ANALYSIS: Reconstructing county government

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By DAN GREEN

Special to The Press

The three members of the BOCC each earn about $87,000 per year. That includes salary, retirement contributions and medical benefits. Elected officials at the county do not accrue vacation or sick pay like other county employees.

For many of the commissioners over the past 17 years, this was the highest-paying job they had ever had. Because the position is full time, many individuals who are qualified to serve in the role of a commissioner won’t do it because they would be taking a substantial pay cut, probably be out of a job in just a few years because of the nature of elections, and be bogged down in an administrative style that is not conducive to an efficient decision-making process.

The same qualified individuals are much more likely to serve in a part-time BOCC that makes policy recommendations and directives, leaving the implementation to the county manager, who serves at the pleasure of the BOCC. The manager serves at will and can be replaced anytime by the BOCC.

That is much more responsive to the overall electorate than waiting for the election cycle to roll around again if changes are warranted. I think if you were to canvass your local city council member or school board member and ask them if they would consider serving as a full-time member of the BOCC, you would see what I mean.

I supported cutting the commissioners’ pay by 50 percent or more because as a policy board, they would not be full time. The money saved would be ample to hire a professional manager to streamline county operations.

The other part of the ballot measure voted on back in 2012 was to no longer elect the coroner, treasurer, assessor and clerk. Their positions would now be hired by the BOCC as they are all administrative in nature and require specific skill sets. The only requirement to be coroner is a registered voter and 18 years old — no medical experience is required. The same general requirement applies to all the elected officials, including the BOCC.

For example, the coroner should have a medical background, an assessor should be well-versed in appraisals, the treasurer in finance, etc. Only the BOCC can create new laws, sometimes called ordinances, for the county. The other elected officials do not make policy decisions but do implement the statutes put in place by the state legislature.

These positions are jobs that need to carried out, but we should never be electing people to jobs; they should instead be serving the citizens. I want to be clear that I believe the current elected officials do serve the citizens by carrying out the requirements set forth by the legislature, but they do not make new policy or laws. There are at least three current elected officials who came into their office opposed to the restructuring of county government but after serving for some time, they acknowledge the inefficiency of many county operations.

An example of this is our countywide personnel policy manual. The manual is adopted by the BOCC and the BOCC has welcomed input from the other elected officials. There is no requirement for any EO to follow the adopted personnel manual, thereby bringing liability to the county in personnel issues if not followed or implemented as adopted. None of the other EOs “write the check” when an employee issue goes sideways; that is the job of the BOCC. As an example, one EOs has adopted an additional personnel policy manual I believe brings liability to the county and ultimately the liability is passed on to the taxpayer.

In closing, the goal is to make county government more efficient and increase the applicant pool of qualified individuals to oversee a very large operation. I read in a letter to the editor of creating a czar at the county and that citizens could no longer elect department heads. The citizens DO NOT elect department heads today but they DO elect four individuals who some could argue are de facto department heads because they do not make policy decisions but rather implement state law.

Ultimately, change will come only via a vote, and it is up to the will of the citizens to change county government. I have tremendous respect for the process that gives the citizens the final say.

•••

Dan Green was a Kootenai County commissioner from 2010 to 2016. Prior to that, he owned his own business.

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