Friday, January 13, 2006

Don Williams presentation to Charter Review Commission

Presented By:
Donald S. Williams
Tacoma, WA

Before The Pierce County Charter Review Commission - January 12, 2006

Issues Presented

The following are suggestions for the Charter Review Commission to consider as changes to the Pierce County Charter.

1. Establish the position of Pierce County Councilmember to be non-partisan.

Comments: (1) Issues considered by the Pierce County Council have very seldom, if ever, been subject to partisan politics. (2) Citizens of each council district will be better represented when their council representative make decisions based solely on what is best for their district with no influence coming from their beholding to any political party. (3) Since primary elections would be totally open with the candidates no longer having any party affiliation, the voters would select from the full slate of candidates so everyone gets to chose their best choice.

2. Divide Pierce County into five council districts instead of the current seven.

Comment: The most obvious advantage of five versus seven council districts is the cost savings resulting in having fewer districts (and Councilmembers) compared to the seven that we now have. The Charter Review Commission should study the structure of other Washington State counties (and of other states, too) and determine if county government would operate at better efficiency (and at less cost) with fewer council districts.

3. Divide the office of Assessor-Treasurer into two distinct non-partisan offices: An Assessor and a Treasurer.

Comment:: The Pierce County Assessor-Treasurer (an elected official) is currently responsible for assessing the value of property in the county, sending out tax bills and collecting property taxes. The Assessor-Treasurer has no responsibility or accountability for the management of county funds. This is done by the Director of Finance, a position appointed by the County Executive. Under the current form, the County Executive, who is authorized by the
County Charter to negotiate contracts and spend taxpayer funds also has control of how these same funds are managed. It is the Director of Finance, not the Assessor-Treasurer, who structures, sells and negotiates the county debt (i.e., sells the bonds and manages the bond proceeds).

The management of taxpayer funds should become the responsibility of an elected non-partisan County Treasurer, similar to how the State of Washington structures this same function in its Office of the State Treasurer. The job of assessing property values and collecting property taxes should under the Charter become a separate function that belongs with a separate, non-partisan and elected County Assessor.

4. The sale of county debt (bonds) should become a two-step process with the Council first “authorizing the sale” and then later “accepting the sale” of county-issued bonds.

Comment: The current method of selling county bonds is that the Director of Finance sells the bonds and then the County Council approves the sale after it has happened. Under the two-step process, which is identical to how the State of Washington sells bonds through its Office of the State Treasurer, a resolution would be first passed by the County Council that authorizes the sale of the bonds, the maximum amount of the debt and how the debt service is to be structured. Then the Director of Finance (or if a separate County Treasurer is established, the Treasurer) offers the bonds for sale pending final approval by the Council. This way the County Council has an opportunity to approve the amount of the bonds as well as how the bond debt is structured before the bonds are offered for sale. The current method leaves the Council no choice but to approve the bond sale since it has already been completed by the County Executive through his/her appointed Director of Budget and Finance. If Suggestion No. 3 is selected, then the bonds are sold by the separate and elected County Treasurer, not the Director of Budget and Finance.

Please consider these for inclusion in the Pierce County Charter.

Donald S. Williams


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