GOP group opposes county manager

A North Idaho Republican organization released a resolution on Thursday objecting to the Kootenai County commissioners' ballot measure for an alternative form of county government.

The Kootenai County Republican Central Committee's document warns that the ballot measure will deprive the county of checks and balances, and add a cumbersome level of bureaucracy.

"A group (in the central committee) decided they didn't like the idea of change in our government form," said Neil Oliver, central committee chair, adding that those committee members called a special meeting on Wednesday night to discuss the resolution.

The document criticizes the ballot measure's proposals to add a county manager position and make the clerk, coroner, treasurer and assessor positions hired, instead of elected.

The manager position is "a business model" position, and "not applicable to government," the document states.

The role would also have "vast law enforcement power" as the "chief enforcement officer" of development laws under the Unified Land Use Code.

"Some people, they didn't know if it would be a bad thing to have," Oliver said of some members supporting the manager position. "Others, they felt it would cause an insulating effect from getting concerns noted. We have commissioners now, you can go straight to them. Hiring a manager, you wouldn't be able to get your concerns heard."

The resolution also contends that no longer electing several positions would "eliminate the right of county voters to choose and hold accountable" those officials.

Oliver said only 33 of the 68 precinct committeemen were at Wednesday. The resolution was passed by a roll call vote.

A handful opposed the resolution, including precinct committeeman Kellie Palm.

"The Republican Central Committee is supposed to support Republican candidates," she said, reminding that the commissioners who created the ballot measure are Republicans. "Doing this before a critical election period sends out a mixed message, as to why are you doing this and not supporting your constituency?"

Commissioner Dan Green said the commissioners as a board aren't endorsing the changes in government structure.

They're only fulfilling campaign pledges to let voters decide.

"Personally do I think it's the right thing to do? Yes," said Green, who has created Streamline Kootenai County to promote the ballot measure. "I think by streamlining operations it will produce efficiencies that will save us money."

Commissioner Todd Tondee disagreed with the points of the resolution. He also touted that the proposed changes would promote more government efficiency.

But the whole point of the ballot measure, Tondee said, is that the Republicans or anyone else opposed can say so.

"It's on the ballot, they can vote no," he said. "That's the reason it's out there."

Assessor Mike McDowell, also a Republican precinct committeeman, said he couldn't predict how affairs in his own office would be impacted if the ballot measure goes through.

He opposes the changes because a county manager position is more suited to the fast pace of private enterprise, he said.

"We need more checks and balances to make sure decisions are correct," McDowell said.

Keeping his own and other positions elected keeps officials accountable to voters, he added.

"It may not be as efficient as another system, but it will be more accountable," he said.

The KCRCC has posted the resolution on its website, Oliver said. The group will also submit it to the commissioners.

"I would hope the good people of Kootenai County, w hen they go to vote, they make a choice that is right for Kootenai County," Oliver said.

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