Wednesday, August 23, 2006

County Commission rejects expansion to 5 members

Wright, Bowman shoot down Michael's resolution


By STEVE BENSON
Express Staff Writer

Voters will not be given a chance to decide if the Blaine County Commission should expand its board from three members to five.

Commissioners Tom Bowman and Dennis Wright rejected a resolution proposing the change, put forth by Commission Chairwoman Sarah Michael, during a hearing Tuesday at the Old County Courthouse in Hailey.

If the resolution had passed, the expansion would have been presented to voters in the November 2006 election. If approved by voters, the two additional commissioners would not have run for election until November 2008.

Michael believes adding two additional commissioners would foster better representation, a more professional work environment, enhanced diversity and more power at the state level. The majority of the 10-member Blaine County Governance Committee, formed in May and composed of former elected officials and community leaders, agreed with Michael, as did several local citizens.

But Bowman and Wright felt the move was premature, especially since the county recently decided to hire a full-time administrator to assist the commissioners with their workload.

"I happen to believe that the process of going forward with an administrator is a good one," Wright said. "I can see some wisdom, I think, in giving that a chance to institutionalize and to let it work a couple years. If we still have weakness in the system then we can get this question (back on the table later)."

Bowman said he spoke with several former county commissioners, and most discouraged the expansion.

"(They) thought it would slow government down," Bowman said. "It's sometimes hard to get a decision out of three members, and five would make it worse."

Like Wright, Bowman believes the administrator position should be given some time to see if it's effective.

Bowman, who represents District 2, or the mid-valley, also questioned whether expanding the commission would really translate into better, more diverse representation, since the entire electorate could vote for any of the commission candidates, regardless of their district.

"Hailey would be choosing county commissioners for the whole county," he said. "When you say we'll have broader representation, we really might be homogenizing representation more."

Wright, who will be resigning from the commission after 10 years this fall, also expressed concern that there is not enough time to educate the public on the expansion.

"I'm not sure at this time we even necessarily have time to thoroughly educate people on what they would be voting on in November," he said.

"Expect a petition; you will see a petition," Al Lindley, a Hailey resident who once served as the city's mayor, told Bowman and Wright after their decision.

Two county commission candidates—Mickey Garcia and Dale Ewersen—expressed support for Michael's resolution and the expansion. Garcia is running against Michael in District 3, which represents the north county. Ewersen, a Republican from Bellevue, is running against Democrat Larry Schoen, who owns a farm near Silver Creek, to replace Wright in District 1, which covers the south county.

Schoen expressed apprehension over the expansion last week. Like Bowman and Wright, he believes the administrator should be tested first.

Garcia said the county commission should be treated like a corporate board "and I don't know of any corporate boards with three members."

He added that he's not a fan of expanding government, and that Michael's resolution isn't seeking to do that.

"I don't see it as an expansion of government but making it more efficient," he said. "I see a lot of misunderstanding from the public. I'm looking for more efficient, straightforward government."




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