Home Rule Charter?
Written by Jane Stebbins, Pilot staff writer   
May 02, 2014 09:27 pm

Curry County Commissioner David Itzen, middle, and State Rep. Wayne Krieger, right, outline their stance against Measure 8-76 to a television reporter from Medford-based KDRV on Wednesday.
 

Voters in Curry County have just over two weeks to decide how to cast their vote on ballot Measure 8-76, which asks citizens to change the form of government by which the county operates.

It’s been a contentious issue over the past couple of months, with those for and against the initiative holding forums, engaging the community on social media and even accusing each other of disseminating false information about the question.

The measure was created by an offshoot of County Commissioner Susan Brown’s Financial Independence Committee formed to address the monetary woes of Curry County. 

The Citizens Charter Committee banded together and drafted a home rule charter that, if approved by voters May 20, would change the constitution of the county.

Nine other Oregon counties have home rule charters, and thousands of cities across the nation use that form of government to operate.

Measure 8-76

Counties and municipalities that operate under home rule — currently, Curry County is a “general law” county — enact this form of government so they can have more say in how their government is operated, proponents say.

County charters can have written into them details about how a county or city will be run and, as “living documents,” can be changed to address the changing needs of government.

Under the terms of Measure 8-76, the county Board of Commissioners would go from three, full-time, paid and elected commissioners to five, part-time, volunteer, elected officials.

Those commissioners would receive an annual, $10,000 stipend; the three county commissioners now earn $60,000 a year plus about $28,000 in benefits.

In addition, an administrator or manager would be hired by the board to oversee the day-to-day issues of the county’s 20 departments, thus freeing up the commissioners to spend more time on legislation and other matters at the state and federal levels that affect Curry County.

The cost of that is unknown and would depend on negotiations with applicants and the financial status of the county. Proponents believe a qualified manager could be hired for about $120,000 plus benefits, but opponents note that home rule chartered counties elsewhere pay their managers a far higher salary. Those counties, too, have much higher tax bases.

Another aspect of the proposed charter is that four of the six people — treasurer, assessor, surveyor and clerk — currently elected to those positions would be appointed, or hired, by the administrator with the approval of the board.

In the meantime, county commissioners have formed their own board to investigate the feasibility of a home rule charter for Curry County. That group, which has representatives appointed by state and local officials, is about seven months into a two-year study about home rule charters.

Opinions about almost every component of the proposed measure have been discussed around town, with opponents saying the document is everything from “fatally flawed” to unconstitutional — and proponents countering every attack.

The entire city council of Brookings supports the measure; two councilors on the Gold Beach board have expressed their opposition to it while the council as a whole has not taken a stand, and Port Orford opposed the measure by a vote of 4-2.

The Political Action Committee called Protect Your Right to Vote, formed by county commissioners David Brock Smith and David Itzen, also maintain citizens will lose their right to vote by enacting the charter, as it proposes to have currently-elected positions — with the exception of the sheriff and district attorney — appointed.

Those in favor of the charter say it is better to hire someone who has the skillset and experience to do the job — and believe it is highly unlikely the existing elected officials would lose their current jobs as they have gone unopposed in numerous elections.

Another bone of contention is the cost of implementing a home rule charter.

Currently, the three county commissioners make $60,000 a year plus another $18,000 or so in benefits. The five county commissioners proposed to be elected under the charter would receive an annual stipend of $10,000.

And an administrator would make about $120,000 plus benefits — although that figure varies wildly, and is contingent on negotiations with applicants for the job and  going rates for such managers in other counties.

Both sides agree the form of government is irrelevant to the financial problems facing the county.

Emotions have run high in recent weeks as voter frustration escalates and blurs the vision of the charter group.

Voters will start receiving ballots as early as today (May 3). They are due back to the county by 8 p.m. May 20.