Four Charter Review commissioners present opposition to recommendations

Not everyone in the San Juan County Charter Review Commission agreed with the recommendations put forth on July 13. Those four commissioners who dissented presented their report to the county council on July 20.

“We tried mightily over this last six months to get the majority of the CRC to please define what the problems are with the current charter and what problems that the citizens or county employees experienced that should be addressed,” minority committee member Tom Starr said. “The commission chose to make their work be on issues regarding nature and humanism rather than governance.”

Four of the 18 CRC members signed the report — Bill Appel, Paul Dossett, Tony Ghazel and Starr. The men objected to two recommendations; expressed a lack of support for three proposals; and stated they neither supported nor opposed one amendment. The men in the minority created a website for people to more easily view their objections,

On July 20, Starr noted that the commission participated in hours of discussion on climate change, the environment, justice, equity, inclusion and the Coast Salish community.

“We believe that these are all important topics that are currently being adequately addressed by our county, state and federal laws and policies,” Starr said.

On July 16, the CRC presented six proposals to the council to now go before voters in the November General Election. The first recommendation was to create a nine-person Climate and Environment Commission to provide oversight and support to the county’s environmental stewardship department to “reduce and mitigate the impacts of climate change. The minority did not support the proposal.

“There already exist provisions in state law (RCW 43.21C.030 for example) that all counties and municipalities must adhere to. There is no need for another layer of charter language to help administer, supervise, educate, shepherd and direct legislation creation; the San Juan County Council is on it,” the men said on the minority report website. “The county council has authority to administer and regulate all that is needed to preserve our ecology and ecosystems, and active citizens, the press, and local nonprofits fill gaps without additional public expense. The failure on one governmental body to perform its function is not automatically resolved by formation of another government body.”

The second recommendation was to suggest the percentage of signatories for an initiative be lowered from 15 percent of the voters in the most recent gubernatorial election to 8 percent. Additionally, the proposal includes removing the requirement of initiative submitters to include a funding source for the proposed initiative and requires paid signature gatherers to have identification on them delineating that they’re being paid. The minority opposed this proposal.

“We materially, have no issue with this amendment recommendation other than it will be tricky if an initiative or referendum is approved by the voters but cannot be funded,” the men wrote. “In our view removing the limitation will burden the county council and the different department heads affected, with trying to allocate funds that the county doesn’t have except by cutting funding for programs potentially including criminal justice, social programs, and physical and mental health programs.”

Third, the CRC recommended the county include an acknowledgment, preamble and a declaration of community values. This recommendation will change the preamble of the charter from a single sentence to nearly two pages addressing the indigenous peoples of the area and declaring the county’s values including community, economy, climate and ecosystem. The minority did not support this amendment.

“This amendment language is more language in the charter than is necessary. Potentially, this language could lead to claims of appropriating land that we ‘took,’” the men said. “We already have treaties in place and this language is well beyond what is required in reviewing a charter and suggesting recommendations.”

The fourth is a requirement that the county exercise nondiscrimination in its powers and the performance of its duties. The second part of the amendment would require the county to vet that all of its vendors also follow the county’s nondiscrimination protocols. The minority group opposed both parts of this proposal.

“The San Juan County Council has already passed resolution 31-2020 which is the blueprint of this amendment language; the San Juan County Council resolution is the proper place for such an item, and we totally agree with the San Juan County Council. Why, then, is this amendment needed to be in the charter? It is too verbose and has many items that are enumerated as potential subjects of disqualification if one fails one of the tests,” the men said. “The SJC Prosecutor has recommended removal of the proposition on the basis that it will be easy to contest by project bidders.”

The fifth is an introduction of term limits for the county council set at a maximum of three. The men neither supported nor opposed this proposal.

“We oppose term limits in general, we feel that the electorate in San Juan County is educated, smart and participatory in numbers relative to our population more than any other county in the state,” the minority group wrote. “However, setting a three-term limit for our county council members seems like a good compromise. We have no issue with this proposition.”

Finally, the CRC proposed an 11-person Justice, Equity and Inclusion Commission, “which shall provide advice and support to, and collaborate with the county government, elected and appointed officials and county employees, with the exception of the county’s Superior and District Court judges, on matters concerning justice, equity, diversity and inclusion.”

“The language of the proposal is well thought through and is commendable. Our colleagues on this task worked hard and we are grateful. This could be a recommendation to the San Juan County Council to utilize in their decision-making processes but does not need to be a San Juan County charter amendment. We trust our elected officials and are to hold them accountable if we encounter a deviation from accepted community values,” the men wrote. “Do we think that the council will not operate in the best interest of the inhabitants of San Juan County? Do we think that future elected council members will be tyrants and destroy everything that has been done in San Juan County with respect to justice, equity, and inclusion? We do support the message to the San Juan County government and all its departments to adhere to its passed resolutions regarding this and other resolutions.”

On July 20, the county council unanimously agreed to send the amendments to the county auditor’s office for inclusion in the November General Election.

“Unfortunately, the full CRC was not shared the minority report prior to its submission to the county council,” CRC majority member Jane Fuller noted. “It would have been good to see that full report.”