When two new Thurston County Commissioners take office next week it will be more than a change in management of county business. It will signal the beginning of change. This change should lead the way to a new county charter.
For those who have been in Mexico or just having their heads buried in the sand for the last few years, here’s what I’m talking about.
Voters of Thurston County can change our form of county government. We can do this by two ways. We can petition our county commissioners to call a Freeholder’s Election, or the county commissioners can call a freeholders election. Then, a group of elected freeholders can draft a new county charter, which is then put before the voters. If the voters approve the charter it will become law.
The county charter can do any number of things. It can increase the number of county commissioners, it can eliminate some elective offices, it can make elective offices non-partisan. It can call for consolidation of cities. It can require an elected county executive. The things a county charter can do is expansive.
In the last 50 years, we have had three efforts to draft a new county charter. Only one of those made the ballot and it was turned down by the voters because it expanded government to a great extent and did litle to alleviate any of the problems.
I suggest that we try again. This time in a limited way. I think we need five county commissioners and I think that all county elected positions should be non-partisan. That’s all I want from a new county charter.
Here’s my reasoning.
Our county commissioners, in addition to being county commissioners and the Board of Health, also represent county residents on as many as 20 regional boards and commissions. It’s almost impossible for three of them to cover all of these regional boards and commissions and do a good job. The county commission should be expanded to five members.
These five members should be allocated so that South County residents, including Yelm, Tenino, Rainier and Bucoda have two representation on the board of county commissioners. The other three can be allocated to Lacey, Olympia and Tumwater.
And, all county elective positions should be made non-partisan.
When we swear in the two new county commissioners we will have four elected officials with no official standing in either the Republican or Democratic parties. Thurston County Commissioner Bud Blake, Thurston County Commisson John Hutch Hutchings, Thurston County Commissioner Gary Edwards and Thurston County Sheriff John Snaza belong to neither of the two major political parties.
Interestingly enough, three of them are current or former law enforcement officers and the fourth is retired military. Perhaps these men, who work acrosss party lines, understand how it gives them the opportunity to look at all aspects of our community without being tied to one ideology.
I’ll give our commissioners a year to get their bearings, then I think we need a discussion on drafting a new county charter that does two things, and two things only – – expand the number of county commissioners to five and make all county elective positions non-partisan.