Impact of Home Rule Charter discussed at town hall meeting

CLARKSTON, WA - A new version of the Home Rule issue to be decided by voters was the main concern for many people who gathered in the Asotin County Commissioner's chambers for the first town hall meeting of the year.

"What we've got is better than trying to consolidate," said concerned citizen.

Concerned citizens and officials from all over Asotin County gathered Tuesday night to gain a better understanding of what a Home Rule Charter would mean for local government.

"We are taking no stand whatsoever officially as a commission or as a county government on Citizens for Better Government," said Asotin County Commissioner Brian Shinn.

A proposition organized by Citizens for Better Government and approved for the November ballot by the Asotin County Commission would combine the county's governing body with the councils of both the City of Asotin as well as the City of Clarkston into one unified city-county government.

Spokesperson for CBG Brian Kolstad answered questions throughout the evening, emphasizing how streamlined the government could be if the charter is successful.

"When a community of our size can't cooperate between the city and the county you have to kind of look a little bit deeper and say what's causing that?" said Kolstad.

Despite Kolstad's reasoning, mayors from both Clarkston and Asotin spoke up in defense of their constituents. Clarkston Mayor Kathleen Warren countered one of Kolstad's arguments, that the city having their own ambulance service is a waste of resources.

"Before you assume that the ambulance service isn't doing what it should, considering the fact that the people like the way it's going and it's costing less not more," said Warren.

Asotin Mayor Vikki Bonfield expressed her concern about proper representation for the significantly smaller city in the new proposed government model. If the proposition passes in November freeholders are to be elected to write a charter. But they'll be elected at large, instead of restricting people to vote only on the candidates in their district.

"To me that is not an appropriate way for the free holders to be elected," said Bonfield. "They will not be representing people in a way that I think they should be represented."

Citizens at the meeting asked Kolstad to calculate hard figures on how much consolidating the government would save the county. Kolstad said it's hard to know what the long term savings would be until elected freeholders create a governmental structure.

If the proposition is passed in November, 17 freeholders would be elected at that same time. The freeholders will then have two years to draft a charter which would solidify the details of the consolidation. If and when that happens, the charter needs to a voted on by the people to approve it.