By editorial board • 

Home rule best route for county

In Oregon, voters in general law counties such as Yamhill are allowed to alter “number or mode of selection of elective county officials.” Unfortunately, no one is sure what “mode of selection” means.

When that was established by legislative action in the 1970s, it may very well have been intended to include election by district, the “mode” for cities, school districts, legislatures and Congress. But that application has never been tested, so an attempt to establish districts for commissioner elections in a general law county would be open to legal challenge.

Benton, Clatsop and the other seven home rules counties can structure things any way they wish, but it’s murkier for Yamhill and the other 26 general law counties. Thanks for another clear set of guidelines, lawmakers. 

In the face of the legal uncertainty, backers of a move to expand the county governing board from three to five decided to drop a proposed election-by-district element in their draft of a measure being consider for a spring ballot.

While there is some appeal to leading the charge to clear up the issue, the threat of incurring significant legal costs in the process is a powerful deterrent. That’s a shame, as we would be far more enthused about a measure dividing the county into districts.

One of the big downsides to at-large balloting in a county with more than 100,000 residents is the cost. Races requires a level of fundraising and name recognition serving to deter a wide range of would-be candidates.

Commissioner Casey Kulla, who is leading the campaign to expand the board, spent $30,000 himself in his run last year. And extending that to primary and general election runs for candidates in five races instead of three would swell overall spending substantially.

Electing at least three commissioners by district, if not all five, would allow a more down home type of campaigns. That would ensure voters a broader selection of candidates.

Unless County Commissioner Rick Olsen has a change of heart, however, it appears a measure is headed for the May 2020 ballot to expand the board from three to five, all five to be elected on a costly, prohibitive countywide basis. 

Without voting by district, expansion of the board to five doesn’t move the needle enough to warrant the effort. We can’t help but view it as an exercise in futility. 

Instead, we would prefer to see Yamhill Valley take another run at winning voter approval of a home rule charter, thus freeing itself from the general law straightjacket once and for all. That’s the only means of establishing true local control.

Comments

Sponge

Moving to Home Rule would be a much smarter move than the current proposal. The last time this was on the ballot in Yamhill County, in 1998, I voted against it because I felt it would take daily management out of the commissioners’ hands, creating a strong county manager. That transition has already taken place, so home rule now makes more sense. Elect the commissioners by district; pay them a stipend of $1000 per month, plus approved travel expenses; and move the board meetings to evenings. This would save money; encourage more people to consider running for office; reduce the cost of running for office; and allow more people to attend the board meetings.

We should reject this very expensive current proposal, and start over by appointing a Home Rule Charter Committee to put a better option before the voters.

sbagwell

I'm with Sponge. He makes a good case.
It's a harder road to travel, but promises a better result -- much better. And I think the details of Sponge's proposal for the shape it should take are dead on.
Steve

A New Generation

Thanks for an informative editorial article. I plan to give this issue some time and attention, and also want to thank Commissioners Olson and Kulla for having the courage to have the conversation, instead of shutting it down. It might be illuminating to explore what others are thinking and how they feel about their representation (or lack of it), and empower local control of land issues especially, as noted in the headline article 'County Trail Decision Remanded Again'. It'll be intersting to see who volunteers for the Charter Committee. Hooray Democracy!