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County government: Time for a restructure?

Staff Writer | August 26, 2020 1:07 AM

Commissioner Bill Brooks only hinted at possibly changing the county leadership structure Tuesday morning but was met with immediate opposition from fellow Commissioner Leslie Duncan.

During the Coeur d'Alene Regional Chamber of Commerce State of the County event, Brooks brought up the long-time debate of changing the board of commissioners from three to five or seven members. The debate, which has been discussed in Kootenai County since the 1990s, would mirror the style of a city council with an administrative leader.

By adding more members to the board, likely part-time, Brooks believes many minute daily decisions would be alleviated and allow for more time spent on big-ticket items like the budget.

"We need stability. We need to be able to do some long-range planning," Brooks said. "If we have commissioners elected on a four-year term and these people are part-time, they meet with the administrator once a week to vote on small consideration items. It would be more streamlined."

Duncan objected to the idea, pointing out the risk of an overarching leader potentially corrupting the board's direction. The current system, she says, allows for more representation because she feels personally accountable to the voter.

"I represent the people by listening to them and making decisions based on my philosophy of limited government and financial responsibility," Duncan said. "If one person (a county administrator) were to hire all of the offices currently held by elected officials, the opportunity for corruption outweighs the difficulty of dealing with independently elected officials."

But Brooks believes that the current system, established in the late 1800s, leaves room for county decisions to be easily swayed by elected officials with radical beliefs.

"There is a real tendency with three commissioners to have county decisions be unstable," Brooks said. "If we had more commissioners from around the county, there would be a stronger sense of representation and a smaller likelihood of extreme decisions in one way or another."

Brooks said he plans to address possible changes to commissioner elections throughout his term.

"We need to hold our officials to a higher level of accountability," Brooks said. "I think it's time we need to improve our form of government. The public deserves better."