The Brookings City Council Monday night voted unanimously to support an initiative on the May 20 ballot asking to change the county’s form of government from one of general law to a home rule charter.
Citing such things as the county’s commissioners’ unwillingness to listen to citizens and an inability to operate a smooth government, council members said change is necessary.
Mayor Ron Hedenskog said the city had sent two letters to county commissioners last year requesting they begin the work of changing the charter, “and to this date, nothing has happened.”
County commissioners recently appointed nine citizens to a charter committee to investigate the feasibility of a home rule charter in Curry County.
The county committee had one meeting so far, and they have up to two years to make a recommendation to the county board.
“When your representatives fail to listen to the public when they’re making a special request — and they’re obviously a majority — and they fail to move, this is what an initiative is for,” Hedenskog said.
“Learning more about how the county is operating now is a lot like watching sausage get made,” said Council Member Kelly McClain. “You don’t necessarily want to know too much.”
A Citizens Charter Committee — called C3 — formed last year craft a home rule charter.
“The 24-member citizens committee came back with its recommendations and one was for the county to immediately move to an administrator/commissioner form of government, and they simply declined to do it,” said Carl King of Nesika Beach, who crafted the C3 document. “Two of them even declined to form a committee. We refused to let the issue die.”
Initiative 8-76 asks voters to approve a change in the form of county government from general law to home rule. A home rule charter, in effect, gives local control to the county as long as it doesn’t supersede state statutes.
The initiative crafted by C3, if approved, would mean the county would have a board of five commissioners who would deal with overall governmental issues, notably at the legislative level. Those commissioners would each be paid an annual stipend of $10,000.
Additionally, the charter calls for a full-time, paid administrator, who would oversee the day-to-day operations of the county.
City officials praised the efforts of the group, noting that it was long overdue.
“There were a lot of good ideas, a lot of care, a lot of healthy debate,” said McClain, who actively worked on the campaign. “When things aren’t happening, as I always say: ‘Follow the money.’ You can’t expect people who are paid well with full benefits to start an initiative where that’s going to go away.
“The city has been willing to work hand-in-hand with the county and I don’t feel it’s been a two-way street — I feel very strongly about this,” he added.
Council Member Jake Pieper said he thinks the initiative will be a first step in restoring faith in county government.
“The majority of county commissioners have been busy shoring up their own paychecks and securing their own PERS,” he said. “It took a group of citizens in this county to make something better in this county.
“We need to get back on a straight path and start anew,” he added. “It’s not going to be easy starting something brand new like this, but it’s the beginning of something new. That’s the biggest issue: restoring the trust. I think it’s been lost for a long, long time.”
Council Member Brent Hodges, however, had some reservations about the endorsement, saying he was unsure of the quality of leadership citizens might get for $10,000. But he joined the others in the motion to support it.
“This has been a long time in coming,” said Council Member Bill Hamilton. “A change is needed. For many years, we’ve been told our logging dollars are going away, that we needed to step up. I feel the county has not complied. Those are harsh words, but. … I support this.”
“I don’t know if this is the end of the beginning or the beginning of the end,” King said. “We’re beginning a campaign, and it’s the beginning of that phase. But the real beginning will begin on July 1, when we will operate under a charter. You’ll see a lot of activity from us in the next three months.”