In search of common ground

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Committee, petitioners have no fixed ideas

By Roger Snodgrass

The outcome was still fluid, but the petitioners and the Charter Review Committee began talking to each other on another level Monday.

For one thing, they began exploring on what terms citizens might participate in the approval process for major expenditures, a role they can be currently denied when the projects are paid for by gross receipts taxes.

Meanwhile, Ellen Walton, Robert Pelak and others in the reformist camp explained the rationale behind some of their positions, suggesting a willingness to rework the language to take into account practical concerns that have been raised since then.

There was general agreement about the practical value of voting on issues, even if the votes were advisory in some cases.

Many of the county’s most difficult decisions and their peculiarities and lessons learned — from the zoning of Rendija Canyon in the 80s to the roundabout issue on Diamond Drive, to the Skate Park and the Justice Center — were brought up and examined again.

There weren’t any breakthroughs on how to address the dissatisfaction expressed in the charter amendments the petitioners had proposed.

Former county councilor Jim Hall noted at one point that there were still no fixed ideas.

Committee chair John Hopkins underlined that and added, “The public should feel free to comment or write to the CRC.”

Several participants said they saw positive developments toward addressing a rift that remained after the amendments were declared illegal and county council rejected a public vote on Jan. 25.

Suspicions about process and the pointed issues raised by the two petitions signed by more than 2,000 voters has added urgency to the work of the committee, which had already been asked to review the county charter, essentially the constitution for the county government.

The meeting venue was changed Monday afternoon from the Golf Course to Council Chambers because of a scheduling conflict, but there was a good showing.

A number of county councilors and several petitioners participated in what was billed as a brainstorming session on possible solutions to the two top issues identified in the recent reform petitions — citizen involvement in the capital improvement process and improving county communications.

“This has been the most valuable meeting that we have had since we started,” CRC Chair John Hopkins said after the meeting. “It was the first time councilors had been willing to weigh in on some of these issues.”

Council Chair Michael Wismer, Vice Chair Sharon Stover and councilors Robert Gibson and Ralph Phelps were in the audience and most of them contributed to the discussion.

“At first, there were troubles getting the public to come and engage in a dialogue,” Hopkins said.

“They thought we should just rewrite the petitions and send them back out. We explained that’s not our charter from the county council and it’s not clear what changes are charter issues. There may be some other way to handle them.”

Carl Thornton, one of the petitioners put it in different terms.

“They wanted to get rid of those petitioners like a cocklebur under a saddle blanket,” he said. “They should have communicated better.”

The meeting was based on reports from two subcommittees that met late last week, one given by Chris Chandler on behalf of “the voter control” subcommittee and the other by Larry Warner for what he termed the “poor communication” subcommittee.

The meeting was more geared toward the capital projects issues than the communications issues.

One recurring theme was the importance of separating fundamental issues that need to be expressed in the charter from issues that could be handled by ordinance or by tweaking current processes.