Activists aim to revamp county government

By BENNETT HALL Gazette-Times

A group of local political activists, citing what they say is a widespread feeling of disenfranchisement with Benton County government, are holding a public meeting at the library this Friday to discuss ways to make it more responsive.

“We’re not prescribing anything,” said peace activist Leah Bolger, one of the meeting organizers. “We just want to have a civil discussion where people can throw out their ideas on how to improve county government.”

Bolger said the idea for the meeting came out of a discussion group formed around the David Swanson book “Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union.”

While Swanson is advocating political reforms at the national level, the Daybreak group decided to see what changes they could accomplish locally. They decided to focus on the County Commission in part, they said, because people on both the left and the right of the political spectrum feel locked out by the fact that no one but Democrats have been elected to that body for more than a decade.

“The three-commissioner form of government is not the most democratic form of government around,” said Vernon Huffman, a Green Party member helping to organize the meeting. “When the winner takes all in the election, you end up with three members of the majority party representing everybody.”

Huffman said he’d like to see a county government based on proportional representation and elected by instant-runoff voting. He’s also in favor of neighborhood councils with control of county funding.

Huffman and Bolger said they’ve invited the current county commissioners to attend and have also reached out to Tea Partiers, Republican leaders and a group of GOP activists backing term limits for the commissioners.

Annabelle Jaramillo, who chairs the County Commission, said she plans to go to the meeting.

“I’m really curious to see what they’re talking about,” Jaramillo said. “I think it would be a great discussion to have.”

Bennett Hall can be reached at 541-758-9529 or bennett.hall@lee.net.

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