By Janice Peterson
Like Bill Appel, I am a member of the Charter Review Commission. (CRC) In my opinion, our meetings were characterized by predetermined outcomes, tenacious disregard for opposing opinions, and a set of final recommendations that illustrate the substantive weakness of the entire process.
Fortunately, there are records any interested voter can explore, records such as the minutes of the January 14 meeting of the CRC, a meeting I missed because of illness but was able to watch on video. The CRC had only convened one time before that meeting. My expectation was that we would launch a review, as the Charter specified – a study of issues, a plan to research all sides, and, after weeks of interviews and deliberation – proposed amendments to make the Charter better.
Isn’t that the way you would proceed if you were a CRC member? Collect facts and testimony and then draw conclusions? But it wasn’t to be. The CRC made their decisions and then set out to find the carefully selected evidence that supported them.
The fateful second meeting of the CRC included a motion made, seconded, and passed unanimously to recommend going back to the old 3-member legislator model. Bill made that motion. Bill’s next motion was for 3 legislative districts. According to the minutes, there was no discussion. The motion passed unanimously. A motion to define the districts on the basis of the old 2005 boundaries also passed unanimously.
The so-called “working model” was drawn and taped to the wall for every meeting thereafter. Any attempt to revisit the January 14th motions so we could talk about numbers other than three and districts other than the preferred unequal ones, was quickly dispatched, often with little or no discussion.
Bill says “We all had a job to do, rolled up our sleeves and did it.” If the job was to steamroll the process, make the major changes 8 days into our deliberations that would gut the Charter, and then commence to interview the very people (former members of the Board of County Commissioners) who could be counted on to support the CRC majority, then the CRC did its job.
On the matter of our small County and its supposedly poor voting record, that is a matter of opinion, an opinion Bill does not share with Sam Reid, the Secretary of State. According to SJ County’s Annual Report, our 2011 population of 15,900 had 11,574 registered voters. Even more impressive is how many of us voted. “69.55 percent of San Juan County voters cast ballots, tops in the state,” according to Secretary Reid.
Bill then uses his incorrect information to conclude that we may very well “vote on personalities, stories heard, rumors, and yes, fear and uncertainty.” I believe this is representative of what I witnessed from the CRC majority – poor data (or none at all), weak reasoning, and unsupported claims.
Bill says the CRC chose reality over theory. I disagree. I believe they chose bias and the absence of genuine review over methodical inquiry. As all attorneys know, inquiry must precede advocacy.
I will save Bill’s Constitutional discussion for another day. Suffice it to say for now that voters might want to look very closely at the Prosecuting Attorney’s April 19th memorandum titled, “Constitutionality of Proposed System for Electing Council Members.” Seattle Times editorials and others expressing concern about unequal residency districts and at-large voting, including members of our own County Council, whose opinions were ignored by the CRC, are also, in many cases, worthy of voter consideration.
A final item of relevance to our upcoming elections may be appropriate in the context of the discussion above on the CRC’s method of developing ballot recommendations. All three of the signers for Proposition #1, in favor of going back to the old 3-legislator model, are former members of the Board of County Commissioners.
I urge voters to reject propositions 1, 2, and 3.