We are on the verge of a historic event. For the first time since statehood, the citizens of Clark County have the opportunity to shape the form of our county government – for efficiency, for better representation and to separate policy-making from the day-to-day management functions responsible for implementing those policies.
When the county governance statute was enacted, which dictated how all counties in the state would be governed, the population of Clark County was in the neighborhood of 12,000 individuals. At the time, the three commissioners represented about 4,000 residents each (not an overly taxing role it would seem). Today, we have a ratio of closer to one commissioner for every 150,000 residents – nearly 38 times what it was initially.
If enacted, the Home Rule Charter would reduce that ratio by more than 30 percent, and give each district control over who would represent them (with four of the councilmembers elected by district).
Better representation, however, is only one reason the Charter is worthy of a ‘yes’ vote. Two other key factors include the opportunity for citizen initiative and referendum, and the separation of legislative and supervisory powers.
For those of us at the Vancouver Business Journal, the most compelling reason to approve the Home Rule Charter (as recommended by the 15 elected Freeholders) is that it is simply good business.
The existing commissioner form, instituted when the county staff wasn’t much more than the three commissioners themselves, gives both policy-making and day-to-day supervision of policy implementation to the commission. Given the county population in 1889 and the demands of that time on the commission, it was a workable solution. Today, with the regulations imposed on local jurisdictions by federal and state government, the number of county employees and the number of residents in each of the commissioner districts, the current form of county government has outlived its ability to be efficient in a county like Clark.
Many of you are shareholders of companies from which you expect a return on your investment. Maybe it’s just me, but my confidence in obtaining any ROI would be shattered if I learned board members made it a practice to direct the work of employees without notifying or consulting the direct supervisor of that employee. As absurd as it sounds, that is exactly the model in play today in our county government. In the private sector, the board of directors hires a CEO, sets the policy, approves the goals and budget, and then holds the CEO accountable to run day-to-day operations in pursuit of those goals and within budget. We think that is the best model for the county, and the Charter would make it so.
Even strong nonprofit organizations realize that once they are in a position to hire professionals to manage day-to-day efforts, board members must take a step back. I have been on boards or consulted with boards wrestling with this very dynamic. Each came down on the side of separate responsibilities for board and management, and all are stronger organizations today as a result.
Certainly, Clark County government deserves to have the same separation of responsibilities. As citizens of this county, we have the opportunity to give it that by approving the Home Rule Charter.
At the end of the day, it is more efficient, it is more responsible and it’s just good business.
Note: John McDonagh currently serves on the Steering Committee of the Charter Yes campaign.