By Minor Lile
After several weeks of work at the subcommittee level, the San Juan County Charter Review Commission has begun to consider and vote on recommendations from the eight subcommittees that were formed in mid-March to consider proposed changes to the current County charter.
Recommendations from the sub-committees must be adopted by the full commission before proceeding further. Recommendations that are approved by the full commission will also be reviewed by the county prosecutor’s office. Potential legal issues that are flagged by the prosecutor’s office will go back to the commission for further review.
Town hall meetings have been scheduled for Tuesday, June 1, and Wednesday, June 2, to present the proposed recommendations and hear public response. Both town halls will begin at 4 p.m. and continue until 6 p.m. The CRC is currently scheduled to present its final recommendations and findings to the County Council on June 8.
In order for the final CRC recommendations to be adopted and incorporated into the county charter, they must also be approved by a majority of voters at a November general election. The current expectation is that any proposed changes to the Charter will be voted on in the general election this coming November, though it is possible that some recommendations could be carried over to the November 2022 general election.
To date, the CRC has heard from four sub-committees: Initiatives and Referendums, Elections, Governance, and Elected v. Appointed. Recommendations that have been adopted by the full CRC to date include imposing a three-term limit for County Council members, reducing the number of signatures required to place an initiative on the ballot and eliminating a requirement that an initiative proposal also includes information on how it will be funded.
Several high-profile items are up for additional consideration at upcoming meetings. These include the possibility of recommending that the county conduct elections using ranked-choice voting and whether the office of County Sheriff should be an elected or an appointed position. Also awaiting future consideration are the possible creation of an Office of Sustainable Tourism within the County to replace the current Visitor’s Bureau; establishment of an independently elected Commissioner’s office with responsibility for overseeing and enforcing the County’s environmental and climate policies; and creation of a San Juan County Ethics and Justice Oversight Commission.
One high-profile issue that the Commission appears to have decided to not forward to voters relates to allowing greater local control and self-governance for individual islands in the County. CRC Commissioner Dave Anderson (San Juan Island) said that although this topic was given careful consideration, the sub-committee concluded that ‘the current charter does not limit islands’ from pursuing greater self-governance if the citizens of that island choose to do so.
Summaries of the recommendations from each of the sub-committees that have presented their findings to the full commission are available for review on the County’s CRC webpage. A more thorough discussion of the proposals that have been considered to date is also available in the online edition of the Sounder.
With the approaching June 8 deadline for presenting their recommendations to the County Council, the CRC has begun meeting twice a month. Meeting times through late May are 4-6 p.m. on Wednesdays and 10 a.m. to noon on Thursdays. For more information, visit https://www.sanjuanco.com/1764/Charter-Review-Commission.