Changes Coming to County Government
For the first time Spokane County will have five County Commissioners. Each of 4 committee members selected to decide the new County Commissioner districts has drawn a map.
Anticipating the Addition of New Commissioners County Commissioners Change Some Rules. Spokesman-Review 1-20-2022.
The form for county government was authorized in the Washington State Constitution (Article XI) in 1889. Counties were created to be an arm of the state and mandated to perform specific functions and to elect three commissioners plus other officials. They had no authority to administer urban services because that was usually written into municipal charters. (City of Spokane has had a Charter since 1910).
In 1948 Article XI was amended by Amendment 21 which authorized the formation of County Home Rule Charters, and Amendment 23 which authorized a county of over 300,000 population to form a City/County Consolidation Charter. In 1972 the consolidation amendment was rewritten to eliminate the population restriction and to spell out the limits of bonded indebtedness. Non-charter counties would be able to perform only those functions which the constitution or the many RCWs permitted. Charter counties would write a local constitution which could authorize any function which is not prohibited by basic state law.
As of 2020, Spokane County is the largest County in Washington to not have a charter – thus still derives its authority from the constitutional provisions plus many state legislated enabling acts of RCWs. (Revised Code of Washington)
LWVSA began to study county government options in the late 1950’s resulting in a strong consensus in favor of a Home Rule Charter adopted in 1968. Additional reviews and member education meetings were held. In 1985 a new county Government Manual was completed as was a separate review of county government options. Additional information was supplied in Home-Rule Charter: It would Modernize County Government.
Beginning in 1989, LWVSA actively supported steps to get a Spokane County Charter. The petition drive was successful to place on the ballot (Nov. 1992): the creation of a Board of Freeholders and the simultaneous election of the Freeholders. The Freeholders began meeting and ultimately a charter for a City/County Consolidation was voted on by Spokane County voters and it failed in 1995.
There was a vote in Nov. 1991 to change from a three-commissioner board, to a five-commissioner one – and that was rejected by 67% of the voters. The state legislature had passed legislation to allow non-charter counties to increase the number of commissioners through a vote.
In 2015 county voters considered Prop 1 – Increasing the number of County Commissioners in Spokane County from three to five. That was rejected by 54% of the voters. Many voted against this measure because it did not include additional provisions --- create a redistricting committee to draw the new district lines (and not have redistricting decided by the County Commissioners). The Propisition did not stipulate that commissioners would be elected by district in the General Election. Currently candidates are nominated by their district, and then elected county-wide in the General Election.
Following that defeat, a local committee began working on changing state law with the Responsible Representation Act (sponsored by Marcus Riccelli with bi-partisan Spokane County legislator support). The bill did not pass in the 2015-16 session. It was reintroduced in the next full session and in April 2018, SHB 2887 (County commissioner Elections) passed. According to the Final Bill Report, only Spokane County currently falls within the definition of this law. Beginning in 2022, any non-charter county with a population of 400,000 or more must have a board of commissioners with five members and must use district elections for its commissioner positions.
The Washington State Association of Counties, Spokane County Commissioners and John Roskelley appealed to the WA Supreme Court arguing that among other things that it was unconstitutional because it wasn't uniform for all counties. The Supreme Court unanimously upheld the legislation on 8.20.20 (WA S. Ct. 97739-9)
And now the process begins – The details of the process of appointment and qualifications for membership on the redistricting committee can be read at RCW 36.32.053.
In order to be ready for this change, the county must establish a redistricting committee by April 30, 2021, though members of this committee may not be appointed until after January 1, 2021. The law also sets forth the composition of these committees, qualifications of members, and procedures to follow in establishing districts. Redistricting will happen every ten years after the census (“in each year ending in one”) under this law.
- December 2020 – budget – BoCC will be approving the 2021 County Budget on Dec. 7. As yet there is no money in the budget to support the upcoming work of the Redistricting Committee. Check here for how to participate in Budget Hearing.
- January-April 2021 – the redistricting committee is formed
- May- Oct 2021 – the redistricting committee meets to create the five districts; they will hold hearing
- Nov - Dec 2021 – time provision if a deadlocked process needs to go the state Redistricting Commission for resolution.
- Elections 2022 – Five county commissioners will be elected.