Should the citizens of Spokane city and county be allowed just one vote to improve local government?
Consolidate or else.
Or should they get a multiple choice?
Twenty-five freeholders elected two years ago to draft a new form of government for Spokane are evenly split.
In a vote Thursday, 12 endorsed a charter that consolidates city and county governments under an elected executive and elected council. They want balloting to be limited to just that one issue.
One freeholder was absent and didn’t vote.
The other dozen favor giving voters a choice of:
One - county home rule, extending to all citizens the right of initiative and referendum.
Two - and/or greatly expanded district representation in the county, plus an in-depth consolidation study to be voted on within five years.
Three - and/or immediate consolidation of the city and county, including all of the above.
Four - none of the above.
“The attitude of those against giving voters a choice,” says freeholder Sue Kaun, co-author of the minority report, “seems to be, ‘We know best what’s good for the community - take it or leave it.’
“Many seem to think the citizens of Spokane are so eager for a change in government that they will overwhelmingly support merger of the city and county immediately.
“However,” says Kaun, “some of us are convinced the issues are very complex. And citizens can and indeed must determine how much change in local government they are willing to support.”
Hence, the pro-choice position takes the singleissue charter the other side favors and divides it into three parts as outlined above, enabling citizens to control the amount of change.
Because the pro-choice option originated as a minority proposal, it had to win majority support to supercede the single-issue proposal as the recommended ballot measure.
But the so-called “minority report” will be forwarded to the county commissioners along with the “majority” endorsement of a single-issue charter measure. And it is up to the commissioners to decide finally what the public gets to vote on this November.
The knock against more than one choice, say supporters of the single-issue ballot proposal, is that voters are easily befuddled by multiple choice.
Kaun disputes that. She points to a survey that seems to support just the opposite view of voters.
“Freeholder surveys conducted by Robinson Research in 1993 indicated that citizens want consolidated services, not consolidated government,” says Kaun.
“Some freeholders assumed citizens were confused,” she says. But when read carefully, the report indicates that citizens understand bigger is not necessarily better.”
My own reading of the report agrees with Kaun’s assessment: Citizens knew what they wanted. And a large majority of those queried favored consolidating city/county services but opposed a city/county merger.
Kaun also makes a persuasive case, though by no means definitive, that city/county consolidation doesn’t equate with cost efficiency. In fact, consolidation may cost more initially.
However, I still favor bringing government together, instead of going off in all directions.
But I certainly don’t believe anyone can dictate to others how they ought to think. And that’s what this comes down to at bottom.
“Are we going to give citizens a chance to buy into improving local government, participate in the creation of the new structure?” asks Kaun. “Or are we going to show them we’re in charge?”
“This is about ownership and control.”
“But giving the citizenry a chance to buy into debate and the decision-making process is everything Vision Spokane told us about community leadership,” says Kaun, active in this citizen-outreach effort as well.
Civic leaders for the past year have been developing a model of bottom-up, consensus-driven community planning and decision-making. It is seen as a replacement to outmoded, traditional, top-down takeit-or-leave-it community development.
“Vision Spokane taught me that people have to be engaged, or they don’t buy in,” says Kaun. “The question becomes: Why not give voters a real choice?
“It would be interesting,” she suggests, “to find out what citizens think about putting a choice of charter options on the ballot.”
The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Frank Bartel The Spokesman-Review
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