Charter Cruise

Will The Committee Coming Up With A New Form Of County Government Be Wasting Its Time?
By Dave Devine

ELECTION NIGHT wasn't all good news for those who favor home rule through a charter form of government for Pima County. Despite having the voters approve the idea in concept by a wide margin and select a 15- person committee to draft a charter, there were some danger signs given at the same time.

Voters in Maricopa County, when presented with a draft charter for adoption, overwhelmingly rejected the document. Among the concerns: The charter would create another layer of government and cost too much to implement. Other critics griped about provisions to hold non-partisan county elections, including the county-wide election of a strong chair of the Board of Supervisors.

At the same time voters up north were rejecting charter government for themselves, they also said that they wanted to keep electing all of the county offices they now vote on. When asked if positions ranging from sheriff and county attorney to court clerk and school superintendent should be appointed or elected, they voted by at least a 2-to-1 margin to retain the power to fill those jobs themselves through the ballot box.

The proposed charter for Maricopa County created opposition from many business and political leaders. The list of opponents to the draft document included Sen. John McCain, Sheriff Joe Arpaio and even three members of the committee that wrote it. Opponents spent more than $30,000 to defeat the measure, so it wasn't surprising it lost on election day.

What will Pima County's committee do differently to develop a document that both works to improve county government while also making it acceptable to the voters? One early indication seems to be that some of the specific features proposed for the charter during the recently concluded campaign season will be quickly dropped from consideration. These items include campaign finance reform, expanding the number of seats on the Board of Supervisors, and requiring impact fees for new construction as part of the charter.

The newly elected 15-member committee is split between those who believe a general document should be prepared, which could be amended later with specific issues, and those who want to include specific items now. However, given the political reality that every specific issue will probably have an enemy as well as an advocate come election time for the draft document, it appears the general approach to the charter will prevail.

Retiring state Sen. Peter Goudinoff, elected to the committee from county supervisors' District 5, believes the results from Maricopa County will definitely influence the local group. He favors preparing a minimalist charter now which could be amended by the voters later. While calling campaign finance reform measures in the charter a "deal buster," Goudinoff does want to push for an independent committee to oversee future redrawing of boundaries for supervisors' districts.

District 1's Mark Lewis emphasizes the need for the committee to prepare a document which will be approved by the voters. He thinks it's important for the county to have a charter and believes there are a few non-controversial items that, based on his conversations with people, the voters would approve. These include term limits for elected officials, staggered terms for supervisors, and the direct county-wide election of the chair of the Board of Supervisors.

David Wagner, also from District 1, says he favors the committee preparing a general document which defines the separation of powers between the board of supervisors and the appointed county manager. He believes that if the draft charter is too complicated, voters won't understand it and will defeat the measure at election time.

Jerry Anderson, who'll represent District 3 on the committee, favors having the group at least discuss the specific issues. He'd also like to have the public get involved in the process as much as possible. He says he could live with a general document, but believes the committee should draft the best charter possible and then let the voters decide its fate.

County Supervisor Dan Eckstrom, elected to the charter committee from District 2, indicates that he'll keep an open mind about the general versus specific nature of the draft document. He predicts the dynamics of the group will determine much of the final form of the charter, and says he has no pre-ordained notion of what the end result should be.

The committee has until May to draft a document. It will then go before the voters in a special election, the date of which is set by the state's constitution. This election will be sometime between mid-July and early August.

But based on the Maricopa County results, the committee's draft document will have to be acceptable to the voters or the process will have been meaningless. As Mark Lewis said, "I'm not looking at this as a mental exercise. I want the charter to pass."

Just as the next summer monsoon season rolls into town, he and the other 14 members of the committee will know if they've succeeded. TW

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