Boone County Commission candidates weigh in on home rule

Wednesday, July 18, 2012 | 4:31 p.m. CDT; updated 11:55 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 31, 2012

COLUMBIA — Although most of the Boone County Commission candidates think home rule would benefit Boone County, few see it as a priority.

Former Presiding Commissioner Ed Robb wanted to place home rule on the ballot again in April, according to previous Missourian articles. But Robb died in the fall before he and fellow commissioners could move forward on the issue, and it hasn't come up since.

Charter government, also called home rule, would enable Boone County to determine the structure of the county government and to pass its own ordinances, as long as they comply with state and federal laws. Without home rule, the Missouri Constitution gives the state legislature the power to govern the structure of county governments. State law requires a three-member county commission and the election of county officials.

State law also requires that the county look to the General Assembly and the governor to pass specific ordinances or to give it the authority to pass regulations. Legislators usually tack those sorts of bills onto larger measures as amendments.

The constitution provides a way for counties to establish their own forms of government through a charter. The first step would be for the Boone County Commission to ask voters whether a committee should be established to draft a charter. A citizens' petition also can start the process.

Next judges from the 13th Judicial Circuit would select the 14 members of the bipartisan committee to write a draft constitution. The committee would have a year to draft the document and present it to voters. The county commission would have no control over the contents of the charter.

Boone County voters have twice approved the formation of a committee to draft a charter, but they rejected the charters written by those committees. In 1981, a petition led to the creation of a committee. In 1995, the county commission put it on the ballot.

Before his death, Robb had said the previous charters failed to win voter support because they called for overhauling the structure of county government. He had hoped the next charter proposal would be far simpler, giving Boone County the authority to pass its own ordinances and perhaps increasing the size of the commission.

There are six candidates competing in the Aug. 7 primary for their parties' nominations for Northern District commissioner. Incumbent Skip Elkin is not seeking re-election. The candidates include Democrats O.J. Stone, Janet Thompson, Brian Dollar and Darin Fugit and Republicans Don Bormann and Lance Robbins.

Both Stone and Thompson said they do not see home rule as a priority.

“I’m willing to talk about it,” Stone said. “I’m not a big proponent.”

Stone said that though a charter does not have to do away with elected positions, previous constitution proposals have done so. He said charter government could add more layers to the bureaucracy.

“I believe that local government is one of the last true of the people, by the people, for the people types of government,” Stone said. “Let’s be cautious about the changes we make.”

The 1996 charter proposal, which was rejected by about 70 percent of voters, would have made the auditor, the collector, the treasurer and the recorder of deeds appointed positions.

“I would pretty much bet the farm that one of the reasons it was rejected was people want county officials to be accountable to them,” Thompson said.

Thompson said that while she sees advantages in not having to go through the state legislature to pass ordinances, she doesn’t think there is enough support for the idea.

“I just don’t see any groundswell of support from the people in the county,” Thompson said. “It has to come from them because it’s not an inexpensive process.”

Dollar said he thinks people oppose home rule because they believe they’ll have less control.

“People are afraid to give the people who are in charge now legislative power,” Dollar said.

Dollar supports home rule but doesn’t think it's an unpopular idea in Boone County. He said having so many elected positions creates problems.

“They are like these little kingdoms,” Dollar said. “You can’t unseat them.”

Fugit is more optimistic about home rule. Like Robb, he thinks the 1996 charter was rejected because it proposed sweeping changes to county government.

“In the past they’ve come in with so many changes that people, in my opinion, weren’t willing to make these radical changes,” Fugit said.

He wants to keep the same structure of government under a charter. Fugit said that though current Boone County state legislators have been able to get bills passed to make changes in the county, that might not always be the case.

“I don’t want to leave Boone County at the whims of Jeff City politics,” Fugit said.

Robbins said that though he thinks it would be good for Boone County to be able to pass its own laws, he is hesitant to support making positions appointed rather than elected.

“It would have to be carefully tailored,” Robbins said.

Although he would support a charter that left the current structure of government intact, Robbins said he did not plan to immediately push for home rule if he becomes a commissioner.

Similarly, Bormann said he thinks home rule would be a good thing.

“Your decision-making process is more of a local process than a state process, and that’s generally a good idea,” Bormann said. “I would support that idea.” 

Still, Bormann noted that he voted against both previous charters. He thinks the main reason they failed was that they did away with elected positions.

“I thought they were horrible charters,” Bormann said. “They tried to make too many changes to county government.”

James Pounds is running for Southern District commissioner as a Republican. Karen Miller, a Democrat, is running for re-election.

Pounds said he likes the sound of home rule and would support putting the question to voters.

“It sounds good,” Pounds said. “That way the county is in charge of their own destiny, but I think the voters ought to decide it.”

Miller said she will not support putting home rule on the ballot until there is support for the idea from people in the county, especially those who live in rural areas.

"I think it's something the citizens need to bring forward rather than having the government bring it up," Miller said. "It needs to be decided by the rural people whose only local government it is."

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