Many years ago the good citizens of Snohomish County decided that it would be a good idea to elect just about everyone to government positions, though I think the dogcatcher is still appointed. On a typical local ballot, there are the usual suspects for state and federal offices. But then near the bottom is a lengthy list of local candidates, people you know nothing about and, frankly, probably don’t care to know. We vote for multiple county officials, including the assessor, the clerk, the sheriff, the executive, the council members, and so on.
Three years ago I was asked to write an op-ed for the Everett Herald. In so many words, I suggested that more local governments be structured and operated like a public utility district, with just three elected board members, who appoint a chief executive officer. I argued that PUD governance was lean and accountable; if citizens (ratepayers) believed that the utility was moving in the wrong direction, throw the bum(s) out.
In that essay I singled out Snohomish County government as the antithesis of PUDs. I wrote:
…Let’s go through the list: county executive, five county council members, the treasurer, the auditor, the court clerk, the sheriff, the assessor, and, finally, the prosecutor. Then there are the judges. Who is accountable to whom?
To be sure, each of these elected officials answers to the voters. But none is accountable to the other. Worse, in my judgment, the council has its staff of aides and policy analysts as does the executive, creating two parallel support teams. That’s got to be expensive, if not also unwieldy.
Then there are the council committees. On Mondays there are an “administrative” committee session, an “operations” committee session, and a “law & justice/human services” committee session. On Tuesdays there are three more sessions, involving the “finance and development committee,” the “planning and community development” committee, and finally, the “public works” committee. The “general legislative” session occurs on Wednesdays. Each of these sessions is chaired by one of the five council members. Also present are separate legislative analysts and the council’s clerk. So un-PUD-like.
Well, with so many elective offices, none accountable to the other, we would expect disagreements and, on occasion, such disagreements can really muck things up. As I write, the county council and the independently elected executive may not be able to reach consensus on a new budget. According to the Herald:
Failing to act could earn the county a dubious distinction as the first in Washington to suffer a government shutdown because elected leaders couldn’t agree on a budget.
Yesterday, following months of public briefings and open hearings, the Snohomish County PUD board adopted next year’s budget. No headlines. Just business as usual.
Crisis averted. Budget passed.