Dear San Juan County Friends and Neighbors:
Some of you have heard from me before on the issue of the Charter Review Commission majority. (I am a member of the minority. We are very small in number but we have serious concerns about the way the entire CRC "charter review" has been conducted. I strongly encourage you to vote NO on the Charter amendments they will submit soon for the November ballot.
I hesitate to send out e-mailings because we all get so much junk. I hope you will agree that this is not junk mail, but rather a series of good arguments against the CRC majority’s poorly considered amendments to the Home Rule Charter.
These amendments, if approved, will:
Eliminate the major provisions of our Charter.
Return the County to the old 3-member, 3 district model in which an island with 1/6 of the population regains 1/3 of the power.
Return us to a system in which "one person, one vote" does not apply.
Eliminate the administrative officer, create a new "manager" position, and give all administrative power to the three Council members to delegate.
Invalidate the results of the 2010 Council elections so that the entire Council is dismissed, including those elected in districts with a year and a half left on their terms of office.
Require the three council members elected in November to leave office in February if they lose the new primary. With the April general election, the entire current and newly elected council is gone. The February and April elections could cost $50,000. The disruption would be significant.
There is much more. We are on the verge of finally being able to fully implement the Charter. The administrative officer hired by the BOCC has resigned. The Council has been able to bring much of the unfinished business left to us by the BOCC to a conclusion. There are three council terms expiring in November.
If you are willing to hear the perspective I offer, please read the essay posted below (there will be more in coming weeks) and take a look at my website.
For the time being, thanks for reading this, and please consider a NO VOTE on the CRC charter amendments.
Charter Review Commissioner
How the Charter Review Commission arrived at its recommendations to amend the Home Rule Charter Or How the Napoleonic Code works in the CRC #1 in a series of essays
Janice Peterson, Charter Review Commission Member
In America, we believe in the presumption of innocence. If someone is going to be punished by the state, a long chain of evidence must be presented before the accused is shipped off to the slammer or worse. In some countries the reverse is true – guilty until proven innocent. That’s the Napoleonic Code.
The presumption of innocence applies (or should apply) to our government at all levels, our legal system, and in social/cultural networks as well. We think before we act, we study before we make critical decisions, we don't punish before we document the crime.
It should have applied to the Home Rule Charter we have had in our possession for five years, but it did not. The CRC majority made sure of that.
The Charter took a whole lot of work from citizens who were disgusted with the BOCC form of governance, yet more effort to elect the Freeholders who hammered out the new Charter, and, finally, the careful consideration of more than 60% of the voters in approving the Charter. It passed in 15 of the 17 precincts in San Juan County. Lopez Island was the only place the Charter was defeated. This was a huge change for us.
The Charter emerged from the Freeholders’ effort with only one opposing vote. That vote came from the person who was elected chair of the Charter Review Commission this past January – the person who announced before he was elected that he would “entertain a motion to rescind the Charter;” the person who wrote a column titled, "Alienated," in which he catalogued his complaints against the Charter.
If you read the column (posted on sjccharter.wordpress.com), you will discover that most of his criticism had nothing to do with the structure of the Charter. It had to do with his irritation at people, not the Charter structure.
Concerns about the Charter over the years were bound to arise and that’s why the Freeholders made provision for a review in 5 years. It should have been a priority of the Charter Review Commission to look closely at those worries to identify them clearly and determine whether fault resided in the Charter or in something else.
The CRC should have worked toward a common understanding of what the problems were before leapfrogging to a solution that had already been tried and found wanting. As one of the council members said (twice) at CRC meetings, "I need to know what problem you are addressing with these changes." She also noted that if you ask a number of people to define a problem, you will likely get a number of answers.
Defining the problem is an important first step. It didn't happen.
In the deliberations of the Charter Review Commission, the Charter was found guilty during the first and second week of meetings.
When they made these monumental decisions, there were no interviews. No research was conducted. No public testimony was taken. Nothing was brought forward to prove guilt except the personal opinions of the 15 members of the CRC who were present to vote on motions to gut our Home Rule Charter.
In the early versions of the Findings, it was argued that the CRC members were invested with confidence from the voters to do the right thing. I don’t believe it. If you look at the Voters Pamphlet from the last election, you might agree that voters didn't have a clue about what to expect.
A good number of those elected ran unopposed and without a statement to explain their views in any depth. One submitted no statement at all. Only one or two said – in so many words – that they planned to eviscerate the Charter. The voters were led to believe by the language of the Charter that there would be a review and a process.
I think the voters knew very well that there would be bias, in some cases, pretty extreme, but I can't imagine that anyone would have foreseen the events that transpired.
There was no process in deciding to eliminate the central features of our Home Rule Charter. The CRC majority started at the end and stayed there.
It was a juggernaut.
Well, you might say, so what? They came in with predisposed conclusions and voted to follow through.
Go back to the old 3-commissioner system.
Go back to full-time commissioners paid full-time salaries.
Go back to giving Lopez Island a third of the power with 1/6th of the population.
Go back to three districts.
Here are some reasons why the CRC majority’s cart-before-the-horse, decide now – justify later plan was and is a hugely flawed operation: They did not consider the obvious implications. The population equalization that was implemented just a few months ago on recommendations to the County Council from the Redistricting Committee goes out the window.
We go back to a system that was worrisome in the past and will be worrisome in the future if the amendments are approved. A constitutional challenge could arise from someone who believes in the idea of one person, one vote – that “old canard” one of the CRC members told me angrily more than once.
Inquiry should come before advocacy, not the other way around. If you make your mind up at the start, there is no place to go except follow the path that supports your decision. This is what the CRC majority did. They invited every former BOCC member they could find to come and testify.
Was it surprising that they all wanted to go back to the old days? Was it shocking to discover that Alan Lichter, who railed against the Charter six years ago still thought it was a bad idea? If your mind is made up, what chance do other ideas have? The answer is no chance at all.
When the CRC got around to inviting the current Council members, they heard a lot they didn't like so they ignored it.
Patty Miller asked twice what the problem is that the CRC was addressing in going back to the old 3-member commission and how we thought that going back to 3 would solve whatever the problem(s) is(are). She was ignored.
Richard Fralick expressed concern about constitutional issues.
They paid no attention.
Citizens who said they were concerned about a "rush to judgment" were ignored. The Freeholders were never invited to testify.
Making decisions in advance of discovering what the evidence has to say increases the likelihood of bad choices. Going back to the old system of three legislators gave no consideration to all the bad things about that old system that caused us to abandon it. 60% of us voted to get rid of it.
If we want to change our minds and go backward, we need a lot of good reasons. Where are they? Do we have any assurance at all that things will be better? I submit that we have NO such assurance.
Making major decisions without research, interviews, and all the other things that define a reasonable process of review gives the advantage to the unproven decisions and leaves options that might be excellent out in the cold.
Here are some examples:
1. The CRC majority went immediately to a plan to resurrect the 3-commissioner model. We had no discussion of changing the number to 4 or 5 or 7 or any other number. None.
2. Going backwards to gut the Charter is a costly proposition – not just in terms of money but in time, energy, and hassle of many varieties. Why not look at the possibility of making repairs to fix things without a major overhaul? The CRC refused to look at adjustments to their original decisions, decisions made 7 days after they first convened.
3. Two ideas were presented to the CRC on how to make the population roughly equal across three districts. Both ideas were dismissed almost without discussion.
All of the discussion above gets down to a fundamental flaw in the entire proceedings of the Charter Review Commission. It truly has been a rush to judgment and as a result we have absolutely no idea whether going backwards will be an improvement over the present system.
In the next few months I will write on other topics of importance to your vote in November. I hope you will reject the amendments proposed by the CRC majority.