County finance department question to go before voters in November

PORT ANGELES — Clallam County commissioners unanimously approved putting a proposal to create a county finance department on the November ballot after a public hearing on Tuesday.

The three commissioners unanimously approved the idea without discussing the concerns they heard during the hearing.

The measure, which county officials have said would streamline the county’s finances as it looks at removing financial responsibilities from the county administrator position, requires a change to the county charter.

Norma Turner, who has been a member of every charter review commission except one and chaired the latest commission, questioned the swiftness with which the county is acting and urged the county to instead work with the charter review commission where the public would have more opportunities to comment.

“I believe that while this idea may be needed to make the county more efficient, I also believe this rush to amend the charter is not a prudent way to go about it,” she said.

“I firmly believe that more time and public discussion will yield a better product.”

If approved by voters, the charter change would create a new Department of Finance, headed by a chief financial officer appointed by the county commissioners.

Turner noted that the county is unique when compared to other entities locally in that it has three elected officials — the treasurer, auditor and a county commissioner — involved in financial oversight. Other entities, such as Olympic Medical Center, the Port Angeles School District and the Port of Port Angeles, have staff who deal with the finances, she said.

“None of these entities must deal with the complexities of elected department heads,” she said. “How does this plan continue to value the roles of all the county elected officials involved in financial oversight?”

A new section that could be added to the county charter says the chief financial officer’s duties “may included powers and duties previously within the purview of the auditor.

“From my experience working with proposed changes to the charter, this is very broad language,” Turner said. “It could be interpreted that this department could take over elections or any other auditor function of their choice.”

With little discussion, commissioners approved a proposed draft ordinance with amendments and an addition to the county charter, approved a resolution calling for an election to consider those amendments and the addition, the wording for the explanatory statement for the measure and appointed people in the “for” and “against” committees.

Commissioner Randy Johnson, Auditor’s Chief Accountant Stan Creasey and former Peninsula Daily News Publisher John Brewer were selected for the “for” committee. Johnson abstained from the vote appointing members of the “for” committee.

Bryan Frazier, who officials said is a concerned citizen, was selected for the “against” committee, with two seats remaining vacant.

Kim Yacklin, assistant director of the county Department of Health and Human Services, asked commissioners for better communication about the plan.

“I would recommend you speak to staff within the county, especially those looking at financial systems,” she said. “We don’t know a lot about how it affects our staff and the work we do.”

Mike Doherty, a candidate for the District 3 seat on the Board of County Commissioners, told commissioners he doesn’t understand why they are rushing to create the finance department.

If Clallam County moves to create a finance department, it would join several other charter counties in the state that have done so already.

“The great majority of charter counties are I-5 [Interstate 5] counties,” he said. “For us, it’s a giant step.”

Before commissioners acted, Doherty said they should delay putting the measure on the ballot and refer it to the charter review commission.

“Whatever the reason for this rush, I don’t think it’s justified,” he said.

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Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at [email protected].

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