Islands' Sounder


Explanation of ‘five-person council’ proposal | Guest Column

April 2, 2013 · 11:33 AM

by Rich Peterson, District 2 and Marc Forlenza, District 3

The effort by Council Members Marc Forlenza and Rich Peterson to promote an ordinance from the county council to place two measures on the November 2013 ballot, has generated several questions, primary among them, “Why are we making this effort and why now?”

The reasons we have brought this forward are many, but are primarily due to the continued concerns we hear from our constituents regarding unequal district population. As we move forward in the implementation we continue to realize the implications of this imbalance.  Examples are:  a need to revise our planning commission makeup to match these unequal districts, and that future Charter Review Commissions will also be elected and represented by these unequal districts.  Consider the following: While all citizens will have the opportunity to vote for all council positions, the “at large” representation stops at the door of the county’s commissions, committees and boards where districts are the determining factor.

To illustrate the point above, our planning commission will consist of a full 1/3 from the district with 1/6 of the population and another 1/3 coming from the district with 1/2 the population under our code. This unrepresentative allocation is generating growing apprehension.

Additionally, the new model has an inherent sell-perpetuating feature in that while County Council members are to be elected countywide, future Charter Review Commissioners are to be elected by district.  This means that the Lopez district will always be disproportionally represented which is very advantageous for them.  ‚ÄúEverybody voting for everyone‚Äù in the case of future CRC members was purposefully made not to apply.

Some of our opposition would like you to believe that our effort is motivated by unwillingness to accept the “will of the people.” We assure you that this is not the case.  The fact is that the CRC offered the voters a single choice to move to three unequal districts with elections countywide.  We propose to offer you an alternative.

Our proposal is to introduce two propositions that would give voters the opportunity to decide whether five districts far more proportionate in population are more desirable than three, and whether the council members should be elected by district. We are presenting this because we believe that the majority of the people we represent would like to be able to vote on further modifying the charter.

We believe now that the changes we propose can be made in the normal election sequence without the need for any special elections. We will discuss this next week.

We are bringing our proposal forward now because the current council can get it done before our terms end.  As noted in some of the local media over the past week, it is unclear whether the charter amendments retain the right of our citizens (through the Initiative process) to put forth such a proposition in the future if they find the representation to be problematic.  It is very unlikely that the new three-member council would bring forth these charter propositions, which would mean a reduction in authority if two more council representatives were added.  Lopez would, of course, relinquish its newly acquired and unrepresentative power, a forfeiture which would be energetically fought should the notion of changing the degree of Lopez influence be suggested in the future.  The current council and the voters are looking at a limited time to act. When the new council is seated it is likely that the window of opportunity will close – possibly for 10 years.

We are extremely concerned about the future of governance in San Juan County. We do not believe the people have gotten a fair shake.  We are trying to provide one.


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