Two petition drives are now underway locally, with volunteers gathering signatures to revise the Josephine County Charter. This follows a year-long study effort by the Josephine County Charter Review Commission. The groups have two years to collect the necessary 3,437 verified signatures to qualify for a county-wide vote.
Josephine County is one of nine “home rule” counties in Oregon. This form of government allows citizens to have a greater role in how county government operations are organized and function.
The current charter was last amended in 1996. Neither proposed charters would change the county’s status of being a home rule county.
Voters for Conservative Leadership are using pink petitions, while Citizens for Responsible Government have green petitions.
Voters for Conservative Leadership (pink petitions)
Under the first proposal, voters would continue to elect three full-time county commissioners who oversee department heads. Each commissioner would be elected at large by all county voters on a partisan basis.
The county would continue to be a home rule county but would be a “Body Politic and corporate and an agency of the state.” This means that the county reports first to the people of Josephine County rather than being a political division of the State of Oregon first. This could give the county more control over elections procedures.
Citizens for Responsible Government (green petitions)
Under this proposed charter, the county would be an “Agency of the state under home rule and a body politic.” There would be five part-time county commissioners paid $24,000 yearly. One would be elected at-large while the other four would be elected by voters in four districts. Voters would be able to vote for just two of the five commissioners rather than all commissioners. Rather than manage the department heads directly, the county commissioners would hire a county administrator who would oversee department managers and employees. Salary and benefits for this position is estimated at $300,000 per year.
Three Main Differences
One charter (pink) retains three county commissioners as the chief operating officers of the county who manage its operations. If the voters don’t like how the county is being managed, they can vote out commissioners every four years. Under the other (green) approach, the five county commissioners would hire an unelected county manager to run all county operations. The commissioners would have no direct control over county operations, which would lesson their accountability because they’d lack direct authority.
The second main difference has to do with being a “Body Politic” first (pink) rather than an “Agency of the state” first (green). Changing to “Body Politic” means the county has more control and the state has less control over county operations like elections. Under the current and proposed (green) approach, the state has more control over county because the county is firstly a division of the state. In this writer’s view, this is the game changer that makes the “pink” version the better alternative. We need to level the playing field with Salem, and this is a huge tool in the toolbox.
Finally, should county officials be elected on a partisan or nonpartisan basis? Under Oregon law, all county officials are elected on a partisan basis unless a county chooses to hold nonpartisan elections. The Josephine County Charter was amended to hold nonpartisan elections in the mid-1990s. The “pink” charter would return the county to partisan elections, which means political parties would hold primary elections in May and all nominated candidates would face off in the November general election.
[Editor’s Note: Partisan elections means most candidates would declare their allegiance to a political party. These days, the Oregon Democratic Party is best known for its support of abortion to the moment of birth, while the Republican Party is best known for former President Donald Trump. Voters should know if they are voting for a Democrat or Republican. Once elected, commissioners would represent all county citizens as do all elected officials.]
A comparison of the two proposed charters can be found in this document:
Richard Emmons is the Publisher and Editor of the Josephine County Eagle.