County and city elected officials from Southern Oregon and Northern California gathered in Brookings Friday afternoon to discuss the pros and cons of a proposed home rule charter that would feature a commissioner/manager style of government.
Ballot measure 8-76 asks voters May 20 to change the form of county government from one of general law to a home rule charter. Under this home rule charter — and such documents can be changed by the voters at any time — the county board would comprise five, part-time, volunteer commissioners and a full-time paid administrator.
An administrator, as proposed, would oversee the county’s 20-plus departments, thus freeing up the commissioners to address issues affecting the county at the state level and craft policy at the local level.
The format, sponsored by the Citizens Charter Committee that drafted the ballot measure, was a discussion of council/manager form of government, yet six of the eight panelists spoke in favor of it.
Brookings City Manager Gary Milliman, one of those who crafted the ballot proposal, said he prefers the council/manager form of government, and cited instances in which it served the public better than that of general law.
He was the city manager of Ft. Bragg, Calif., at the age of 28, and learned how to work with county officials and three other cities in the county; he later worked as a city council member in Southern California that operated under general law.
“I can tell you, that was a negative experience,” he said. “Everyone had different abilities, skills and visions as to what the city should be doing or how it should be cooperating. It’s a failed system, and it was replaced soon after I left.”
Jay Sarina, the county administrative officer for Del Norte County, said their supervisor/administrator system there works well. (Del Norte County has supervisors instead of county commissioners.)
“I’m the liaison with all the departments,” he said. “If there’s a problem, they all come through my office. The Board of Supervisors expects me to take care of those problems as they come up. The board makes policy. My job is to make sure that policy is followed by the departments, understood by the departments and not deviated from.”
Dan Bartlett, a retired city manager in Astoria and county manager in Benton County, agreed.
“In my role in Benton County, my job was to represent the citizens and deal with issues related to counties,” he said. “That freed up the commissioners so they can deal with other issues. I’d communicate with department heads what policy was so they’d hear it from one (source).”
Aaron Cubic, the city manager of Grants Pass, said the job of the county commissioners is to create goals through strategic planning and it is the job of the administrator to make sure those goals are met.
“I make sure the ship is running well,” he said. “The council’s job is to steer the ship. My job is to make sure the engine’s running well, the kitchen’s serving everyone.”
Brookings Mayor Ron Hedenskog said he believes in a grassroots form of government, and having a manager enables him to do the things he was elected to do.
The other two panelists were State Rep. Wayne Krieger and County Commissioner David Itzen.
Krieger said he believes the current system works and the proposed system may work but won’t solve the county’s fiscal problems — a point often noted in public meetings and deflected by home rule proponents who say the two issues are separate and admit the current form of government is not what’s causing the county’s financial problems.
Itzen, outnumbered on the panel as the only opponent of the proposed home rule charter, said the current form of county government is not too different from that proposed: Commissioners still would not be able to discuss issues among each other without public notice, and that each board member is a liaison to a list of county departments.
“What’s here is a solution without a problem,” he said. A handful in the crowd laughed.
He noted that County Counsel Jerry Herbage often serves as a county manager and whose scope of power is “very limited.”
“And he has no certification in management,” he said. “That’s not particularly important in our circumstances in Curry County. Credentials are useful, but not imperative.”
The 3C committee plans to hold numerous forums throughout the county outlining the proposed home rule charter this month and next.