Nothing says excitement like the words Pierce County Charter Review Commission, a group of volunteer officials that swoops in every 10 years. In the world of local governance, they are the Haley’s comet of bureaucratic change.
Once elected, this nonpartisan board puts in six months of eye-crossing hard work to clean up the county’s charter. The commission’s 21 members scour the governing document for inefficiencies and bits of unfairness, and venture into the territory of “what if?”
For example, what if an elected county official wants to collect a second paycheck by holding another office simultaneously? County Charter Amendment 44 would prohibit that, and it’s why we give it a hearty, “Heck, yes.”
It’s common practice for politicians to run for one office while holding another, but most of them know better than to plan on retaining both.
It’s a proscription lifted straight from the files of common sense. The charter reviewers simply wanted to codify and clarify it.
The home rule charter already bans a county official from holding a second county post. That means a person couldn’t work any combination of positions including county executive, sheriff, prosecutor, assessor-treasurer, auditor or council member. This amendment would expand the ban to include any compensated elected post outside county government, too.
They considered the possibility that a state senator from, say, the 31st Legislative District, might want to play a little political hopscotch. It’s possible she might want to grab a County Council seat in District 2.
Amendment 44 says, “Uh, no.”
As it happens, state Sen. Pam Roach of the 31st Legislative District is on the November ballot for a County Council seat in her new residence of District 2. When asked a few months ago if she would give up her Senate seat if she were elected to the council, she vaguely promised a “smooth transition.”
Roach recently came out stronger, saying she would give up the Senate seat by the time she assumed county office. But for now, the only thing standing between her and the privilege of double dipping for a combined salary of $153,000 is her word or a “yes” vote on Charter Amendment 44. (A “yes” vote for Roach’s District 2 opponent, Carolyn Edmonds, would also suffice.)
Charter Review Commissioner Joshua Penner was part of a three-person team that researched the potential negative impacts of Amendment 44. He says if it were to pass, it could result in the loss of well-qualified people serving in county government.
It’s a risk voters should not hesitate to take. The 21 charter commissioners took a close vote last spring to push this amendment to the Nov. 8 ballot, but for voters, it should not be a close call at all. Even Roach now says she supports the amendment.
Serving two constituencies is not an arrangement that many office holders would actively seek, but there could be that rare bird for whom political power and a padded pension prove too great a gravitational pull.
As with any astronomical phenomenon, it’s best to be prepared.