Douglas County Circuit Court Judge Kathleen Johnson reaffirmed Tuesday her September ruling allowing Home Rule Charter on the November ballot.
Home Rule would dramatically alter the way Douglas County government is run. Under the proposal voters will consider in November, the current three-man board of commissioners would be replaced by a five-member board, commissioners would no longer receive salaries, and a professional county manager would be hired.
Plaintiff Melvin “Bud” Smith, a retired Roseburg attorney, pointed to Oregon statutes to argue that Home Rule could only be adopted through the work of a charter committee.
Johnson rejected that argument for a second time Tuesday, when she issued a letter rejecting Smith’s Motion for Reconsideration of her September ruling. She said the state constitution also guarantees the right to use an initiative petition process, in which petitioners put forward a proposed charter, and gather signatures to place it on the ballot.
In her Tuesday decision, Johnson said if a charter committee were the only allowable method, that could create a problem.
“Although I am not attributing improper motives to anyone involved in the process, I think we must recognize that the requirement that eight of the nine members of the committee be appointed by elected officials, with the ninth member being appointed by those selected by elected officials to the committee, creates a substantial risk that the conduct of the committee will be influenced not by the members of the public who seek the charter in the first place, but by elected officials who may have their own interests in either advancing or defeating such a charter, and in the manner in which it is drafted. The direct initiative process removes this potential for governmental influence at the drafting stage,” she wrote.
Doug Hockett, petitioner for the proposed Home Rule Charter and a defendant in the case, hailed the judge’s ruling as a victory this morning.
“I think that was the exact right decision to make. I mean she’s doing her job and doing it well,” he said.
Hockett was particularly pleased by Johnson’s discussion of the potential for political influence on a charter committee.
“That’s exactly why we did not do the committee process, because if we did we would have had the influence from all the people we’re trying to make changes with. That was the reasoning. In other places, where the county (government) decided to make the change, then they did the committee process, and that’s all good and well. But in our situation, what we did was the right way to go,” he said.
Smith could not be reached for comment this morning.