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Two sides of the charter issue

Key parties offer their opinions on County Home Rule Charter 18-93 to appear on the May 20 ballot, Herald and News 4/27/14

followed by:

Is an administrator the right choice for Klamath County? Area voters must decide

(KBC Note: go to www.heraldandnews.com to vote on their unofficial poll. All 3 elected Klamath County Commissioners and conservatives who elected them oppose the charter (vote no on poll). The liberals "progressives" vote yes on poll. )

Projected charter outcomes
  Voters must consider ‘Then what happens?’
  by JEFF WOODWICK, Herald and News Guest Writer 5/27/14

     Few would doubt that Kate Marquez and the proponents of the county charter initiative are motivated by sincere good intentions. They want to see improvements made that benefit our community, as do we all.

   The proponents of the charter, Kate Marquez and most members of the League of Women Voters, would not likely object to the characterization of their political leanings as being progressive or left of center politically. Their proposal will result in a more “progressive” county government.

   In my estimation, opponents of the charter tend to be conservative or center right. Our local Republican Party voted to oppose the charter for many reasons including increased administrative costs, a significant loss in accountability to the voters and a dramatic reduction in the roll your elected commissioners would have in governing the county.  

   Supporters of the charter likely lean on one of the following rationale:

   “I am hopeful that the change they are proposing will benefit us all. I’m not sure how it will work out, but I’ll vote for more hope and change, please.”

   “I am displeased about issue X, Y or Z. In cryptic attempt to send a message to these Commissioners (and all future commissioners), I’d like to cut their salaries and redefine the role they play in governing our county as elected officials.”

   “This is a great opportunity for a progressive end run around conservative election outcomes. We’ll enact the county charter, reducing the commissioners’ role in governing the county. Over time, more progressives will be elected as commissioner. Ultimately, they will hire more moderate to progressive administrators.”

   In a book on economics that I recently read, the accomplished author suggests that all sound decisions are followed by repeatedly answering this simple question: “and then what happens?” After you’ve answered the question thoughtfully many times over, you arrive at a deeper more reliable understanding of a   decision’s likely outcomes.

   With that in mind, I would like to offer some answers to the question: “and then what happens?”

   The county’s administrative costs will likely rise in the first year.

   All cost estimates that I’ve seen show the costs of adding a county administrator will range between $150,000 and $200,000. When you tally the commissioners’ beginning salary of $24,000 each, the costs of their health insurance and the unlimited travel expenses provided by the charter, you have likely increased the county administrative costs in the first year. If the administrator decides to add administrative staff, as we predict, or the body named in the charter decides to grant up to 6-percent annual increases in county commissioner salaries, the administration costs balloon very quickly. With declining county revenue and shrinking budgets,   doesn’t spending more on county administration seem fiscally irresponsible?

   The quality and qualifications of those running for county commissioner will be dramatically reduced.

   Compensation of the commissioners at the proposed rate of $24,000 per year would significantly limit the type of candidate that would typically step forward to run for these positions. Remember, this is just over minimum wage. Each department in the county is administered by a department head typically earning well over $100,000 per year. Do we really want the most important decision-makers in the county earning 25 percent of the department heads that they oversee? Ask yourself, who is likely to run for these positions?  

   Accountability to the voters will be reduced significantly.

   The new position of county administrator would assume major portions of commissioners’ responsibilities without direct accountability to the voters.

   This change is significant, detrimental and should not be glossed over. The proposed administrator will answer only to the part-time commissioners. With the glaring disparity in income and time invested on the job, it is inevitable that the administrator would naturally tend to lead our part-time commissioners on county policy matters and budgeting issues rather than the other way around.

   The costs of replacing a county administrator would be enormous.

   Because of the very high costs of terminating or paying out the remaining executive contracts, it would take a lot of major missteps and/or blatantly poor performance to justify the expense of replacing an administrator. When it inevitably becomes necessary to replace an administrator, the orderly administration of County business would be disrupted for an extended period of time.  

   The process of replacing an administrator, at a minimum, would require a formal nationwide search, the sorting and vetting of applications, a lengthy interview process with travel expenses at county expense, contract negotiations and the relocation of the new administrator at county expense.

   If the county commissioners need an administrative assistant, they can hire a staff position for a fraction of the cost of an administrator without fundamentally transforming our county’s form of government. A highly-paid bureaucrat is not a panacea. It is folly to attempt overwhelming economic realities with the good intentions of a bigger government.

   Please vote NO on County Charter 18-93 and ask others to do the same.  



Common questions about charter proposal answered
  Benefit to county will come at a lower cost than currently spent
  by KATE MARQUEZ, Herald and News 4/27/14

     What does the home rule charter do?

   The charter does two basic things:

   It requires the county to hire a well-qualified administrator.

   It frees the commissioners from administrating daily county operations and gives them time to focus on policy issues that guide the future of the county. Because a large portion of their job is given to the administrator, the commissioners’ salaries and expected hours are reduced.

   Why hire an administrator?

   Increased professionalism. County administrators are welltrained in modern management practices, state and federal law, and cost-effective service delivery.

   Effective division of labor. With the administrator running daily operations, commissioners can focus on interacting with citizens and long-range planning.  

   • Appropriate for Klamath County. Klamath is one of the largest Oregon counties, as measured by budget size, that doesn’t employ an administrator.

   Successful counties have administrators. Two-thirds of Oregon counties with the lowest unemployment have administrators. And 10 out of the 11 counties with the highest unemployment, including Klamath, don’t. Hiring an administrator won’t magically increase employment. But businesses do favor communities with effective, cost-efficient governments. And we know from the county’s own report that there are on-going management problems which could be addressed by professional management.  

   Will more staff be needed?

   No, the amount of work doesn’t increase when you hire an administrator — in fact it’s done more efficiently. Currently there are two full-time administrative assistants in the commissioners’ office. In Linn and Yamhill, the counties closest to us in population, the commissioners and administrator share two administrative assistants, the number Klamath currently employs.

   What about travel costs?

   In a county larger than Connecticut   , commuting costs can make it impossible for residents in far parts of the county to serve as commissioners. The Charter allows reimbursement for actual and necessary commuting costs. The position of commissioner should not be limited to those who live in the urban area or are financially well off.

   Does having an administrator dilute the authority of the commissioners?

   No, the commissioners continue to have not only the authority, but the responsibility to set the course for the county. They can rely on the administrator to provide them with information, spell out choices, develop courses of action and provide professional advice — but the commissioners must still provide the political will and leadership to get projects done and to make final decisions on how projects and services are funded. The commissioners also select and provide oversight of the administrator.  

   What’s the cost?

   Less than spent now. The current system costs $290,112. Each commissioner receives total compensation of $96,704 ($69,068 salary plus benefits of $27,636). Best-estimate cost of the proposed plan is $282,125. Commissioner salary of $24,000 plus health benefits at $9,300 ($33,300 times 3 = $99,900). Based on a comparison with other administrators in Oregon and on the estimate in the county’s report, salary/benefits for county administrator will be $176,225. Commuting expenses estimated at $2,000 times 3 commissioners equals $6,000.


   Passing the home rule charter will be a significant step in achieving what we all want and need: a healthy economy, city and county working in sync and an improved jobs picture. Our goal is to enhance the great community we already have. Please vote yes on 18-93, Home Rule Charter.  



  Klamath County ballot measures
  Is an administrator the right choice for Klamath County? Area voters must decide
  By SAMANTHA TIPLER, Herald and News 4/27/14
     Last week Donald Crawford went to visit the Klamath County commissioners. He had an appointment with chairman Jim Bellet, but after speaking with him, Crawford met with the other two commissioners.

   If voters approve a proposed Klamath County charter, which aims to hire a county administrator and reduce commissioners to part time, Crawford worries his ability to go and speak with his local representatives in county government would be limited.

   “If I want to have access as a citizen and I make an appointment to talk to them about a specific issue,” he said, speaking theoretically if the charter passed, “I’m not going to be able to have that access unless I have a personal relationship and we meet over coffee somewhere.”

   On the May 20 ballot, which will begin being mailed out on Wednesday, voters will be asked to approve a county   home-rule charter mandating the changes to add a county administrator and reduce commissioners’ work and salary to part-time.        Crawford is a precinct committee person with the Klamath County Republican Central committee. The local Republican group has taken an official stance against the charter.

   Charter proponents say having an administrator will allow commissioners to focus on policy work, engaging the public and representing Klamath County in Salem.

   Dividing workload

   “I think they will be more accessible,” said Kate Marquez, author of the proposed charter. “A huge portion of the work that just overwhelms the commissioners at this time is doing the dayto-day administration of the county. If they are relieved of that, they can focus on what they are best at: being accessible to the citizens, long-range planning, they will set policy. It will be their responsibility to do that.”

   “A county administrator would have the education and experience to manage a county’s day-to-day business,” said Joan Staunton, a member of the PAC, Citizens for Positive Change, and a supporter of the charter. “It would allow the commissioners to go to Salem and into the community more. They still are the   decision makers for what is going on.”

   “We have three people as county commissioners,” said Jean Pinniger, whose experience in politics includes co-chairing Republican Ron Saxton’s campaign. “They would serve very well as liaisons with the people and with Salem.”

   Charter opponents also object to a hired “bureaucrat” running county business instead of an official elected by the people.

   “We can’t vote to recall an administrator,” said Jeff Woodwick, delegate on the executive committee of the Klamath County Republican Central Committee and a delegate with the Oregon Republican Party. “All we can do is beat on the commissioners’ doors and ask them to replace him.”

   “The people are going to be shortchanged,” Crawford said. “What it’s going to do is it’s going to create havoc because we’re not going to get things taken care of. People are not going to be taken care of. We’re dealing with folks   from the county here, people in their homes, businesses. This affects their personal lives.”


   All three county commissioners are opposed to the charter. So are the three candidates vying for the seat currently   held by Dennis Linthicum.

   “I think that people understand they have a vested interest,” Marquez said of the commissioners and commissioner candidate’s opposition to the charter. “They really can’t speak in an objective way.”

   Both commissioners Jim Bellet and Tom Mallams are against the idea. Linthicum said in a previous interview he can see the advantages of hiring an administrator, but said the county doesn’t need a charter to make that happen — which was another point Woodwick made. Commissioners can choose to hire an administrator if they want. It doesn’t require a home-rule charter.

   “There’s no need to radically transform the way the county works to get what they are seeking,” Woodwick said.


   The most debated point over the proposed charter is cost. Proponents say it will save the county money. Opponents say it will cost more.

   Commissioners’ total compensation (including benefits) is $96,704, each.

   The charter doesn’t set a specified salary for the administrator, but it does stipulate what the commissioners would be paid: $2,000 per month for each commissioner (or $24,000 a year), plus expenses and travel reimbursement and health care. The county would not pay for other commissioner benefits and would not include a pension.

   Here are Marquez’s numbers for the cost of the charter:

   $72,000 salaries for commissioners  

   • $172,000 total compensation for an administrator (salary and benefits)

   $27,900 for commissioners’ medical coverage

   $15,000 for commissioners’ travel expenses

   That adds up to $286,900.


   The Klamath County Republicans have different estimates:

   $72,000 salaries for commissioners

   $200,000 total compensation for an administrator (salary and benefits)

   $27,900 for commissioners’ medical coverage

   $37,000 for commissioners’ travel expenses

   That adds up to $336,900, or $50,000 more than Marquez’s total.

   Additionally, Republicans believe an administrator would need about a 1.5 full-time-equivalent in support staff. That could cost an additional $136,000, bringing the total to $427,900 for county administration, or $141,000 more than Marquez’s total.  

   “If we were to raise the administrative costs for the county, where do we presume that money comes from?” Woodwick asked. “It either comes through higher taxes or a cut in some other budget.”

   Marquez and the charter supporters say the two administrative assistants in the commissioners’ office would be capable of supporting the administrator, too.

   “We are adamant that they will not need to hire additional personnel in their office,” Marquez said. “The amount of work doesn’t change when you hire an administrator — it will be done more efficiently by someone with the educational background that prepares them for the job. Klamath already has two full-time experienced administrative assistants in the commissioners’ office. In other counties commissioners and administrators share personnel.”  Woodwick, Crawford and the Republicans say there are other key difficulties with the charter proposal.

   Marquez lists other successful counties in Oregon, with lower unemployment rates than Klamath County, and attributes their success to having an administrator.

   Woodwick points out those counties have full-time commissioners, not part-time commissioners as the charter proposes.

   Woodwick worried about the balance of power between commissioners and an administrator.  

   “They’re going to be earning eight times what a county commissioner would make under this system,” Woodwick said. “If you go into a policy discussion with a part-time commissioner who’s earning one-eighth of what the administrator makes, whose opinion is going to rule the day?”

   Setting priorities

   “The administrator is hired and is supervised by the county commissioners. The   commissioners will continue to have not just the authority, but the responsibility to set the course for the county,” Marquez retorted. “The administrator can provide them with information, can spell out choices, develop courses of action, provide professional advice. But the commissioners still have to provide the political will and leadership to get the project done. And they make the final decision on how projects and services are funded.”

   Woodwick also worried about the type of person running for office as a part-time commissioner.  

   “It reduces the pool of willing candidates to either someone who is independently wealthy, someone who is on public assistance or someone who doesn’t mind living on $24,000 a year,” Woodwick said.

   Or a part-time commissioner may need a job to supplement his or her income.

   “If the man is earning a half-time paycheck he may have another job. I would,”   Woodwick said. “I think it’s wishful thinking to presume they’re going to be automatically available for the other half of the day when they’re not working on county business. I think they may be occupied earning a living on some other side-job.”

   Like a business

   Staunton, Marquez and other charter supporters compare the idea of hiring a county administrator to a school board, hospital, city or business. A school board relies on a superintendent for advice. A board overseeing a corporation relies on a CEO.  

   “I was elected county school board member in the 80s for about eight years. I can’t imagine myself running the county schools as an elected board member. You need a professional that is running the business of the county,” Staunton said. “I think it’s much more efficient. Just like a corporation has boards but they also have a CEO that does the administration.”

   “This is how American businesses are run, it’s how hospitals   are run, how the county school district and the city school district are run, how all cities are managed,” Marquez said. “It’s a very effective management system.”

   “I look at it like a corporation,” Pinniger said. “It is never run by three CEOs. You need one person at the head.”

   But Woodwick and Crawford don’t like that kind of change. They believe it changes the form of county government from grassroots, with elected officials chosen by the people, to a top-down, governmentheavy framework.

   “We’re going to be ceding control to somebody who’s not elected,” Woodwick said.  


   Commissioners are able to travel all over the county and interact with the people to learn their concerns. Crawford doesn’t believe an administrator will be able to do that.

   “We have lots of challenges in our county. They’re (the commissioners are) on the forefront. They have to travel to Chiloquin, all the way to Beatty, and to Bly and all over,” Crawford said. “And there’s a lot of questions and challenges. But when you have a top-down form of government then you’re   dictating how everything is going to be regulated.”

   “It places more faith in government to be the solution,” Woodwick said. “It’s a big government view versus a small government view.”

   “This is how the successful counties in Oregon are managed. The counties in Oregon that have the lowest unemployment are managed in this way and the counties in Oregon that are struggling with high unemployment, like Klamath, do not have administrators,” Marquez said. “It divides the commissioners’ job so the person with an educational background to most effectively do that job is given that portion of the job and the politicians set policy and interact with citizens. It doesn’t make government any larger and it doesn’t make it any more expensive.”

    stipler@heraldandnews.com  ; @TiplerHN
  H&N photo by Dave Martinez

   OPPOSITION: Jeff Woodwick, delegate on the executive committee of the Klamath County Republican Central Committee and delegate with the Oregon Republican Party, and Donald Crawford, precinct committee person with the Klamath County Republican Central Committee, speak about their opposition to the proposed Klamath County charter on the May ballot.

  H&N photo by Samantha Tipler

   GATHERING SUPPORT: Kate Marquez speaks with voters at the Klamath Basin Senior Center in January after a forum about the charter.

  H&N photo by Samantha Tipler

   Kate Marquez approaches citizens, asking them to sign her petition to create a county charter, outside the Klamath Falls Post Office in January. Since then, the charter has been placed on the May 20 ballot for voter consideration.

  H&N photo by Samantha Tipler

   CHARTER: Kate Marquez was the driving force behind the petition to create a county charter. Now on the May 20 ballot, the proposed charter would reduce commissioner positions to part-time and require the county to hire an administrator.





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