Pol-i-tics: The Art of Influencing Others Pt 6 by John Merton Marrs

The Charter Review Commission worked a little parliamentary magic May 18, bringing back from the dead the issue of the Director of Community Development’s elected status.

The question will now be on the agenda for three public hearings in June in Forks, Sequim and Port Angeles.

The question: Should the director’s job be an appointed position?

The county’s DCD has been chosen by elections to four-year terms since the 2002 Charter Review Commission placed the issue before the county’s voters for the first time.

Since that time Robbie Robertson, John Miller, Sheila Roark-Miller and Mary Ellen Winborn have been elected, in that order, each serving one term. (Winborn is in her first year.)

At its May 4 meeting, this year’s CRC dropped the DCD question into the dust bin of Clallam County history, apparently judging that the voters did not need to decide the question once more. The voters originally made the job an elected one in 2002 and then in 2007 rejected a bid to return the job to appointed status. Both times the majority heavily favored election for the office — a 57 percent majority in 2002 and up to 58 percent in 2007.

Some people believe that more than 5 percent of the voters, or at least 1,208 based on the 2007 vote, are ready to change their minds — or at least that enough of them may change their minds and combine with new voters to effect a different outcome in 2015.

What Happened in the CRC Meeting

Early in the May 18 meeting, Commissioner Steve Burke of Port Angeles moved to resurrect the issue. Burke had been on the winning side in voting to drop the issue May 4, and this gave him parliamentary “standing” to move for reconsideration.

Considering how often the topic has been argued over the years, the discussion on May 18 was brief. Ken Hays of Sequim said, “It’s a legitimate ballot title to be reconsidered.” Glenn Wiggins of Port Angeles pointed out the public had twice turned down making or keeping the position appointed. Don Corson of Port Angeles said, “A few votes can change it one way or another.”

Well, it may take more than just a few votes, but for now it will take enough testimony at public hearings to persuade the CRC to put the issue on the ballot again.

Before the reconsideration vote on May 18, Paula Barnes of Lost Mountain Road counted previous public commenters for the CRC, pointing out that 11 citizens had addressed the current commission regarding the DCD and 9 of them favor making the position an appointed one. In addition, she noted that both Robertson and Winborn are on record as favoring appointment rather than election.

She added, “It appears you may have your own agenda and are only considering testimony that agrees with your agenda.”

Vicki Rudin of Port Angeles argued that the fact the voters had rejected the issue twice before was not persuasive, because they were also considering putting back on the ballot other topics that had been decided before, such as how many persons should be elected to the Board of County Commissioners.

Bob Forde of Sequim and Stephanie Noblin of Port Angeles spoke up for keeping the position elected. At the meeting’s end May 18, Noblin asked, “Why would you want a person (as DCD) you can’t recall?”

On the reconsideration vote, only Sue Forde of Sequim, Nola Judd of Sequim and Rod Fleck of Forks did not vote for reconsidering. On the next vote to put the question on the agenda for the June public hearings, the vote was the same: 10 in favor, and Forde, Judd and Fleck not voting for the motion. (There are 15 commissioners, but Connie Beauvais of Joyce and Maggie Roth of Port Angeles were absent.)

June’s hearings, all Mondays: June 1 at Forks City Hall, 6:30 p.m.; June 15, Sequim Transit Center, 6:30 p.m.; June 29, Port Angeles at County Courthouse, 6:30 p.m. Public comments will be limited to 3 minutes per person, but they let people “finish their thought” and sometimes CRC members ask questions.

Pros and Cons of Elected vs. Appointed

So, why, Noblin asked me at the meeting’s end, do people want the DCD to be appointed?

I told her that’s not easy to answer. But I’ve been thinking about it, and part of the answer is what Bob Forde criticizes as the “professional class” taking care of each other.

Yet that’s too easy. The more complex and complete explanation, I think, is that educated people understand what they gained and experienced from a collegiate education — beyond experience alone — and they lack confidence that the electoral process will consistently select persons who are well equipped for such an important job. There is fear that populism can overtake reason and sweep into office people whose motives are political rather than professional, such as a pro-development, anti-environmentalist deal maker.

The odd thing in this debate is that both sides point to the same experience — the Sheila Roark-Miller tenure as DCD — as the example that proves their concern. The pro-appointees see in Roark-Miller’s troubled term an example of a poor selection by the ballot box; the pro-electeds see in Roark-Miller’s failure to win re-election proof that the voters know what they’re doing and will recall a mistake.

Roark-Miller’s predecessor, John Miller, once told me that he’d had his doubts about the post being elected, but found on the job that being elected at least provided some independent leverage with the Board of County Commissioners when it came to deciding the budget each year. That may be a positive for someone like Miller, but it could be a negative if the DCD were working a private agenda contrary to the public interest.

We’ll see after this month’s public hearings which side persuades the CRC to go its way. I’m now betting that we’ll see it on the ballot again, come November.

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