Members of a committee formed last year to review the structure of Lucas County government and is advocating the election of a single, unifying leader for the county, appeared before Oregon City Council last month to present its recommendations.
The committee supports a political structure that would contribute to reversing the economic decline of the region by facilitating concerted, collaborative efforts to reduce costs, eliminate duplication, and encourage regional cooperation. The group made a series of recommendations last May based on its study.
“We’re not asking for an endorsement,” Thomas Palmer, of Marshall & Melhorn, LLC, a member of the committee, said to council. “This is the first wave of going to the community and trying to get some feedback. Next year, we’re looking to put this on the ballot if we see some support in the community for this.”
“Over a year ago, there was a suggestion for changing the form of county government,” said Palmer. “We have the traditional form of county government, and alternative forms of government,” such as home rule for a county.
“This is what we’re proposing to bring to the community. And all of us who have been involved in this undertaking respect those who are in county government. This is not a criticism of any individual. It’s talking about the form of government, the powers of government, and how people who choose to serve can be put in a position to be more impactful, more accountable and more representative of the county as a whole at a time where we face challenges in all levels of our community, certainly in the private sector, the labor community and in the public sector – all of us have to come together and embrace the challenges in front of us,” he said. “This is just one part of it, but it could be a better form, a more effective form, of county government.”
Among the committee’s key recommendations:
• Change Lucas County government to a Charter form of government, which requires a vote by the citizens. “The charter that’s being proposed would not eliminate, reduce, or minimize the power of municipalities, villages or townships. This is not intended to supersede the Oregon form of government,” said Palmer;
• Elect, to a four year term, a full-time county executive, a single, accountable leader, who is responsible for overseeing county operations;
• Elect a nine member county council comprised of six districts and three at large members with legislative responsibility and serving as a counterweight to the executive. “The decision of policy - of how to govern, what to govern - would be invested in the council,” said Palmer;
• The county council would establish an Internal Audit Office responsible for auditing operational and financial performance;
• The offices of Auditor, Treasurer and Recorder would be consolidated into one department headed by a Chief Fiscal Officer (CFO) appointed by the executive;
• The county and sanitary engineers would be combined with one engineer appointed by the executive;
• The executive would appoint a sheriff and a medical examiner;
• The clerk of courts would be appointed by the judges or the Court of Common Pleas with responsibilities divided between the CFO and the court;
• The prosecutor would remain an elected position.
“You’re seeing a sense of representation, accountability and checks and balances of what’s represented here,” said Palmer.
“You know - given your own experience serving your community - that structure’s important. It’s the quality of people that makes a difference. No form of government is going to be any good unless good people step up. We’re not saying this is going to change the essential fact that you need good people in the public sector,” said Palmer. “What we are saying is that the structure allows good people to be more effective, more impactful, accountable and representative of the people. Those are the benefits that we have seen.”