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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
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. )
Klamath County ballot measures
Is an administrator the right choice for Klamath County? Area voters must decideLast 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.”Anti-charter
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.
CostsThe 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 expensesThat 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.
ChallengesCommissioners 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.”firstname.lastname@example.org ; @TiplerHN
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.
GATHERING SUPPORT: Kate Marquez speaks with voters at the Klamath Basin Senior Center in January after a forum about the charter.
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.
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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Page Updated: Tuesday April 29, 2014 11:16 AM Pacific
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