What happens in the courthouse...

Unless explicitly noted otherwise, this blog represents my own opinions, not those of any organization (like the Kittitas County Democratic Party) that I might be involved with.

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Tuesday, October 7, 2014

What does a county commissioner do, anyway?

We all learned in school about the three branches of our government: executive, legislative, and judicial. It turns out that that structure applies at the federal and state levels, but at the county level, at least in Washington, the board of county commissioner is a combination of the executive and legislative branches.

That gives the commissioners significant responsibility in a job that can be very complex. To make matters more challenging, there are only three commissioners in the form specified by the Washington State Constitution.

Here are some areas in which a board of county commissioners must be -- or have the ability to quickly become -- well-informed:
  • labor relations
  • environmental regulations (state and federal)
  • land use and planning
  • public health
  • public safety
  • finance
  • contracts
  • human resources
  • personnel management
  • construction management
  • forestry
  • wildlife
  • agriculture
  • mental health
  • disabilities
  • housing
  • substance abuse
  • solid waste 
  • fire safety 
It's an incomplete list, and it's not hard to find examples where the commissioners have stumbled badly in recent years. The 200% over-budget Armory remodel, for example, is clearly a result of construction management problems, among others.

Meanwhile, the most important parts of a commissioner's job aren't even on the list: budget and policy. Actually, the budget is the main way the commissioners carry out policy, and policy decisions require a very high-level view of where the county is and where the commissioners want to take it. This kind of view is supposed to lead to a set of goals, which the commissioners then work to have all of county government support. I am not able to find a vision statement or list of goals on the board of county commissioners' website.

Part of the problem is that the commissioners spend most of their time on day-to-day operations of the county, leaving little time for policy-level thinking, but that is a topic for another post.

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