The current system of county government isn’t working well, and adopting a Home Rule Charter might fix it, supporters of that charter told The News-Review Editorial Board on Tuesday.
The News-Review Editorial Board invited people representing both the “yes” and the “no” votes on Home Rule Charter to visit with them recently. Home Rule supporters Stacey McLaughlin of Myrtle Creek and Carol Whipple of Elkton spoke with the board Tuesday about why they think the county government needs to change. Opponent Doug Robertson spoke with the board last week.
Home Rule, slated for the ballot this November, would replace the three salaried commissioners with five unsalaried commissioners, each representing one of five geographic districts. It would also create a county manager to oversee the day-to-day operations.
Longtime former Douglas County Commissioner Doug Robertson thinks Home Rule will harm county…
Stacey McLaughlin spent 35 years in government service and now runs a consulting business. She has served as the city manager of Portola, California, as executive director of the Umpqua Regional Council of Governments and as Douglas County Museum director. Carol Whipple is a rancher and timberland owner whose grandparents opened a sawmill in the 1930s, and whose family started the Mildred Whipple Foundation, which awards grants to educational programs.
McLaughlin said the key to her support for Home Rule lies in the creation of a county manager position. She said the absence of such a position in county government has always been a “missing link.” She said a county manager is important for two reasons. First, it helps de-politicize department heads like the planning or public works director who, under the current system, might feel pressured to do things the wrong way because that’s what a commissioner wants, she said.
Second, the county manager has the expertise to know what department heads should be doing. An elected commissioner can make policy, but doesn’t necessarily have the expertise to know how things should be done, she said.
McLaughlin said government has been her life’s work.
“I love government. I love what its goodness and its purposeful intention is for the people, and so that’s why I want to see good structures,” she said.
The Home Rule Charter slated to appear on the ballot this November would change the way Doug…
She said she’s not concerned about switching to part-time commissioners who would receive only stipends rather than salaries. Home Rule opponents argue part-time commissioners would have less influence at the state and federal level, especially when it comes to pushing for increased harvests on federal timberlands. Money from those harvests historically made up most of the county’s general fund.
McLaughlin said an elected official will be taken seriously because of the position they hold, whether or not they have a salary. As for county influence on timber issues, she’s not buying it.
“When they start talking about it’s going to diminish the influence that Douglas County has at the state and federal level, hello, where is that influence and what has it gotten us, and what has it done for us?” she asked.
She said the county was talking about the importance of getting “back in the woods” when she moved here 20 years ago, and they’re still talking about it today.
Whipple said she can’t understand why timber companies have been major contributors to more than $100,000 in campaign funds Home Rule opponents have collected to fight the charter.
“I’m embarrassed,” she said. “It’s an overreaction from my perspective.”
Whipple said the charter isn’t about environmentalism, it’s about “how the county moves forward.”
McLaughlin addressed another hot-button issue from the campaign. She doesn’t see why some opponents are worried that the board might move to control the sheriff or limit Second Amendment rights.
“Do you really honestly see the board of commissioners telling the sheriff he’s got to go out into the county and take people’s guns? Now or in the future? They can’t do it. These are local government officials, they don’t get to break federal and state law,” McLaughlin said.
The charter is mostly copied from the Clatsop County charter, with about 10 changes. McLaughlin said she didn’t know why Clatsop was chosen, but she thought it was a pretty standard charter. She said she thinks Clatsop County is similar to Douglas County. When questioned about whether Josephine County, which also has a Home Rule charter, wouldn’t be more similar, she suggested the Clatsop charter might have been preferred because it provides for a county manager, and Josephine doesn’t.
Opponents have suggested a lack of transparency among Home Rule supporters, and asked who’s behind the charter. The News-Review has been unable to get an answer about who wrote the charter. McLaughlin said she doesn’t know if there was a specific author.
“I think it was a collective group. I think it was sort of an organic thing. Whose computer it might have ended up on? Good question,” she said. She said she thinks the charter addresses problems raised by people passionate about a variety of county issues: libraries, parks, mental health, cannabis and the proposed Pacific Connector natural gas pipeline among them. However, she said the concern over the county’s structure is larger than any one of those issues. She also said it’s not intended to be a referendum against any of the commissioners.
“This was about fundamentally creating a new structure of government,” she said.