Will term limits lead to MRC overhaul? – San Juan Journal

Why is this story important to the Peninsula? Because as we in Jefferson County debate the possible conversion to a Charter County, the San Juans, which converted to a Charter County in the middle of the last decade, are now in the process of politicizing their advisory committees because the Tea Party activists that now control the county have chosen to do so. Folks, as we look at the choice of whether to turn Charter, the hard reality is that it is very likely to have severe unintended consequences. While the current process here seems to be pushed by liberals, the outcome is not guaranteed to be environmental leaning.

NOTE: There is an active comments section on this story. Feel free to read it and join in.

A newly established policy that ushered in term limits to San Juan County’s numerous advisory committees could lead to a major overhaul of the MRC. Eight positions on the Marine Resources Committee will be appointed by the County Council in the coming weeks and a new MRC coordinator will soon be announced.
On July 30, Philip Green, Robin Hirsch and Chuck Schietinger were appointed to MRC positions 2, 1 and 4, respectively.

The appointments were made without notice or prior naming of the candidates during the final agenda time, titled “County Manager and Clerk Updates.”

Steve Wehrly reports.

18 Responses

  1. I have not heard anyone who is running for Freeholder talk about wanting to structurally change the County Commissioners or any other county office. There is some talk about partisan vs non-partisan, and about how the Commissioners are currently elected which gives the strongest voice to District 1.

    I am motivated to put in an anchor or seed for a Bill of Rights that strengthens my position and the position of the environment in contrast to corporate exploitation and greed. I am inspired by Democracy School, CELDF and many books, and the movie HOME which is on the Local 20/20 website.

    I look forward to talking to you in person at one of the Freeholder candidate forums.

    • Willow. first off, no one of the Freeholders have had a chance to talk publicly about what they want in any depth. I’ve actually talked to one of them, and he admitted he didn’t know what he was going to achieve by running. Secondly, the current situation does not give the strongest voice to Dist 1 as there are 3 commissioners, and they represent all three districts with different voices. If you think that Dist 1 ‘gives a strong voice” it’s only because, IMHO, the three are in agreement over most issues. That’s to be expected by liberal commissioners, and will also be expected when the republicans run three successful candidates (I know these are non partisan but).

      Your motivation is welcome but I feel misguided. Why? Because I have been involved in environmental issues for over a decade now in this county, and these commissioners are doing, in my view, as good a job as we can expect given the reality of the legal system. What exactly do you expect out of a new group of freeholders that you don’t have now? Seriously. For example, the net pen argument is not accurate, as an initiative will not guarantee a ban on net pens. So changing all the system to achieve it is misguided. You might as well go run or participate in a state wide initiative that will have real ability to stop net pens. An initiative here is unlikely to do anything but make you feel better. While you are “inspired” by these these groups you site, are you at least already involved in politics? If not, why not? Why do you think that we need to fundamentally change our system in this county to get better results? Isn’t it possible you will create worse results? Please be aware that most actions have unintended consequences and frankly, that’s what I’m worried about here. The Charter County folks seem to be operating from wishful thinking rather than looking at whether they will achieve a successful change. IT’s only my view at this time, and I am willing to be changed on it.At present, I’m someone you would likely consider a supporter, but I’m not likely to vote yes, and I will tell everyone else to not support it also. Please give me some reason to support your cause. If it’s really going to change things for the better, great, but at present, it seems like wishful thinking and not grounded in a real positive message.

  2. I do not think that our chartering process will overthrow or drastically change our current commissioners or their office. It is not anyone’s motivation to be freeholder that I have heard.

    My motivation is to put in place the beginning of a Bill of Rights that will protect us and the environment from being exploited by corporations. My inspiration has come from CELDF, Democracy School and a years worth of reading.

    Hope to meet you at one of the upcoming Freeholders forums.

  3. You totally misread my posting! do not assume that we will get a commission that we want. In fact, it is the opposite. What I’m saying is that we need a Charter, with its opportunities for initiatives in order to keep whatever commissioners we get in check.
    I did not say that a chartered county or an initiative can overthrow a State ruling. We are stuck with what we’ve got on the net-pens. (Except that politics is always a conversation, and there is more give-and take which can continue until the dust has really settled.)
    I’m sure you are sincere in your opposition to the net-pens. But, is it not part of a broader view on the need to protect our waters from misuse and polluters?
    Have you ever heard of what was done to prevent the gravel pits and barging on Morey Island? It was inspirational.
    But, there will always be new threats to the quality of our air and our waters, and by focusing on one issue at a time, activists get worn down. We need to approach it from a broader perspective.
    What we want is clean water and air; right? We fight each of these single-issue actions again and again, and most of the time the deck is stacked against us.
    I’m learning to focus more on changing the parameters, getting out of the box we’ve been put in, and resisting the misuse of corporate power by adopting a rights-based stance that goes back to basic principles laid down all the way back to the formation of the US Constitution.
    Check out. dig into, browse around into articles found in that link I posted above. “ReadtheDirt.org”
    Meanwhile, I just want to point out that county initiatives have never gotten out of hand, as they have done in the state. (Or as in California, where it is all too easy to get things on the ballot)
    In the forty-four years since the first county was chartered in Washington, there have only passed ten initiatives. All reasonable ones. There have also been a lot of changes these counties have made to their charters, as amendments, which are adjustments to their gov’t strictures.
    A Tim Eyeman cannot earn enough money doing his kind of scam in a small county like ours In addition, it be great if we could get a provision in the charter to prevent the use of paid signature gatherers on initiatives, in order to prevent big money interests from interfering in our affairs.

    • Yes, a written forum like this is hard to get the nuance. From your statement above you say you are willing to trade the kind of commissioners we have now to ones that are similar to the ones that gave us Pit to Pier? Just so we can implement charters that you point out are rarely even used? And given what’s happening in San Juan County you still say that somehow the charters will keep those new, anti-environmental commissioners at bay? Something must not be translating here Mike. What you wrote makes no sense at all if you are really out to protect the environment.

      The net pen issue is not the same as Maury Island. I know very well what happened on Maury Island. I dove at that location back in the 90s at the very start of the opposition to it. That has not a lot of relativity to our current issues. Maury Island did not have anything to do with SMP issues. I would be glad to discuss with you in person the net pen issue. I think you are working on wishful thinking rather than the realities of the issue. I’ve talked to our county commissioners at length on this issue, and am pretty clear as to what we can and can’t accomplish against the net pen industry. No initiative is likely to change that, and the downsides in implementing initiatives are far worse than the upsides. Send me an email to get together and chat over coffee sometime.

      • Again, I do not say ANYWHERE that we should get any commissioners different than our current ones. But it COULD happen, and if it does, we should be prepared.
        Try not to look for hidden nuances. And, I’ll try to make my comments very clear.
        I have made no statement that can be construed as my being willing to have a set of commissioners like the previous bunch. Or that that will somehow get us into a charter.

        Again, the net-pen issue is sadly over in the legal sense, and now we can only hope the anti-net-pen public attitude will prevent them from actually coming here. We have powers that are not spelled out in legal documents. . . Powers of persuasion, powers of protest, etc.
        Send me a message on facebook so I can get your email address.

      • The net pen issue is not over. If you and others are so concerned about it, you could create a statewide initiative to ban them.That would be much more useful, and likely to have real traction, given that most West Siders are likely to vote against farmed fish.

        As to the Commissioners, if you dilute the pool, by going to 6 from 3 for example, you run the risk that it will happen. If nothing else, it can lead to more gridlock rather than less. Just an opinion, not saying it will be so.

  4. Not sure why you are making such a fuss aboutt this. San Juan County is NOT made up of , nor ruled by Tea Partiers. They just passed an anti GMO bill in November by 69%. Hardly Tea Party fare. There was a charter review also at that time that angered some (but not others). It took the county from 6 Councillors back to 3 Commissioners. I spoke to a person who runs the San Juan website who was angered. She thought the islands would be better represented by 6 than by 3. Others thought 3 was better. Seems to me what may be called for, here is a vigorous debate if the issue is contentious

    If term limits were imposed against majority will by the charter review board, or by the commissioners, in the form of an ordinance (as can happen w/ charter amendments Commissioners and Charter Review Boards), these ordinances can be halted by the referendum process until voted on by the people. These are options provided by Home Rule. If this happened with the consent of the majority then that’s what happens. It’s democracy. Some are happy, some are not. Hardly cause for blaming Home Rule and direct democracy.

    Home Rule is all about giving people a voice they didn’t have before. And, (sad to say 🙂 Empowering people means everyone is empowered. Just because you don’t get what you want doesn’t mean there is something wrong with the process of having equal opportunity in a democracy.
    Norm Norton

    • Norm,I am not saying that SJ county is *made up * of tea partiers, but that when they went over to charter, it helped launch a number of tea party candidates by broadening the base. Then they decided that broadening the base was too expensive, and brought back the same thing they had, which was 3 commissioners. Seems like a waste of money and time! The notion of 6 vs. 3 had a lot to do, I’ve been told, with Lopez Island losing power to SJ.

      The GMO initiative was not related to the county commissioners as it was an initiative not a law they had a hand in.

      It is still unclear as to whether the initiative would hold up in court, as it could be found at odds with federal law. It has not been challenged as of yet.

      As stated in a news article:
      “The initiative makes it illegal to “propagate, cultivate, raise or grow plants, animals and other organisms which have been genetically modified” in San Juan County.

      The Initiative does still allow for the growth of hybrid organisms and GMOs to be grown by health care providers and researchers only, in secure and controlled environments. The Initiative effects local farmers, who were largely behind it’s passing. The Initiative will not effect GMO products sold in local food stores.

      Violators of the new law will be charged with a public nuisance and a fine for the first offense. A second violation will be considered a misdemeanor, and the third and subsequent violations will be a gross misdemeanor.”

      You state that this is all about giving people a voice they didn’t have before. Let’s be clear. The people have had a voice, called elections, for what, over 100 years? It’s not like we have been in a prison here. We have elected both Republicans and Democrats for this time, independents and others are free to run. We voted in Republicans at the County level in 2000, they brought us Pit To Pier. We voted them out again later. What seems to me is that we are racing to this feel good idea, without seeing if it makes any sense at all. I’m not against it, but you have not convinced me I gain anything out of this, and frankly, it looks like I might lose something, and cost the county a lot of money on elections at a time when we can hardly keep the parks open. Why should I support this?

      • Al. Just tried to post a lengthy and supremely high quality :)) response to this missal and rec’d a cryptic message; “Sorry. This comment could not be posted” And the comment was lost! Pissed!
        FYI. Write comments elsewhere and copy/paste to the comment field. I’ll see if I can reconstruct and resend.
        best regards

      • I’m sorry Norm. I have no idea why that was not accepted. Please forward it to me on email. I’ll post it for you if you can’t.

  5. Yes, the current commissioners and other county officials have been doing a pretty good job here at keeping regulations in place and making new ones that protect our quality of life.
    But, there is still something you’ve not yet learned about here, and that I didn’t know about until just last year: the commissioners don’t have the kind of power to make LASTING ordinances that the people will under Home Rule.
    Under activist public pressure, the commissioners can make an ordinance, and then take it back down the next day. Unlikely, but imagine what could happen if a new set of commissioners are voted in next cycle due to some kind of “Tea Party” effort: They can reverse any gains made by the current commissioners.
    In contrast, under Home Rule, an initiative could be placed on the ballot (given the requisite petitioning) without waiting for the next election. That’s what I mean by popular participation. At the moment, our petitions (even one with 5000 signatures) can simply be ignored, which, to say the least, is very discouraging. And, if such an initiative is voted in, NO commission can overturn it. That would take another vote of the people. That will have some staying power.
    Furthermore, in a case such as net pens, where the corporate-backed State Legislature is imposing its will, the commissioners’ hands are tied, whereas, if there is a rights-based ordinance on the books, voted in by the people of the county, it is very difficult for outside powers to overturn. See the first sentence of the Wa State constitution saying that sovereignty belongs to the people.
    It seems to me that if you don’t trust the people to rule themselves, don’t vote for the charter. Just leave it to whatever politicians you may have to choose from every four years.

    • Mike, your theoretical situation has never happened here. So I don’t know why I should be worried about it. Is it worth redrafting our county processes? As you know, the State legislature has overcome Eyman’s initiatives by getting ahead of them. Essentially taking over the process. I don’t have any belief that having initiatives will gain us anything, given what I’ve seen with Eyman’s initiatives, which have been taken over by paid signature gatherer’s and wording that makes everyone feel good about passing it. California for one, has not benefited by initiatives. They have been boxed into a corner by them, legislatively. We are headed there in our State.

      Your assumption about net pens is totally inaccurate. I know about the issue of Net Pens and your assumption that we can somehow overcome the State DOE ability to manage tidelands is not based in any law I’m aware of, just wishful thinking. Please provide me and our readers with actual legal opinion that can back that. DOE has given us the ability to help them write the SMP. We cannot supercede that authority. They can and will take that ability back if we choose to put in net pen bans, and they will, legally, rewrite that section of our SMP. That is their legal right as I understand it.

      You are assuming that you will get a county commission that will actually support your goals. Not only is that wishful thinking, but if a new county commission is voted in under the Charter County, it appears to me that they can and do, politicize the other areas of the county government that aren’t currently. Just look at San Juan’s MRC changes for proof. We all need to really think this thing through. If you convince voters to do this, and it turns out badly, you will lose us the very protections you hope to expand. It’s like roulette. You are betting everything on red. If you lose, you (and all of us!) may lose it all. Make sure you are right here! You haven’t convinced me yet, and I’m supposedly a supporter of this, given my background in supporting a net pen ban.

  6. So, we need to be afraid of Direct Democracy because San Juan is experimenting with how to best use a Home Rule Charter? So, we need to stay with the same three guys (Board of Commissioners- so-called- liberal- democrats) who have allowed the breaking of a 33 year moratorium on using toxins on our county roadsides and are allowing net pens to come to Jefferson county…and who know what else? We should all be afraid of real change because it might go against us who want to save the earth. You forgot to tell the good people reading this blog that the Charter may include a community bill of rights including the rights of nature. The answer is that real change will take real effort. Elect Freeholders who are responsible to the “people” …all the people…not just the rich and the corporate people who line the Board of Commissoners halls with their “new” deals.

    • So Ellen. I think that there is a disconnect between your conclusion and my editorial. First off, I am neither against nor for the Charter. I still need to be convinced, as a voter, and a voter who votes on mostly an environmental footing, that the change that is being put forward, is actually going to achieve some positive benefits. I think there is a great deal of wishful thinking going on that this charter is some kind of panacea to the problems you raise above. I think that San Juan County shows that it is not, and that the outcome may not end up being what you and others may hope for.

      Your blaming the County Commissioners for the Net Pens issue is totally misguided, as ultimately, they did not have the final decision, that was up to the Department of Ecology. I am glad to spend time with you on the phone explaining the ins and outs of that issue if you wish. Having sat on the SMP Citizens Advisory Board for many years, and helped craft the language that was originally adopted, I can say that there is much more to this issue than you may understand. Feel free to send me email with your contact phone off this board, and I’ll be glad to make time to discuss this.

      There are many of us out there attempting to “save the earth”, and there are many roads to that goal. I’ve met very few people who want to trash the earth, even those who vehemently oppose environmental protections. I know all three Commissioners, and feel that all of them are very much wanting to do the right thing, much more so than some of their predecessors. If they were so bad, we already have the option of voting them out.The previous Commissioners were, by and larger, much more anti-environmental, and the voters dealt with that. Would a Charter have mattered then? Unlikely. Sometimes, it is also a matter of whether the bigger goal (such as passing the SMP so that the huge array of other environmental goods that are included in it can take affect), outweighs the perceived problem. In the case of the SMP, perfection was the enemy of the greatest good. I personally don’t think we will see any net pens in our county, given that they failed before, and the conditions written into the SMP after the DOE told us to “do it or else” are very strenuous and unlikely to be used. Time will tell.

      As to a Community Bill of Rights, I have no idea what it means. Perhaps you can point us to some places where we can read what it can actually legally achieve for us by going through the exercise.

      I believe that the County Commissioners have been trying to balance the needs of all the people rather than the few, we have just gone through the worst economic disaster in the last 70 years, and many hard decisions had to be made, some I disagreed with. But that’s what elections are for.

      I plan to write a much longer piece about my concerns about the Charter project, but am currently investigating it’s pros and cons. I know too little to be saying whether I support it or not.

      • Thank you, Al, for bringing up this question about the potentials inherent in a chartered form of government.
        As you correctly pointed out, just the fact that some with progressive philosophies have put forward this new effort for a charter does not guarantee that environmental or egalitarian social values will prevail
        The charter will simply put more power into the hands of the people, and it will be the people who must then take the additional responsibility thus granted to bring in the changes that are most beneficial to the public good.
        In the case of San Juan County, perhaps the progressives are not numerous enough, or persuasive enough to prevail. However, if you look at Benton County, Oregon, you will see an example where great things were accomplished

      • Thanks Mike. So I read the article you reference, and all I get out of it is that the folks in Benton County crafted an ordinance that eventually was ruled to not abide by the single issue requirement. All initiatives in WA have to do that too. Being able to place initiatives on the ballot at a county level is certainly one change a charter county can bring. Obviously, in King County, there were many many elections in which the people expressed an interest in building a monorail, through the initiative process, but ultimately that project failed due to it’s own inability to properly fund itself. So there is no guarantee that having initiatives are going to get you anything of substance. Not to say that it’s not worth doing, but to fundamentally change our current government, and possibly politicize the very agencies you hope will take your side, is very risky business. Just look at what has happened to the Director of Community Development role in Clallam county since it’s been politicized. Look at what is currently happening in San Juan County, where the very people you would expect to be “on your side” are being politicized out by the folks who took control in a what used to be a very progressive county. The very people you assume are controlling things now, (and I personally don’t agree with that assessment since I have come to know many of them over the last ten years of living here), could end up in even more control after charter, especially in a county this small.

        We all ready have one of the highest voter turnouts in the state, and some of the most progressive laws for environmental protection as well. The people of this county are taking responsibility for their power. It sometimes may be that you or I don’t get what we want. For example, I wanted to see net pens banned. It didn’t happen. But the conversation and process we went through was extremely helpful to bringing an issue that no one, was even aware of before it was written into the SMP. I have to say, no one was aware of this issue in 2005. You could have been part of that conversation. It was a pretty open process. You say you want to put power back in the hands of the people, but I don’t yet understand what it is that you don’t already have that you can’t get through the existing ballot box? I’m open to being convinced.

  7. I agree that the politicizing of local advisory committees would probably have negative environmental impacts over the long term.

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