Democrats protest county's ballot question

COEUR d'ALENE - Not this way, and not right now, the Kootenai County Democratic Central Committee is advising the county commissioners.

The KCDCC is urging the commissioners to forego their resolution to put an alternative form of county government on the November ballot, according to a resolution presented by Dan English at the commissioners' business meeting on Tuesday.

"Of all the variations you could come up with, I think this is one (form of government) that falls into the nuclear option, it's so drastic," said English, the Democratic committee's precinct 5 chair, and former county clerk. "It would go off more like a dirty bomb, with discussion so hot, it would make discussion radioactive for years, so even good changes that could be presented in a rational way won't even be talked about."

The KCDCC's resolution states that the proposed form of government in the ballot measure would represent "the most substantial change in the history of Kootenai County governance."

The document criticizes the proposal to turn several elected officials into appointed ones, depriving voters of the right to choose. It also contends that the option to create a hired county manager position would add "a significant new cost in salary and benefits" without any guaranteed benefit.

The options to appoint the elected officials and create a manager position will be presented in one ballot question, under a resolution the commissioners approved last week.

English, who wrote the critical KCDCC resolution, said he would like to see county government modernized, but in a less dramatic way.

He suggested the commissioners forget the ballot measure for now, and form a study commission to consider other forms of optional county governments allowed in the Idaho code.

He suggested examining a charter option, where other elected officials would have more authority.

"I acknowledge it's a longer process, but I think the voters are worth it," he said.

He pointed to his 15 years of experience as clerk to support his perspective.

"I know there's a kind of irony. I am arguing for keeping the same system in place that (existed) when I was here, and voters got to make a change, I was voted out," said English, who was voted out of office two years ago.

The two commissioners at the meeting were not enthusiastic about his suggestions.

Commissioner Todd Tondee pointed out that the proposed changes are the result of two studies already conducted on better government options.

Tondee doesn't predict the commissioners will change direction on the ballot measure, he said after the meeting.

"From our standpoint, we're trying to make it more efficient," Tondee said of the proposed changes.

Commissioner Jai Nelson added that she didn't see another study being necessary at this time.

She disagreed with English's push for the charter option.

The commissioners have already increased efforts to include the other elected officials in discussions about important issues, she added, particularly the budget.

"We work with them and we try to respect their input," Nelson said. "At the end of the day it's our decision, and they recognize that."

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