Should Yamhill County expand it’s Board of Commissioners from 3 to 5 members?

Yamhill County Commissioners are considering whether to refer a decision to the ballot in the May 2020 election:  Read the proposed language here.  The transition would take place in 2024, with the current seats held by Starrett and Kulla being up for election in 2022, and then positions 2, 4, and 5 being up for election in May 2024.  Commissioners would continue to serve a 4 year term.  

Commissioner Kulla spoke to Howie Harkema about this and you can watch the video episode of Speaking Frankly here.

WHY SWITCH TO 5 COMMISSIONERS?

  • So they can talk to each other.  With only 3 Commissioners, 2 is a quorum, which means it is against the law for two County Commissioners to communicate to one another outside a properly announced public meeting about any topic which may come before the Board.  They may share an office building, but they technically can’t speak to each other unless they are sitting in Rm. 32 at the County Courthouse at an official “noticed” meeting (meaning the public is aware the meeting was scheduled).  With 5 Commissioners, 2 would not be a quorum, and conversations could take place outside public meetings.  Here’s more detail on how that would work.  The ability to consult one another privately can be valuable in reaching compromise, providing an opportunity to ask difficult questions, and simply in building rapport and trust between members of the board. 
  • To reduce the impact of ideology.  Currently with a 3 person board, in today’s highly partisan environment, just two Commissioners can override the third on every vote, making the election in May 2020 extremely critical to both sides:  if a conservative wins, then that person and Commissioner Starrett will be able to make decisions without needing any support from Commissioner Kulla.  If someone more progressive wins, then Commissioner Starrett will find herself without much power to influence decisions.  With a 5 person board, coalitions might be less clear, and there would be more opportunities for both political ideologies (or moderates!) to be placed on the Board. 
  • To ensure citizen representation.  Back in 1980, the 3 Commissioners represented 16,000 county citizens each; with population growth, Commissioners now represent 35,000 apiece, and population growth estimates would mean one for every 47,000 citizens by 2035.  Expanding to five members would bring down to 21,000 now and 28,600 in 2035.  

WHY NOT SWITCH TO 5 COMMISSIONERS?

  • It will cost more money. While it’s unlikely to require additional tax incomes, compensation for two additional Commissioners plus additional staff to support them will take more money.  The current County Commissioner’s and staff budget is $570,000 – less than 1% of the overall County budget of $150 Million.  County Administrator estimated that adding two more Commissioners and additional staff would cost around $300,000, and would still keep the total Administrative costs of the County under 1% of total county budget.  This could currently be absorbed by existing revenues (meaning, current county tax revenues leave reserves which are not allocated) and would not require raising taxes to provide funds.
  • It might require different office space.  The 3 current County Commissioners share office and staff space in the historic white house on Evans & 5th across from the County Courthouse.  Apparently this space would be too small to add 2 Commissioner’s offices and additional staff.  However, since transparency concerns mean that Commissioners should not speak to one another anyway, and with technology making remote work possible, sharing office space may no longer be as relevant a concern as it was in past decades.  Suggestions have also been made to possibly create Commissioner workspaces in the county’s cities, for instance, a rotating open office in Sheridan or Willamina, one in Newberg, one in Amity, one in Yamhill…  to get the Commissioners out into the communities they serve more.  Keep in mind that discussions are also ongoing about potentially moving some County offices out of downtown McMinnville.

Remember, if you can’t attend the meeting, you can always contact the Commissioners directly.