A Home Rule Charter proposal for Douglas County will be on the November ballot for consideration by the county’s voters. This provides a unique opportunity for each of us to revisit the current structure of county government and weigh it against an alternative structure that is in practice in other counties across our state.
It is an opportunity for us in Douglas County to engage in constructive conversations on this important topic and to become personally informed, to come to our own conclusions and to exercise our right to vote accordingly. To date, we as citizens of Douglas County, have had few opportunities to understand the real issues and weigh the pros and cons of either form.
The Home Rule Charter proposes to (1) change the way our board of commissioners is structured, changing the way decisions and policy are carried out, (2) change the way we as citizens are represented at the board of commissioners and (3) potentially impact the cost of operating county government.
The charter as proposed is a document of about seven pages and is a clearly worded, straight-forward read. It’s available online at https://douglascountyhomerule.com/charter. We are being asked to weigh the Home Rule Charter structure against the way the county is currently structured. That said, the community should take the 20 minutes or so to read it and then take time to have informed conversations about the advantages and disadvantages of either form.
The proponents of the charter say that it provides a more effective form of representation and governance than what we currently have; and that this is something that has been working in other counties for decades.
The opponents of the charter say that by voting down the proposal, extreme environmentalists will be stopped; that the proposal will lead to stronger gun control in Douglas County; and the charter initiative will usurp the authority of the Douglas County sheriff.
The county government would be structured like city governments throughout the county. Five districts would resemble the wards in our local cities, where each of five proportionately populated districts would have their own representative on the board of commissioners. These would be volunteer county commissioners. The county would hire a manager to implement policy and ordinances, and carry out the day-to-day business of the county, reporting back to the board. The manager would function at the pleasure and discretion of the board of the commissioners. This is how most all cities and school districts work throughout the state of Oregon. The proposal appears to be benign with regard to impact on operations of the county.
As to an exception by the board on the sheriff’s enforcement of laws and ordinances, in what ways does this differ from the current relationship between these elected officials? Would the board gain or lose any authority under the Home Rule Charter and in what way? Are there ordinances or Oregon Revised Statutes in place that guide or limit the relationship between these elected positions?
The key to making any good decision is to understand the issue. To date, there has been little of anything of real substance presented for the public to consider.
The campaign in support of the Home Rule Charter appears to identify the merits of the charter itself as the reason to support the proposal; that it would allow the county to have better representation and a more effective form of governance.
The campaign in opposition has lead with signs that state “Stop Extreme Environmentalists” in big letters on a red background, an intentionally alarming approach to mislead the public, changing the focus of the conversation from the merits of the proposal by creating a fake environmental issue. There is nothing in the charter to substantiate the claims about environmentalists or Second Amendment rights. Are the 4,000-plus petition signers really extreme environmentalists?
Opposition brochures infer that Second Amendment rights could be in question (how?) and identify higher operational costs if the Home Rule Charter were to pass. Perhaps, or would there be a shift of current costs from elected officials to staff.
The cost and effectiveness of either form of government needs to be hashed out in a monitored forum where the community can ask questions and get reasonable answers.
When will a real discussion happen? Is it too late to clear the smokescreen created by the Vote No campaign to have real debates and informed conversations; to equip the community with the tools to vote from a place of understanding? Probably. And that’s embarrassing. At the very least, the community is deserving of more than a void of real information or being fed half-truths and misleading statements.
To quote the opening line in The News Review’s editorial of Sept. 24 on the matter, “Whatever happened to the days of honest debate?”