close
Home rule

Is it time for the county to adopt home rule?

Graphic by Amber McAlary/News-Register

What is the house rule? Should Yamhill County consider a move in this direction?

Under home rule, local government retains all home rule powers, except those specifically preempted under federal or state law. In the absence of a ban, it empowers local courts, both municipal and departmental, to act. It is essentially a form of local control giving citizens more voice in government operations.

Rick Olson was elected to the Yamhill County Board of Commissioners in 2016, after 36 years of public service to the City of McMinnville. With the city, he served on the planning commission, council and budget committee, and then served as mayor for eight years. He has also held board positions with the League of Oregon Cities, the McMinnville Area Chamber of Commerce, and the Yamhill County Boardwalk Committee. A resident of McMinnville since 1957, he raised five children with his wife, Candy. He worked for Oregon Mutual Insurance until his retirement in 2012.

Historically, counties were created and maintained as mere administrative districts to perform functions and duties on behalf of the sovereign. In England, it was the Crown. In America, this meant colonial governors before independence and state governments after.

In addition to their role as agents of the state, counties gradually took on a secondary role as a unit of local government, providing services in response to the needs and preferences of their constituents.

Both as state agents and units of local government, however, they continued to operate under legal interpretations, limiting their powers to those expressly granted by state law. As a result, the counties were unable to act in response to local needs without the express authorization of the legislature.

Efforts to free counties from state constraints date back to 1906, but were largely unsuccessful until a constitutional amendment to county rule was passed in 1958.

In Oregon, 27 counties, including Yamhill, remain under traditional restrictions today. They are known as general law counties.

The other nine – Benton, Clatsop, Hood River, Jackson, Josephine, Lane, Multnomah, Washington and Umatilla – have shaken off the yoke to become self-governing counties. And others have considered or are currently considering such a move.

The basic requirements for a home charger are specific to Article VI, Section 10 of the Oregon Constitution. At a minimum, he says, a county charter “shall prescribe the organization of county government and shall provide directly, or by authority thereof, for the number, election or appointment, qualifications, term of office, remuneration, such powers and duties of officers as the county deems necessary.

The process begins with the creation of a county charter committee, either by resolution of the board of commissioners or by citizen petition. The petition route sets the signature requirement at 4% of the local votes cast in the last election of a governor for a four-year term.

Once the requirement is met, the County Board of Commissioners appoints four members and the County Legislative Delegation appoints four more. These eight settle on a ninth.

The law prohibits the appointment of any county commissioner or local legislator, or anyone engaged in matters “inconsistent with the conscientious exercise” of the committee’s duties.

The committee has two years to develop a charter to submit to voters. The county must provide him with free office space and either 1% per capita or $500 to help fund his expenses.

The committee is authorized to conduct interviews and conduct investigations. He is required to hold at least one public hearing on the document he produces for consideration by voters.

The original vote on the charter and votes on any amendment, revision or repeal must normally be submitted in a biennial primary or general election. However, under a 1977 Court of Appeal decision (Brummel v. Clark, 31 or App 405), an amendment may be votable in a special election if the county charter permits.

As an alternative, a county charter can be prepared and submitted directly to voters via an initiative petition.

The charter sets the number of commissioners, as well as their status and remuneration structure. It can also decide on the number, status and salary structure of administrative officers or other officers and employees of the county.

In addition, it serves as a vehicle for addressing operations and intergovernmental relations; ordinance, initiative and referendum procedures; personnel safeguards and procedures; budgeting, expenditure and financial issues; procedures for transitioning to the new charter system; and various other topics. Some self-governing counties have taken a minimalist approach and others have packed their charters with many pages of detail.

This allows a county to structure its operation to best meet local needs and to make changes as circumstances change. They are not stuck with a fixed state mandate.

Given this degree of latitude, a local charter would give more autonomy to the citizens of Yamhill County to decide how Yamhill County should be governed. This would allow them to decide:

Which officials should be appointed or elected, and which should serve on a paid or unpaid basis. How many commissioners should sit on the board, whether they should be chosen at-large or by district; how they should be remunerated and how the chairmanship of the board should be decided. What role citizens should have in the decision-making process.

Cities in Oregon have wide latitude when it comes to home rule, and a charter would put the county on a level playing field.

Along the way, it would allow the county to provide rural areas with services currently limited to urban areas, if voters consent – ​​for example, establishing an accommodation tax to support tourism or enacting a tax measure to fund the replacement of the broadband Internet service rural bridge.

I encourage everyone to educate themselves on self-reliance and what it could or would mean for Yamhill County. If you would like more information, please do not hesitate to contact me at [email protected] or [email protected]

The people, not the politicians, should decide what form of government they want, who should run it, and how it should be administered.

Teresa R. Cabrera

The author Teresa R. Cabrera