It’s been difficult to understand why some in Douglas County think that there is a need to make changes in county government. I wanted to know why some people thought that this should be done.
Those for the proposed charter cited two reasons for their support. One reason was all of the county services that have either ended or that now require a user fee. The second reason was that these changes came about without the public having a voice in them.
Were these changes made by commissioners behind closed doors and with no public input?
Because of work on the Library Futures Task Force, I’ve become acquainted with the county budget, its reserves and its financial realities. The dire situation of our county’s funding directly relates to the complaints of those for the charter, and I’ve discovered that the changes made by commissioners are the direct outcome of lost timber revenues.
Because past commissioners had saved millions, we’ve had reserves that have brought us through to the current time. Now the reserves are running out, and the federal safety net has ended.
Looking at the budget presentation created by our current commissioners, it shows how they dealt with the realities of decreases in both the general and the road funds (http://bit.ly/2gYqt09).
The millions of dollars from Bureau of Land Management lands that flowed into the county budget are now coming in at a trickle. These funds and property taxes paid for our roads, schools, library system, fairgrounds, landfill, etc. Because income has been decreasing, the commissioners have been decreasing or ending the funding of many departments. Departments have adjusted to this loss by decreasing employees via attrition, getting grants, becoming a nonprofit, charging user fees, etc.
Douglas County has lost 80 percent of revenues in the General Fund and 90 percent in the Road Fund. In spite of such losses and by prioritizing what was funded, the commissioners have helped to fund Senior Services, Veterans Services, the Juvenile Department and the district attorney’s Mental Health Court, among other departments
Did the public have a voice in making these changes to county services?
Douglas County commissioners have three public meetings a week. Each commissioner is both a commissioner and an administrator, and each puts in about 65 hours a week. No decision can be made without a quorum of commissioners to vote during a public meeting.
Citizens can go into the commissioners’ office anytime or make an appointment to speak with any commissioner. Commissioners also return phone calls. In addition to their regular work, commissioners have had 75 speaking engagements about these changes. Speaking engagements always include a public forum during which anyone may ask questions.
Citizens who cannot attend meetings may listen live or by recording to work sessions or Wednesday meetings on the county’s website. Knowing what the commissioners are doing is no secret.
Would the proposed charter give the public more of a say in county matters?
After reading the charter, I discovered that there would be only two commissioners meetings per month. In addition, Douglas County would be divided into five separate districts with a commissioner for each. A citizen may appeal concerns only to his or her own commissioner.
All county business and administrative decisions would be made by one full-time paid county manager who would be accountable to part-time, unsalaried commissioners, not to citizens or to voters. The proposed charter in Chapter IV, Section 2, B states that “the County Manager shall be appointed for an indefinite term and may be removed at the pleasure of the board.” This administrator cannot be voted out no matter what citizens think.
In Chapter IV, Section 2, A5, the charter gives sole authority to the county manager to hire and fire all county employees. The commissioners will have no say in such decisions.
Currently, our sheriff is elected by citizens to carry out all county, state and federal laws. According to the charter in Chapter IV, Section 4, B1, the sheriff will carry out all such laws “except as determined otherwise by the Board.” Since the sheriff is elected by citizens to carry out laws, thus giving voters a true voice, why could the commissioners decide which laws the sheriff would enforce or not enforce? What about the voice of the voters?
If this charter passes, citizens would lose our voice and leadership on resource issues, especially those involving federal forest lands. Unsalaried, part-time commissioners could never take the place of full-time commissioners and speak up for our county in Congress. This lack of representation at the federal level would lead to even more economic instability in Douglas County.
Haven’t we lost enough? Are you willing to lose your voice in county government? Vote “no” on the charter.