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The freeholder election and its impact on business

John McDonaghCompanies large and small come to a point where they take a look at their processes and ask themselves if they can be more productive, more efficient and more profitable. For some, the result of these questions will lead to a redesign of the organization.

Reorganization can be accomplished in a variety of ways, but some of the most successful involve all employees, top to bottom, identifying the things that are going well and the things that no longer serve the purpose for which they were begun. This often leads to the proposal of new methods and processes to maximize customer focus, efficiency and/or profit margin.

Over the years, labels for these efforts within organizations have included Lean Manufacturing, Lean Office, System Dynamics, Structural Redesign, among others. Almost without exception this is done for the operations side of the company and not the ownership or company governance, if you will.

Clark County government is about to undergo the same sort of effort, but focusing on the governance side of their “business.” The three-member Board of County Commissioners has referred to the voters (for the fall general election) a charter review process – that is to say they will look at the method by which the county chooses to govern itself. 15 freeholders will be elected to do this in a nonpartisan election, five from each of the three commissioner districts. These 15 volunteers are charged with reviewing the county’s current charter, which was established in 1889 by the Washington State Legislature. Since 1948 the state has allowed for counties to individually change their governance model in what has become known as Home Rule Charter.

While the freeholders’ focus is narrowly defined around the county’s governance model (e.g. the number of commissioners; which county positions are elected versus appointed; whether the citizenry has initiative or referendum power), that doesn’t mean the recommendations won’t have lasting effects on our local business community.

For instance, the issue of the number of commissioners and whether they are elected solely by district voters or by all voters in the county as it stands now, could create a contentious situation between rural and urban districts. Currently, all three commissioners are answerable to all county citizens. If elected by district that dynamic would surely change.

Additionally, a larger commission or council will be making decisions as to where infrastructure investments are made. The rate at which those decisions are made will influence growth in the county – growth in companies, jobs, housing and the tax base. These are important issues for all county residents, but certainly of concern to businesses hoping to grow.

A freeholder election may be easy to look past given those elected to that position are ‘out of office’ as soon as their report is delivered, unlike a council person, state representative or senator. However, it’s important not to lose sight of the long ranging consequences that will surely come from the freeholders via their recommendations. These 15 individuals will help craft a set of rules that will dictate how business gets done in our county for years to come. Let’s be thoughtful about who we ask to take on that challenge to assure we get the recommendations by which we can all live and thrive.