YAKIMA - A crowd packed downtown Yakima this past Friday afternoon to hear the pros and cons of home rule, a proposal on this November's ballot to reshape county government.
Speaking in favor of the measure were former Yakima City Council members Neal McClure and Larry Matson. Those opposed were State Rep. Charles Ross and newspaper publisher Bruce Smith.
Ross and Smith spoke first and voiced their opposition because they feel county government is already working fine. Ross noted the example of a devastating mudslide in the Nile area, which resulted in a quick county response that put a new road together in an "amazing period of time."
Ross felt that such a response was only possible because the county had a limited government with three county commissioners. A county with seven, nine or even more commissioners plus an administrator - which could be the outcome of home rule - moves much slower, Ross asserted.
Smith claimed the home rule movement is being proposed by Democrats as a way to get elected into county government. He asserted that since they can't get elected under the current system, Democrats want to change the rules to increase their chances with more commissioner seats.
McClure countered that there are examples where the current county government system is not working well, such as a new, non-operational jail that he says future generations will end up paying for.
As for claims that the support for home rule is primarily funded from the Seattle area, McClure noted that 9,700 registered voters signed a petition seeking the proposal on the ballot.
Matson added that Yakima County citizens will decide this matter and that those running as unpaid freeholders to help craft home rule - if approved by voters - are regular citizens of Yakima County.
Ross countered that paid signature gatherers were used to obtain the signatures.
McClure claimed the three-commissioner arrangement was a placeholder in the state's constitution. He noted more than 100 years ago the state constitution was changed to give counties the option for home rule.
"There has to be a way to make government work better," he said of options to the status quo.
Smith claimed that most of the 42 candidates vying for the 15 freeholder seats are Democrats. "The discussion will be done by people with left-of-center view points," he said.
If home rule is approved next month, the group of freeholders will have to come back to voters within two years with a proposal for a new county government.