Boone County Commission seeks to form charter government

Saturday, September 17, 2011 | 6:00 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Twice already Boone County voters have allowed the drafting of a charter for home-rule government. And twice they have rejected those charters once they were completed.

The Boone County Commission plans to give voters another chance by placing the formation of another charter committee on the April 2012 ballot. Presiding Commissioner Ed Robb believes that this time voters will take the initiative all the way.

What is a charter form of government?

A charter is a document detailing the structure and authority of government. It would allow Boone County to govern itself and pass its own ordinances rather than rely on the Missouri General Assembly and state laws. Charter, or home-rule, governments are available to counties with large enough populations.

“It allows us to control our own business. We wouldn't be at the whim of the state legislature,” Robb said. “It allows us to function more efficiently and effectively.”

What is the process for creating a charter government?

Voters must first approve the creation of a committee to draft a charter document. If they do so, judges in the 13th Judicial Circuit would appoint a 14-member committee of seven Democrats and seven Republicans. They would have one year to create a charter. Voters would then decide whether to adopt it.

Robb said that the first vote on whether to create the charter committee will be on the April 3 ballot.

“This first vote is like saying, 'I'm open to this discussion,'” Robb said. “Residents and voters have always been in favor of 'lets take a look.'”

Whether or not the actual charter passes, however, depends on the committee and the changes it proposes.

What is Boone County's history with charter drafts?

Boone County residents have twice voted to draft the charter but then voted against the completed document by large majorities. In 1982 and again in 1996, voters rejected proposed charters by about 70 percent, according to a past Missourian article.

The problem, Robb said, was that past committees proposed sweeping changes that voters didn't want. The elimination of elected positions in favor of appointments and other expansive changes fueled opposition.

“Hopefully we've learned from it. We don't want to repeat history,” Robb said. “Hopefully we can get more reasonable on the committee this time.”

Northern District Commissioner Skip Elkin said he supports the move toward a charter, provided the changes remain reasonable.

“If it's drafted without turning county government upside down in a minimal form I think it presents us with greater opportunities to govern,” he said.

What changes do commissioners want to explore?

Robb hopes that the changes outlined in the charter will be less drastic than in the past, giving voters more incentive to approve it. Both he and Elkin favor increasing the number of commissioners to five or seven. There are three now.

“I think it would make it easier for voters and citizens to have contact with their local representation,” Robb said. If the commissioners had fewer constituents each, they could respond better to residents' needs.

“It would give us a better opportunity for better representation,” Elkin said.

Robb also would like all county positions to remain publicly chosen. As it stands, county government includes the elected positions of assessor, collector, treasurer, auditor, clerk, recorder of deeds, public administrator, prosecutor, sheriff and judges.

“We're not trying to create czars,” he said. “We're trying to revamp county government.”

Another potential change would be to set up a private pay commission to make recommendations on the salaries of elected officials, Robb said. Currently, state statute dictates that a salary commission of elected county officials will determine the pay scale.

The actual changes proposed, however, will not be made by Robb or Elkin. Although commissioners can offer input, the committee would have full authority over the document.

How else might a charter affect Boone County?

If a charter were implemented, the county would no longer have to go through the state government to pass ordinances and make decisions on “no-brainer” issues, Elkin said.

“I don't think the politicians in Jefferson City know more than the ones in the county, so why should they be controlling our county?” he asked.

The charter would allow for faster action by the commission.

“It would be light years ahead of where we are now,” Elkin said.

Robb said that the commission will hold public meetings between now and April to discuss the issue with the public and explain the benefits of home rule.

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