how it can do so more efficiently. We feel it's always a good idea to put as much power as possible in the hands of the governed rather than the governors.

It's a long process, but it begins in a small way next week.