I feel it is necessary to put this into perspective. It is my understanding that most counties in the State of Washington have a 3-member council and they function adequately well. It is my opinion that the largest potential negative of a 3-member council is that if 2 people are of like mind or motivation, whether or not in alignment with the desires of the residents of San Juan County, they can pass legislation and take actions as they would have a majority vote. I believe this is why the requirement for Council Members is that they are independent and non-partisan. Such factors can be judged by looking at the present candidates, their relations and any ties announced with respect to political parties. This pitfall is partially overcome by the fact that the race is obviously run in public, and it is clear and apparent whether any of the candidates have a potential conflict with respect to independence. The other limitation is more functional, but is easily overcome and could be considered an advantage by many residents. This situation is a result of the fact that if any 2 Council Members are together discussing anything having to do with County matters they are required to do so in public. What is the result? The public is likely to see, and have the chance to participate in more “working sessions” of the Council than before, as even basic County operational discussions must be held in public. While these working sessions may be a bit cumbersome, I believe it could be a highly functional situation.
The negatives as I see them are a reduction of considered and diverse opinions that reflect the varied views of the county, which will require a more focused effort to reach out to all citizens on all the islands to insure their thoughts are heard. Also, with six it is exponentially harder to reach consensus, requiring more thoughtful positions with clear and factual supporting data to convince at least three other council members of the merits of suggested legislation. However, the vote of the county is what it is and I will work as hard to represent each island as I am now to represent my current district.
The challenge a 3-member council faces is that council members cannot have any discussions with one another except in public session. This means that council members may not follow customary methods of building rapport with their fellow council members, and also cannot test ideas with one another, except in public session. The advantage of this is that the public is able to witness their representatives’ process and gain better understanding of why and how their representatives deliberate as they do.
I supported all three propositions to change the Charter. I do not see pitfalls or negatives of a three-member Council. A three-member Council will provide greater transparency of Council decision-making processes (all meetings will be noticed and open to the public) and more efficient decision-making processes (three Council Members will require less time to deliberate and reach decisions than six Council Members).
The main pitfalls of a 3 member council is the “one person, one vote” issue. I don’t think it provides equal representation for the people in your district. Also, because of the Open Public Meeting Act, the only time a member can talk to another member is in public meetings. The 6 member council provides for more interaction and, I believe, a better representation of our districts. As a Fire Commissioner, I am one of three. I have dealt with the 3 member situation for 8 years, and feel comfortable dealing with situations that arise while abiding by the Open Public Meeting Act.