Longtime former Douglas County Commissioner Doug Robertson thinks Home Rule will harm county government, making it less responsive to voters and less influential at the state and federal level.
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.
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…
Robertson served as county commissioner for more than three decades, during which he spent considerable time pushing for restoring timber harvests on federal lands. The county historically received most of its general fund dollars from revenue shared off those harvests. Robertson had also previously served as president of the Roseburg City Council, which has a council and manager style of government similar to what’s being proposed under Home Rule.
Robertson is not a fan of creating a county manager. He said the position would transfer “an enormous amount of power and authority” from elected commissioners to a bureaucrat that hasn’t been elected.
“One of the things that bothered me a lot is that the county manager will be responsible for all employment and termination of all county employees in all county departments. Wow, that’s a lot of authority. Not the board, the board wouldn’t do that anymore,” he said.
Robertson also said the charter would reduce the county’s influence on timber issues because an unpaid, part-time commissioner wouldn’t be taken seriously at the state and federal level.
Robertson served on federal committees, and testified before the state legislature and Congress about the county’s timber issues, a role Commissioner Tim Freeman took up after he retired. Under Home Rule, Robertson said the county would “lose that leadership and that voice that we’ve had.”
The Home Rule Charter slated to appear on the ballot this November would change the way Doug…
Robertson said Clatsop County, whose charter was largely copied to produce the one proposed here, is one of the Home Rule counties least like Douglas County.
“Whoever wrote this wants to transform Douglas County more into the image of Clatsop County. That means they want to separate from the issues of federal forest management,” Robertson said.
He also said he thinks the pay the current commissioners receive is fair, given the time and effort they put into the job. It’s comparable to the amount commissioners in other counties of similar size receive, he said. Clatsop is the only one of the state’s nine Home Rule counties whose commissioners are unpaid.
Robertson also said he’s concerned about a clause in the proposed charter that says the sheriff would enforce state laws and county ordinances “except as determined otherwise by the board.” Home Rule supporters say that clause wouldn’t change the relationship between commissioners and the sheriff, but Robertson’s not convinced.
“The authority and power between the board of commissioners and the sheriff has always been a bright line in this county and most counties,” Robertson said. “The board of commissioners has no power and authority over the sheriff. This blurs that line.”
Robertson said even if the proposed charter hadn’t raised concerns for him about increasing bureaucracy and the relationship between commissioners and the sheriff, he’d have opposed it because the public wasn’t involved while the charter was being drafted.
“How this was done is reason enough for me to vote no,” he said.
Robertson disagrees with Douglas County Circuit Court Judge Kathleen Johnson’s recent ruling that initiative petition can be used to put a charter before voters. He argues, as plaintiff Melvin Smith unsuccessfully argued, that a charter committee should have been appointed to debate and draft a new charter.
“It would seem to me that before you dramatically and radically change the structured government in the county, you would want to provide public input, questions, transparency,” he said. “Who did this? We don’t know. You don’t know. And one of the reasons you don’t know is they don’t want their names attached to it.”
Robertson said he thinks the charter is being proposed because the current commissioners, faced with a budget crisis, have had to make some difficult choices about things like charging fees at county parks.
“Are there unpopular decisions being made, and people would rather we didn’t? Of course there are. It’s tough times for rural resource-dependent counties all over, but is that a reason to change the fundamental structure of our government?” he asked.
He said he doesn’t see how a five-member board and a county manager would be better for the county. If people are unhappy with the commissioners in office now, that’s what elections are for, he said. But he thinks they’re doing a good job.
“As funds diminish, hard decisions have to be made, and they are, and that’s the job. They’re doing the best they can.”