Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Various Issues by Rick Sorrels

TO: Charter Review Commission

RE: Issues to Consider

A County Charter is similar to our Federal Constitution, our State Constitution, and the Articles of Incorporation for a major corporation. There are two types of provisions contained in a Charter: (1) a grant of authority to act (including the organization and structure through which it acts), and (2) limits or restrictions on its power to act.

When County government starts to become inefficient or when acts taken are contrary to existing law or the desires of the citizens, then a revision of the County Charter may be needed.

Specific proposals have been presented regarding the number of council members, which officials should be elected and which appointed, etc. Structural changes should not be made unless a clear case of abuse of power (inherent in the structure created by the Charter), or evidence of gross inefficiency can be evidenced. The personality and ineffectiveness of individual office holders, which can be corrected at the next election, should not be confused with a need to change the County Charter.

Limits on powers is a much greater concern for most citizens. Issues which the Charter Review Commission should consider include:

1. THE “TAKINGS ISSUE”. Federal and State Constitutions, federal and state statutes, court decisions, etc, all guarantee Due Process Rights and protections against the governmental taking of real and personal property. County policies and adopted ordinances violate these provisions and protections, leaving the County vulnerable to billions of dollars in damage claims. A clear statement of rights and limitations needs to be included in the County Charter.

2. FOCUS OF BUILDING DEPT. The primary function of the Bldg Dept is to insure that an accurate inventory of improvements exists for taxing purposes. This has morphed into a detailed system of reviews and approvals of all aspects of land use. This turns the County into a guarantor of construction and improvements, making the County vulnerable for damage claims whenever anything goes wrong. Do we still believe in individual rights, freedoms, and responsibilities, or is the County now in control of the smallest detail of our life, and is also monetarily responsible for a citizen’s poor judgment? For example, tax money is being wasted purchasing homes in flood plains to avoid liability that the County should not have to bare. Another example, County issues permit (grants approval) for house built on steep hillside, which is later destroyed in landslide, and homeowner sues County. A clear statement of allowable degree of government intrusion and liability needs to be considered for Charter amendment. (Some overlap with Issue 1).

3. DECRIMINALIZE CODE VIOLATIONS. County Council routinely adopts ordinances with provisions for criminal prosecution for every ordinance adopted. If you build a temporary wheel chair ramp for use while your wife’s injuries heal, without first obtaining a building permit, then the County can file criminal charges. If a squatter pitches a tent on your property and sleeps overnight without your knowledge, the property owner can now face criminal charges. Cutting a tree branch can now result in criminal charges. A Charter amendment to decriminalize the vast majority (if not all) code violations should be considered.

4. AVAILABILITY OF COUNTY CODE. Charter section 2.60 requires a current copy of ALL County Codes be maintained in ALL public libraries. The County has failed to maintain current copies (or in a lot of cases, ANY copies) at these required locations. Most citizens and attorneys try to do their research at the County Law Library which does not receive or maintain a current copy of the County Code. The Law Library is not associated with the County Library System, so arguably is not included under the requirements of this section. Section 2.60 should be amended to require that current copies of all County Codes be maintained at the County Law Library.

5. AVAILABILITY OF COUNTY REGULATIONS. Some County subagencies (like the Health Dept) adopt and maintain their own regulations which are enforced against our citizens, but are not available for public review. Section 2.60 should be amended to require that current copies of all County regulations be maintained at the same locations as the County Code. (Some overlap with Issue 4).

6. FILING OFFICER. Proposed amendments to County Charter must be submitted to and processed by somebody called a “Filing Officer” (Charter section 8.50). There is no mention of how this person is appointed or how he fits into the organization of the County. A citizen filing a Charter Initiative Petition under section 8.65 has no way to tell how to comply with those mandatory filing requirements. There should be no impediment to initiative actions. If a certain office (like the Auditor) has been appointed to perform this temporary act once each decade, then an amendment naming that particular office should be considered.

Additional information will be provided on each of the above selected for discussion in committee.

Rick Sorrels, 884-4650


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