The Salem (Oregon) Chamber of Commerce and a member of its Executive Committee, Mark Shipman, need to get their facts straight. People are tired of organizations, politicians, and lobbyists who will say anything to defeat a proposal that benefits the general public rather than special interests.
The Chamber opposes a citizen initiative that would increase the number of Marion County commissioners from three to five, elect them by district, and change the county charter to "home rule."
(For more info, check out Have a Voice Everyone.)
After reading a list of the Chamber's objections to Marion County Measure 24-292, which will be voted on in May, and a commentary on the measure by Shipman that appeared in his law firm's newsletter, I'm struck by how misleading are these reasons for sticking with a "business as usual" approach to county government.
Download Shipman Commentary
Fictions have to be countered with facts. Here goes...
Fiction: Adding two county commissioners will increase costs.
Fact: The commissioners set their own salary/benefits, and hire their own staff. The current commissioners each have a high-paid personal "policy advisor" who makes more money than the commissioners do. If five commissioners tighten their budgetary belt, like almost everyone else has to these days, the cost to the taxpayer won't change when Measure 24-292 is approved. Presently the commissioners pay themselves about as much as the Governor gets, over $100,000 in salary/benefits.
Fiction: Electing commissioners by district will reduce access to local elected officials.
Fact: Currently the three partisan commissioners are elected countywide, so each represents over 300,000 citizens. Measure 24-292 will elect five non-partisan commissioners by district, so each will represent about 60,000 citizens. Strangely, it's argued that the charter change would mean that people "will only have access to the commissioner in their own district, not the entire Board." Obviously this is untrue. Does any local elected official only talk to people in his or her own district? (If so, their closed-mindedness shows they should be voted out of office.)
Fiction: The proposed charter violates the Oregon Constitution.
Fact: The Marion County Clerk and Marion County Legal Counsel reviewed Measure 24-292 and concluded that it meets constitutional standards. So has Bob Cannon, a local government lawyer for 30 years who is a former Marion County Counsel and currently serves on the Salem City Council. He notes that the proposed charter is modeled after the one used in Lane County, which has worked well. See page 9 of Cannon's excellent summary of reasons to vote "yes" on the charter change.
Download Cannon remarks on Marion County charter change
Fiction: If Measure 24-292 passes, you will not see growth in Marion County for some time.
Fact: This is a ridiculous scare tactic, plain and simple. Nothing in the proposed charter changes the county's land use policies. Nor does anything in the proposed charter make it "more difficult for existing businesses to grow and flourish." These are more than fictions. They are purposeful distortions. Mark Shipman also claims that urban growth boundaries won't be expanded if the Measure passes, but there is nothing, zilch, nada in Measure 24-292 about this.
Fiction: If Measure 24-292 passes, Marion County will need to hold a special election immediately to elect two new commissioners at a cost of $100,000 to $250,000.
Fact: Wow. Shipman really got this one wrong. The proposed Charter says in Section 12 (vii) that the new county commissioners will be elected at the next November general election. So there won't be any special election or additional costs. Shouldn't people read the Home Rule Charter before they start to criticize it?
Bottom line: Marion County voters, don't let yourselves be taken in by the fictions being spread by opponents of Measure 24-292. It's time to change our county for the better.
For too long, special interests and career politicians have done their best (often quite successfully, unfortunately) to control local government. This Measure will help make our county commissioners more accountable to citizens by electing them by district.
It also will improve county decision-making, since currently it takes only two people of a like-mind to control the Board of Commissioners.
With five commissioners -- which is the norm in Oregon's more populous counties -- there will be more deliberative give and take before policies are decided on, which is what Marion County needs.
In May vote YES on Measure 24-292.