Power to the people - Coeur d'Alene Press: Local News

Power to the people

Initiative proposing county manager to be put on ballot

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Posted: Wednesday, March 14, 2012 12:15 am

COEUR d'ALENE - Kootenai County commissioners will put out a ballot initiative this November proposing to create a county manager position and to turn several elected county positions into appointed ones, they announced on Tuesday.

The commissioners have authority under Idaho code to create optional forms of county government, a press release stated, but all three commissioners pledged in their campaigns to give the voters the final word.

"We've heard almost through the last three, four elections, that it's been a big debate," said Commissioner Todd Tondee. "So we need to answer that debate, and give people the opportunity to decide."

The commissioners have asked the prosecuting attorney to draft a ballot measure that, if it passes, would give the commissioners authority to hire a county manager tasked with administrative duties.

The same measure would also propose making the offices of county assessor, clerk, coroner and treasurer appointed positions, instead of elected as they are now.

The positions of sheriff and prosecuting attorney would remain elected positions.

The board of commissioners would also continue to have three full-time members, despite past discussions of expanding to five.

"I believe there are efficiencies to be gained," said Commissioner Dan Green of the proposed changes.

A county manager would handle day-to-day administrative tasks and free up the commissioners' time for policy making, Green said.

"I estimate 70 to 80 percent of my day is spent in administrative functions," he said.

He added that specific elected officials should be appointed because their duties are largely dictated by statute.

"They don't make many, if any, policy decisions," he said, adding that he doesn't think that applies to the prosecuting attorney or the sheriff. "I think their positions are primarily administrative in nature."

Tondee said appointing the other officials will give the commissioners more authority over them.

"It holds the three commissioners more accountable for their actions," Tondee said. "It's easier if you have someone doing something wrong to get rid of them, faster than trying to do a recall."

He doesn't think voters will be deprived of holding those officials accountable, he said.

"I don't see the voters holding those people elected as accountable now. They hold the commissioners accountable," Tondee said. "When they have a problem with the assessor or sheriff, they come to the commissioners and say, 'What are you going to do about it?'"

He hopes to see the commissioners expanded to five part-time officials someday, he added.

But he believes these changes must happen first, to allow for the added cost.

"I think we're going to get there eventually," Tondee said.

Commissioner Jai Nelson acknowledged that appointing the officials would add more responsibilities for the commissioners, which might be managed by giving more authority to the prosecuting attorney.

"I will support whichever way it goes, and implement it either way," Nelson said of the ballot initiative.

Assessor Mike McDowell said he is a proponent of putting these options before the voters.

But he hasn't heard much support for making elected officials appointed, he said.

"There are a lot of checks and balances built into the county government right now, by distributing authorities among elected officials," McDowell said. "This would tend to put that out of balance."

Coroner Deb Wilkey emphasized the importance of an expert medical examiner determining the cause and manner of an individual's death.

Her greatest concern is who she might be replaced with, she said.

"Do you as the public personage, do you want to make your choice on who's best for that?" she said.

The ballot initiative would need a simple majority to pass.

According to the commissioners' press release, a study commission in 1996 recommended expanding to five commissioners, and making all the other elected offices appointed, including prosecuting attorney and sheriff. A 2005 commission also recommended expanding to five, and making all officials but the attorney and sheriff appointed.

The commissioners did have a county manager from 1995 to 2001, according to what county staff could find on Tuesday.

This time the voters can decide, Green said.

"Ultimately, I can't reiterate enough, it's the citizens' decision," he said.

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  • AnonymousCda posted at 10:59 pm on Wed, Mar 14, 2012.

    AnonymousCda Posts: 350

    oppose a structural of appointing officials. I've seen this before get people appointed to official positions, people from outside the local area, on the other downside. When need to talk to them try and find them. Most likely they'll be in California or Arizona on vacation. Always elect local to keep it real. Real local people share a personal connection to the region. The top three most likely are the one's needed to be removed more so good old boy's connection. Stop and thinking about what's good for Kootenai County, Idaho. Not about exploiting Kootenai County for non locals to make there profit off great land for there personal greed and gluttony.

  • Gary Ingram posted at 10:54 am on Wed, Mar 14, 2012.

    Gary Ingram Posts: 97

    This is all about convenience for the commissioners at the expenses of accountability. They will continue as a 3 member board and build a bureaucracy from there. It will cost money and insulate the government from the people, mark my words. The legislature was wrong to give them this option and they are wrong for buying into it. The voters will have a chance to turn this down, if they are smarter than the ones in 1994 that changed the constitution to allow it.

  • Tim Herzog posted at 10:03 am on Wed, Mar 14, 2012.

    Tim Herzog Posts: 412

    POWER TO THE PEOPLE...What "real power" to the people means is being accountable to the voters and that should be decided at the polling booth.

    Elected officials need to answer to the voters that elected them and even the one's that did not vote for a particular candidate. YOU...the taxpayers are the true EMPLOYERS of elected officials. They are supposed to serve all of us.

    No one should be allowed take away the voter's right to remove elected officials!

  • will-- posted at 9:10 am on Wed, Mar 14, 2012.

    will-- Posts: 1213

    More layers of government? At least it going up for vote.

  • wheels1 posted at 6:35 am on Wed, Mar 14, 2012.

    wheels1 Posts: 484

    POWER to the people? How does taking our right to vote away create any power? These commissioners are way out of their pay grade on this one.What Hubris.Ii would suggest removing all of them before we don't have any vote period.

  • JoeIdaho posted at 6:21 am on Wed, Mar 14, 2012.

    JoeIdaho Posts: 2841

    They called this article "power to the people" when it should be called "ultimate power grab by commissioners".

  • JoeIdaho posted at 6:20 am on Wed, Mar 14, 2012.

    JoeIdaho Posts: 2841

    WRONG AGAIN, government dolts.

    SO, now, they want most of the positions of responsibility in local government to be appointees, meaning that as taxpayers, we can't get rid of them. Moreover, we are the ONLY county in the STATE OF IDAHO that has commssioners that shouldn't be doing "administrative work".

    Every one.

  • Screen Name posted at 6:19 am on Wed, Mar 14, 2012.

    Screen Name Posts: 972

    And then he was gone:


  • Screen Name posted at 6:12 am on Wed, Mar 14, 2012.

    Screen Name Posts: 972

    De javu all over again.

    County Gets First Administrator Tom Taggart To Quit County Clerk’s Job To Fill New Position

    Ken Olsen The Spokesman-Review

    Less than a year after he campaigned against two Kootenai County commissioners, Tom Taggart is becoming their right-hand man.

    Taggart, 42, announced Friday he is resigning as county clerk in order to become county administrator Oct. 1. He will be the first county administrator here and in Idaho, according to the Idaho Association of Counties.

    Despite their campaign-season differences, the prominent Democrat says he won’t have any problem becoming point man for the all-Republican commission. They have worked worked well together since the 1994 election, Taggart said. And “where I disagree (with the commissioners) is outside of the scope of my job,” he said.

    Taggart will run computer services and the printing and purchasing department. He also will help commissioners with the daily details of running the county, and gather information on long-term projects, such as finding more office space for county workers.

    The new job pays $52,798, a $12,000 raise for Taggart. Coeur d’Alene City Administrator Ken Thompson makes $70,000 a year and Post Falls Administrator John Hendrickson is paid $59,946.

    The cost of Taggart’s salary will more than be covered with savings from the computer services and printing management jobs that Taggart will assume, said Compton, commission chairman. The print shop manager is retiring and the county has not had a computer services manager for some time. An outside consultant recommended the county hire a computer manager.

    Taggart’s role doesn’t negate the need for three full-time commissioners, who each earn $40,500 a year, Compton said. “It allows us to get our job done,” he said.

    Though initially opposed to the idea, Compton has discovered “stuff comes at you machine gun … and you see stuff languish and languish.” This is a crucial investment if the county is going to streamline and reduce the cost of government, he said.

    The position was not advertised. It was apparent Taggart had all of the right qualifications, Compton said. “So we didn’t go out and drag a lot of people through the interview process,” he said.

    County watchdogs give the change mixed reviews.

    “When these commissioners ran for office, they were touting their experience at high corporate levels,” said Ron Rankin of the Kootenai County Property Owners Association. Now “they are going to give Tom the position so they can play more golf.”

    While he respects Taggart, Rankin said, it means the county will have a “super-manager who is unreachable by the electorate.”

    That won’t happen because department managers will continue to report directly to the commission, Compton said.

    Concerned Businesses of North Idaho appears cautiously supportive. “The Board of County Commissioners had made a series of excellent decisions lately and we’ve got to trust this is another one in that series,” said Pat Raffee, the group’s executive director.

  • Veeeee posted at 5:47 am on Wed, Mar 14, 2012.

    Veeeee Posts: 423

    My first impression after reading this story was to question how many other counties in Idaho have county managers. I see that W. Penny notes below that none of them do. However, I am not opposed to innovative thinking when it can be shown that a new model of business makes sense and that it addresses a set of issues effectively. The story above is all that I have to go on with regard to making an initial opinion. Based on the statement that the current commissioners spend 80% of their time in administrative tasks, and instead want to spend 100% of their time making policy is a major concern to me. To be frank, I don't know what kind of "policy making" three commissioners would be involved in 100% of thetime. Without more information, if I was asked to make a decision today as a citizen of this county, I would be opposed to an administrator. Details are lacking for me. thank you.

  • Will Penny posted at 4:47 am on Wed, Mar 14, 2012.

    Will Penny Posts: 337

    44 Counties in Idaho and not one of them has an administrator/manager. NO to this inane idea and NO to green and tondee. GET THEE GONE!!

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