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Should the Lane County Board of Commissioners Be Downsized From Five Members to Three Members?
By Scott Rohter, February 2011

To contact us, email: info@lessgovisthebestgov.com

After all of the bizarre, “Alice in Wonderland like” events that led up to the recent trial and conviction of Commissioners Peter Sorenson and Rob Handy for willfully violating Oregon’s Public Meetings Law, perhaps the residents of Lane County should reconsider whether they want a five member Board of Commissioners or they want to return to a three member Board of Commissioners. We really don’t need a five member Board of Commissioners, and going back to a three member Board would have significant advantages.
  1. It would save the County money!
  2. It would show leadership by reducing the size of government, starting right at the top!
  3. It would provide increased transparency by ensuring that no two members of the Board of Commissioners could ever meet again in private to discuss their votes!

We don’t need a five member Board of Commissioners, especially since it leads to private, closed door meetings between various groups of two Commissioners at a time, in order to formulate public policy decisions without the public’s participation! In other words, a five member Board leads to prearranged, orchestrated voting of the type that Sorensen and Handy engaged in! I would rather not take away the ability of our County Commissioners to discuss with each other the merits of an issue, or to try to persuade each other of the correctness of their respective positions, but they already have the opportunity to do that in public, at their Board meetings, lest those Board meetings just become a sham, or a mere formality! The important business of the County must not be conducted in private behind closed doors! The County Commissioners must not be allowed to plan or orchestrate their votes prior to a public meeting, the way that Sorenson and Handy did! They must deliberate and decide on County business in open public meetings! And since it is just too hard for them to tell the difference between purely discussing a matter that will come before the Board, and finding out how they will vote on that matter, I think that the best policy to follow is to just prevent any two sitting Commissioners from ever meeting together in private, while they are serving on the Board of Commissioners! That's a simple rule. It's both easy to understand and easy to follow, and it's easy to keep track of! A three member Board of Commissioners would actually help to facilitate that goal! With a three member Board, if two members were to meet privately then it would automatically constitute a violation of the Public Meetings Law for having assembled a quorum in private!

With a three member Board of Commissioners, there would be:
One Commissioner representing West Lane, including part of North Eugene.
One Commissioner representing East Lane, including Springfield.
One Commissioner representing the rest of Eugene.
The current population of Lane County is about 360,000. Each Commissioner could very comfortably represent about 120,000 residents. The current population of Eugene is about 150,000, so approximately 30,000 residents of Eugene would have to be represented by the West Lane Commissioner. That may be a little more than the current number of North Eugene residents that are represented by the West Lane Commissioner now, so the boundary lines would have to be redrawn slightly, in order to meet that goal, but it would only be a minor boundary line adjustment!

The main difference between a five member Board of Commissioners and a three member Board of Commissioners is that the City of Springfield would lose their own individual representative on the Board, and the City of Eugene would also lose one of their two individual representatives on the Board, in order to go back to a three member Board of Commissioners, which would almost certainly guarantee us more transparency in government!  Springfield, which is typically conservative, would be well represented by the Commissioner from East Lane, which is mostly rural and conservative. The balance of power in Lane County, vis a vis Liberals and Conservatives would remain largely unaffected by this change. Currently Eugene has two seats on the five member Board of Commissioners and it needs one more vote in order to have a majority. Under a three member Board, Eugene would have one seat on the Board of Commissioners and would still need one more vote in order to have a majority, just like it is now. Therefore Eugene's influence on the Board of Commissioners would remain the same! On most issues, conservative leaning Springfield would tend to vote along the same lines as rural East Lane County. On the other hand, if Springfield with a population of about 60,000 residents had a different opinion on a matter having to do with urban issues than the rest of the residents of East Lane County, then Springfielders would have an equal opportunity to influence their East Lane County Commissioner as do the other approximately 60,000 residents of mostly rural East Lane. There would be a 50/50 balance in East Lane between the urban residents of Springfield and the mostly rural residents of East Lane County. That's fair!

Another advantage of going back to a three member Board of Commissioners is that we would save money! We could give each Commissioner a 25% pay raise to about $100,000 from the current salary of about $80,000 and we could afford to hire three personal assistants, one for each Commissioner to handle the increased work load if necessary. Right now, the Commissioners are almost never available to speak to their constituents when they call because they are almost always in meetings and there is only one receptionist for all five of the County Commissioners. It is very difficult to actually speak to your Commissioner now! If we pay each of the three assistants about $30,000, the county would still save money over the cost of maintaining the current five member Board of Commissioners, and you might actually get to speak to the Commissioner's assistant! But most importantly we would never again have the problem of the County Commissioners secretly meeting in private and making decisions without any public participation and oversite, which precipitated the lawsuit brought against Lane County by former Commissioner Ellie Dumdi!

The way I see it, Commissioners Stewart and Bozievich who were just elected would be largely unaffected by a return to a three member Board of Commissioners, except that there would be about 50,000 additional residents in each of their districts. Commissioner Leiken who was also just elected from Springfield, would have to stand for re-election during the first election cycle after passage of any ballot measure returning to a three member Board of Commissioners, against either Sorenson, Handy, or some other potential opponent from Eugene. In considering this idea I have made numerous phone calls to other counties in Oregon, and across the country, with similar size populations, to see how many Commissioners they have on their Board of Commissioners.

Results follow:



Oregon

County
Population
# Commissioners
Lane
344,000
5
Marion
311,000
3
Clackamas
376,000
5
Jackson
199,000
3
Washington
523,000
5

Nationwide

County
State
Population
# Commissioners
Major City
Allen
IN
349,000
3
Fort Wayne
Ada
ID
373,000
3
Boise
Douglas
CO
296,000
3
 
Boulder
CO
290,000
3
Boulder
Adams
CO
422,000
3
Brighton
Tulare
CA
421,000
5
Visalia
Placer
CA
333,000
5
Roseville
Berks
PA
402,000
3
 
Bell
TX
310,000
4+1
Coleen/Temple
Galveston
TX
284,000
4+1
Galveston
Lubbock
TX
261,000
4+1
Lubbock
Clark
WA
418,000
3
Vancouver
Spokane
WA
456,000
3
Spokane


If you care to comment on this proposal for returning to a three member Board of Commissioners, address your correspondence to: info@lessgovisthebestgov.com


"The truth, the political truth, and nothing but the political truth.
A journalist has no better friend than the truth."
- Scott Rohter

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