The Curry County Charter Committee — the group appointed by county commissioners — is soliciting input from residents regarding their feelings about home rule charters in local government.
On May 20, voters rejected a citizens-drafted charter that would have replaced the current three, full-time, paid county commissioners with five volunteers who would have received a $10,000 annual stipend, and required the hiring of a county manager to oversee day-to-day operations of the county to free up commissioners to address legislative and other matters affecting Curry County.
Almost half of eligible voters mailed in their ballots to defeat the measure, 3,627 to 2,153. The group that drafted that charter is taking what it learned from the experience and crafting a new one to send to voters.
In the meantime, the county charter group continues its research into home rule charters in Oregon and how well they function. Ultimately, that committee will give a recommendation to county commissioners whether they feel a home rule charter is something the board should pursue.
Part of their research is collecting public opinion about the issue, said chair Larry Ball.
Voters who cast ballots for and against Measure 8-76 are asked to tell the committee, in 25 words or less, why they voted the way they did and what they like or dislike about that form of government.
“You can take a look at the election results and all it can tell you is that it lost and in what precincts — that’s all,” Ball said. “It doesn’t really tell us why.”
The answers they receive will tell the committee what people liked — or hated and feared — about the proposed charter.
“Was it that appointing department heads appealed to you, or you think an administrator’s not a good idea?” Ball posited. “Did you think Curry County would lose its local voice without full-time commissioners — that sort of thing. This information will ascertain why it didn’t pass but, more importantly, will tell us what the voting public would like to see in a charter.”
The committee is a little more than six months into the two-year research project given to them by county commissioners.
“My initial feeling is that it will be difficult to pass a charter of any kind in the next couple of years,” Ball said. “But our committee will have some sort of recommendation, either a charter or changes to the general law system (next year).”
Presently, there are nine Oregon counties that operate under home rule charters. Such documents are the “living constitutions” of a county or municipality, and enable them to establish guidelines as to how they will operate, giving them more local control.
Opponents of home rule charters — notably here — have indicated their uncertainty regarding how well a volunteer commissioner board can represent the interests of citizens, the cost of hiring an administrator and their suspicions about not being able to vote any longer for county clerk, treasurer, surveyor and assessor.
Others felt the citizens charter committee crafted Measure 8-76 as a means by which to address the county’s financial plight and voted against the ballot question — even though all involved admitted it was a separate issue.
County commissioners, all of whom were against this particular charter, said a volunteer cadre of part-time leaders cannot do the work they do, especially at the state level where every session, legislation is bandied about that could affect Curry County.