“Home rule is, as the name suggests, a chance to establish ground rules for how county government operates.”
The Yakima Herald highlighted Home Rule this weekend with a 3 page spread. It not only described the process of establishing a Home Rule Charter, but also highlighted how Home Rule can increase local government accountability.
David Lester, the article’s author, interviewed Steve Lundin, a renowned expert on local governments. Lundin, retired chief counsel for the state House of Representatives and author on local government described Home Rule as the following:
“It is the ability of the people to frame their county government that suits the local needs. It’s the constitution for a county.”
Six counties in Washington state shucked the commission form of government originally handed down by the state and drafted their own county charters. Both San Juan and Whatcom county freeholders weighed in on their experiences increasing local accountability.
“Perhaps the most important change in the home rule form of government is the ability for residents to petition the council through initiative or referendum. Some cities, including Yakima, have that authority now. Counties that have the commission form do not.
‘If you want to give citizens access to your government and want them to be able to say yes or no on issues, you should have that capability. You can only do that with a charter.’ said Richard Fralick, original freeholder for San Juan County’s charter.
With an initiative, citizens petition the county council to enact an ordinance by a public vote by the public. With referendums, citizens petition to have voters amend or remove an existing ordinance.”
According to Joe Elenbaas, original freeholder to Whatcom County’s charter, drafters of the charter can also include local performance audits of county government offices or as the paper reported, “Home rule also offers the possibility of creating an ethics commission to look over the shoulders of public officials.”
Freeholders will have options on what to include in the drafting of the Charter. November’s vote on Prop 1 simply starts the two-year process of freeholders reviewing the current form of government and suggesting changes with the drafting of a Home Rule Charter. After the charter is drafted, voters will get final say on whether to adopt the new charter or keep the current commission form of government.
WHY CHANGE THE CURRENT SYSTEM?
As the Herald noted, “none of those elements (above) were contemplated when the state Constitution formalized the commissioner form of government, a format that had preceded the state.” Commission forms of government were put in place over 100 years ago.
The state realized the commission system was outdated and amended the state constitution in 1948 to allow for counties to create home rule.
As Lundin says,
“Population in some counties was growing rapidly and pushing out into rural areas, creating issues for counties that needed more flexibility to deal with them. The most creative ferment of government thinking in the state was just after World War II. Home rule is a progeny of that,” he said. “There was a desire to break away from the (commissioner form); how to provide government on a logical, quasi-regional basis, and how to provide a uniform set of authorities and services for people.”
Yakima is a perfect example of a county whose needs have changed. Our population is five times what it was when we were handed the commission form of government and is now half of the population of Wyoming. It’s high time we reviewed whether our government is meeting the needs of its residents. Votes YES on Prop 1.
WANT TO LEARN MORE?
Voters for Home Rule for Yakima County is holding a community meeting tonight and subsequent Mondays to answer all your questions!
October 10th, 17th, and 24th
6 – 7:30 pm
North First Street Conference Room
223 N 1st Street
RSVP by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
or calling 509-823-5062