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Time to Join the 21st Century

Publisher's Note

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For the past couple of years, I banned myself from talking about it. I'd become a broken record, bringing it up with any public official who'd listen. So I quit harping on it. But since Commissioner Shelly O'Quinn said she'd like to see five commissioners in Spokane County, maybe it's finally time to talk about how dumb it is that we have only three county commissioners here. So I'm lifting my self-imposed moratorium.

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Here are some facts: We've had three commissioners since the 19th century. That's, like, before the automobile. King County has nine, while Pierce County (Tacoma) has seven. Clark County (Vancouver) also has three, but officials there have been trying to move to five.

What's the problem with three? As Commissioner O'Quinn has discovered, the workload is brutal — so many leadership roles spread over just three people is a tall task. Next problem: Any time two commissioners meet in a hallway, it qualifies as a public meeting under state law. Productive communication is stunted. And finally, when three Republicans or three Democrats are on the board, the entirety of the county is not properly represented. Agreement on issues can be unspoken, the cone of silence descends over big decisions and we should all worry.

Yes, adding commissioners has the potential to create better representation and better decision-making. So why can't we just vote on it already? Every commissioner I've ever talked to has said he or she supports at least letting the residents of the county decide.

Here's the thing: It takes a state-mandated process, led by elected Freeholders (who are everyday citizens), to write and propose a new Home Rule charter for Spokane County to vote on. A citizens' petition can get the process started, but the commissioners can, too — something they've been reluctant to do for fear of being branded as big-government types.

As a bonus, the Freeholders could take a look at some other nagging problems — poorly qualified people running our crucial public agencies, for one. Why is the county CEO hired instead of elected? It's too important a job to leave to knee-jerk politics. We switched from an elected coroner to an appointed medical examiner because we were electing unqualified people as coroner. Another solution could be to remove the partisan titles (as in city elections) from county offices — for too many candidates, the only qualification voters are looking at is the tiny letter next to their name.

If commissioners like Shelly O'Quinn are serious about this issue, they don't have to wait. They can start the process any time now. ♦