By Jeb Bladine • President / Publisher • 

Jeb Bladine: Review every detail of county structure

There will be — and already is — vigorous public debate regarding a proposal for five Yamhill County commissioners instead of three.


Jeb Bladine is president and publisher of the News-Register.

> See his column

New Commissioner Casey Kulla submitted a plan supported by a small citizen group he worked with; Commissioner Mary Starrett is steadfastly opposed; Commissioner Rick Olson voted with Kulla to have county counsel prepare a draft ballot measure; commissioner candidate Lindsay Berschauer, seeking to replace Olson, warns against excessive costs and requests a comprehensive budget impact statement; online and in social media, naysayers have been joined by a few supporters and several posters with serious questions.

As the debate continues, everyone involved should recognize that details of the proposal are not — and should not be — set in stone.

Nothing prevents consideration of part-time commissioners, which seems to work in 12 Oregon counties, though 10 have a full-time chair. Clatsop County goes that one better, relying entirely on unpaid volunteers.

We’re reminded that some volunteer city councilors spend as much time serving the public as it might take for elected commissioners in a well-run, strong-administrator county government.

Another contentious element needing review is the suggestion that all five commissioners be elected at-large. Five Oregon counties elect commissioners by district, as city councils normally do. Having all commissioners elected at-large ensures high-cost campaigns and allows one area of a county to dominate the commission.

Currently, two commissioners talking privately about county business is a violation of the state’s Open Meetings Law. Some worry with five commissioners, any two could meet to discuss policy, since it would take three to constitute a quorum. But after all, that’s exactly how most of Oregon’s public bodies function.

With three commissioners, of course, just two people of like mind are able to control the entire course of county infrastructure and services, of future-planning or the lack thereof.

Then there’s the theory that having five commissioners would somehow lead to land-use nightmares. One online critic opined, “I see where this is headed — annexation by Metro and turn Yamhill County into the 4th urban county of Oregon … I give it 20 years and Newberg and McMinnville will be the next Hillsboro and Beaverton with population 100,000, and it will be nonstop sprawl from the Casino to Longview, Washington.”

It’s a long path from initial idea to decisions on a county-launched ballot measure or a citizen initiative petition. Along the way, there are plenty of opportunities for appropriate fine-tuning.

Jeb Bladine can be reached at or 503-687-1223.


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