Last week The Sounder published an Opinion, the county council made the right call with Watmough | Editorial – Islands’ Sounder. Whether or not what happened at Watmough was “right” or “wrong” will remain a matter of opinion, but the council did not “make the call” in the case of Watmough Road.
The split vote was not a decision, and in the end the road was paved by default. The project was “in place” and went forward because of a procedural technicality that made the “act” of permanently altering this road equivalent to “no action” by the council.
Two thousand petition signatures would not have changed the outcome at Watmough, at least according to one county official, who was on hand and was asked this question just before the machinery rolled on August 9.
The Sounder’s editorial invites us to ask ourselves when, and even if, democracy can “fail” in San Juan County. This is a question that we will each want to answer for ourselves, and our answers will differ depending on how closely any of us follow or are engaged in the workings of our local government.
The county’s “Home Rule” charter system has changed the face of how citizens are represented in this county. Previously all three commissioners were elected by countywide popular vote, and each could be expected to represent all county residents.
Under the current system, our individual votes influence the election of only one of a total of six elected council members. The remaining five are free to take “no action” on any particularly “local” issue that comes before them.
They may ignore the complexities of that issue and vote only to save a few dollars for the constituents of their own “districts,” whatever the “cost” to those who reside “elsewhere.” And they may do so without the worry of losing votes at the next election. This is the lesson of Watmough.
A representational democracy functions only to the extent that its citizens ARE represented.
The current system falsely divides us as county residents and disempowers each of our votes.
After five years under the charter system, the November election will give us the opportunity to elect 21 charter review commissioners.
We should vote thoughtfully to insure that our local democracy has its best possible chance at success. It does better when “we” make the call.