Wow! When ordinary people try to make the government that their taxes pay for work better, the big money guys who profit from the status quo get frantic.
In the Salem Statesman Journal today there was another bunch of desperate untruths from Dick Withnell, a Salem Chamber of Commerce board member -- adding to the stack in a letter that I debunked recently.
The business interests opposing improvements to county government must be super-scared of Measure 24-292, a citizen initiative to be voted on in May that would enlarge the Board of Commissioners from three to five members and elect commissioners by district on a non-partisan basis.
(Get the facts about the Measure here, from the group sponsoring the initiative: Have a Voice Everyone, HAVE. Update: the HAVE website reports that the Keizertimes has endorsed Measure 24-292. Read the reasons.)
Doesn't sound like a radical proposal, does it? That's because it isn't. Clackamas, Multnomah, Washington, Lane, Hood River, and Clatsop counties all have five commissioners. Marion is the only large county in Oregon that doesn't.
Withnell's opinion piece is full of slanted statements that don't make any sense. It's sad that he felt he had to resort to such deceptions rather than argue the pros and cons of Measure 24-292 on their merits.
Read my previous post, "No on Measure 24-292" letter is full of untruths, and learn how Withnell is parroting the Chamber of Commerce party line, which is at odds with the public interest in much the same way that Wall Street vs. Main Street is a key demarcation in national politics.
Here I'll simply correct several stupendously untruth'y claims in Withnell's opinion piece.
Deception 1. A five-member commission fosters "back room decisions." Utterly wrong. Oregon's public meeting law prohibits the Board of Commissioners from making decisions outside of public view.
All Measure 24-292 will do is allow two commissioners to discuss an issue without constituting a quorum of a three-member commission.
This is exactly what members of the Salem City Council, state House of Representatives, and state Senate are able to do -- along with every other governmental body in Oregon that has more than three members.
So Withnell's scary talk about two commissioners "meeting in secret" and privately debating stuff that currently is debated in public is just fear mongering. Again, members of virtually every public body in Oregon do just that: discuss issues with each other prior to a meeting.
And Withnell doesn't mention that currently taxpayers are forking out well over $300,000 a year for high-paid assistants to the county commissioners. These assistants already do what Measure 24-292 would allow: talk about a policy issue outside of a public meeting.
Marion County has to spend all this money on the assistants because currently the commissioners can't talk with each other because of the public meeting law. So the assistants serve as go-betweens for the commissioners, which is a big waste of money.
We citizens are paying double: once for the commissioners, who each cost over $100,000 a year, and once for their assistants -- who do what the commissioners would be doing if the county only had a five-member board, as the Measure will require.
This is why Measure 24-292 will save the taxpayers' money, as shown at the bottom of this page. Which leads to...
Deception 2. Vital public services like public safety will be cut. Withnell really stretches the truth to breaking on this claim. There is nothing, repeat, nothing, in Measure 24-292 that would lead a reasonable person to believe that the Sheriff's Office would be affected by passage of the citizen initiative.
But this is what special interests do: when the people demand that government work better for them, those who are benefiting from their current cozy connections with politicians try to distract voters by spreading falsities.
Measure 24-292 eliminates the county treasurer position, transferring those duties to the finance department. Here's how the changes pencil out:
Do the math:
Now: Three commissioners, three policy advisors, plus an elected treasurer and staff = $902,112
With the Charter: Five publicly elected and accountable commissioners plus transferred fiscal staff = $630,238.
So how does $272,000 in savings with the passage of Measure 24-292 translate into cuts to the Sheriff's Office? Answer: it doesn't. Withnell isn't telling the truth.
Read Rick Stucky's countering opinion piece, "Plan would bring better representation," for a refreshing dose of truthfulness about the initiative. Then, if you're a Marion County voter, check "Yes" next to Measure 24-292 on the May ballot.