In a last-ditch appeal, all three Spokane County commissioners signed a letter Tuesday imploring Gov. Jay Inslee to veto a bill that would add two more members to the county’s governing board.
The bill passed both chambers of the Legislature with veto-proof majorities last week, and Inslee is said to favor it.
Proponents, including the bill’s lead sponsor, Rep. Marcus Riccelli, D-Spokane, say it would improve representation for residents of Spokane County – the most populous county in the state to operate under Washington’s original, three-commissioner form of government.
But the current commissioners – Republicans Al French, Mary Kuney and Josh Kerns – said the bill ignores the will of voters who defeated a ballot measure calling for a five-member commission in 2015.
They also argued the bill inappropriately singles out Spokane County, and that a larger commission would be too expensive for a county government that barely averted a $9.4 million budget shortfall this year. According to their letter, the added costs would amount to $525,000 a year, plus a one-time expense of $500,000 for offices, equipment and other accommodations.
“Implementing the proposed legislation, without an accompanying budget appropriation, would require Spokane County to reduce services such as public safety,” the letter states.
Currently, the three commissioners run in their own districts during August primaries but compete countywide in November general elections. The bill would change the election format beginning in 2021, with five commissioners running in their districts for both the primary and the general.
In their letter, the current commissioners said the new format would diminish the power of individual voters, and they criticized the inclusion of a redistricting committee that would be assembled by state lawmakers.
“Some might argue that having a Redistricting Committee controlled by the Washington State Legislature runs contrary to the concept that the best government is local,” the letter states.
In 2015, more than 54 percent of voters opposed expanding the commission. Riccelli has said he believes a major objection residents had at the time was a provision that the existing commissioners would draw the boundaries, possibly carving out safe districts for themselves.
In a phone call Tuesday, Kerns – who previously expressed ambivalence about the bill – said he wasn’t particularly concerned about the representation issues that French and Kuney have raised.
But, Kerns said, the commissioners sent only one letter to the governor, and he now agrees with some of the reasons for opposing the bill.
“For me, it’s the cost and the fact that it’s being forced on us as a mandate,” he said.