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December 12, 2018

8/22/2018 1:47:00 PM
Time is right for a charter to improve Skagit County governance
Citizens view and initiative

By Bee Faxon, Tim Manns and Kathleen Kuba
In November, Skagit voters can shape county government for the future. As members of Home Rule Skagit, a non-partisan, local citizens group working to update county government, we strongly support the charter resolution. We also urge those who care about Skagit County to run as freeholders to draft our new county charter.
Freeholders will be key to this process. Acting as delegates, elected freeholders will work together to design a county government serving the values, priorities and needs of county citizens.
Our county government handles a big load. Skagit has over 120,000 residents, a $215 million budget, 650 county employees, and over 700 contracts. Three commissioners act as both legislative and executive branches of county government, in a system too overloaded to provide efficient, responsive, accessible government.
Options we support for Skagit include a seven to nine-person part-time council to replace the three full-time commissioners. More people will represent more voices in our valley, leading to more creative and experience-based problem-solving. A part-time council allows people from all walks of life to serve without giving up their careers.
Active public discussion could replace a quorum of just two commissioners deciding county policy. A larger council allows for an easier exchange of ideas: currently, since a gathering of any two commissioners represents a quorum, two commissioners cannot discuss county issues outside of public meetings.
With a charter, a county administrator can assume executive duties. A clear separation of powers could increase accountability (the checks and balances democracy relies on) and increase efficiency. Under our current system, the lack of clear administrative authority at the highest level of county government delays and impedes plans from being put into action.
And with a charter, Skagit County citizens, could, for the first time, have voter-led initiatives and referendums.
The first part of the charter resolution asks whether the existing commissioner system should be replaced by a charter form. The second part of the charter measure elects freeholders. After the charter is written by the freeholders, voters decide whether to approve it.
Home Rule Skagit will work to elect freeholders representing the many voices of our county, and we encourage those who care about county government to run. Freeholders need to have lived in the county for five years and be registered voters. Seven freeholders will be elected from each of the three commissioner districts. Sign-ups are in person, at the office of the Skagit County Auditor, from Aug. 27–31. Please contact Home Rule Skagit for more information about the charter or about running for freeholder: info@HomeRuleSkagit.org.
In a time when our energy is drawn to a chaotic national and global scene, we might overlook the importance of local government. And yet, to paraphrase from “It’s a Wonderful Life,” we do most of our working and living and paying and dying in this community. The Skagit Valley is the place we call home, and the decisions made here reverberate through our lives.

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