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Nov. 26, 2022

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In Our View: Home Rule Again, Really?

Clark County voters have repeatedly spoken against idea; try something new

The Columbian

Apparently unable to determine whether or not the horse is dead yet, Clark County commissioners are moving ahead with their exploration of a home rule charter.The idea of such a charter was rejected by voters in 1982, 1997, and 2002, and yet the citizens of the county can’t kill it. Commissioners last week agreed to add discussion of the matter to the agenda for an upcoming public hearing.

The meeting will take place at 6 p.m. June 4 at the Public Service Center, 1300 Franklin St., but we can’t imagine that very many citizens will be concerned enough to show up. A series of seven meetings to discuss a similar plan in 2011 drew an underwhelming total of 113 people — and there’s no telling how many of those were repeat customers.

That extreme level of apathy was enough to stop the movement in its tracks at that time, which makes us wonder why it is being rejuvenated now. Home rule charter has become the zombie of Clark County politics.

Commissioners Tom Mielke and Steve Stuart gave verbal approval to explore the matter this time around, while David Madore has, in the past, expressed misgivings about a home rule charter.

Mielke has indicated support for the plan, suggesting that it will give residents more of a say in county government. We favor such a noble goal, yet the idea of a home rule charter would seem to create needless additional bureaucracy and inefficiency rather than an increase in public control.

The plan, as it stands, would create 15 freeholder positions to be voted upon by the electorate. The freeholders then would gather to create a new county charter, which would be presented to the county commissioners for their approval or denial. If approved, the charter would then go to voters.

A new charter could include items such as expanding the board of commissioners from three to five; making some elected county offices nonpartisan; or changing some elected offices to appointed positions. On the surface, none of these is a poor idea. But reconfiguring county government in this fashion has been considered and rejected by voters three times in the past three decades, meaning it is time to let the matter fade away.

The situation is beginning to call to mind Oregon, where voters have rejected a state sales tax nine times and demonstrated that at some point leaders need to listen to the people and come up with new ideas.

But back to Clark County. While the scope of a home rule charter would be unnecessarily burdensome, the notion of expanding the county commission to five members is intriguing. There would appear to be benefits to circumventing the current Rule of 2 that reigns over the commission, but the costs of adding salaries and benefits for additional commissioners would mitigate those benefits.

The notion of constantly examining and assessing local governmental procedures is a wise and important one. There frequently are ways in which government can better serve the people, and suggestions for how to do this should be explored.

But, as The Columbian wrote recently in an editorial, exploring the idea of a home rule charter would be a wild goose chase, seeking to solve problems that are nonexistent. This time, we’ll opt for a different animal analogy and reiterate that it would be a waste of time, money, and energy only to have voters beat this horse again.

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