State Rep. Sam Hunt, D-Olympia, had what might have been a good impulse to help along a charter government effort for Thurston County. But his amendment to a bill letting Spokane County expand its commission from three to five members last week was hasty in adding Thurston County.
Rep. J.T. Wilcox, R-Yelm, called it a “coup” that would expand the Thurston County commission to five members in 2018 without a public vote.
Hunt said later the existing three-member commission limits discussions between elected commissioners unless they call a formal meeting. He said he considered the amendment after seeing the Spokane County bill and checking with members of Better Thurston, a good-government group that has been promoting a county charter proposal for the ballot.
“I think it’s a good government issue. I think it leads to a better government,’’ Hunt said of a larger commission.
Hunt may be right, but Better Thurston, the group collecting signatures for a county-charter ballot measure, did not ask for the amendment. Jim Cooper, who had been involved in that effort to restructure county government, said he supported Hunt’s shortcut.
What happens next is a big question. Wilcox predicted that Hunt killed the bill’s chances in the GOP-controlled Senate.
Sen. Karen Fraser, D-Thurston County, said she has supported the charter concept, but thinks that “at a minimum,” the five-member commission should be an option — not a mandate for Thurston County.
Hunt’s move caught County Commissioner Sandra Romero by surprise. Romero says five commissioners could be costly at a time the county is swamped by criminal justice costs, and there isn’t space at the courthouse to house two more commissioners.
The way to better government is through a public, democratic process. In this case, that means a lot more local discussions — and a public vote — are needed.