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Key questions - and people - identified

by MADISON HARDY
Staff Writer | May 28, 2021 1:00 AM

With the optional forms of government study commission up and rolling, members reflected on the purpose of their task, individuals to interview, and opportunities for public outreach. 

Consisting of nine members and three alternates, the individuals will research if the current style of Kootenai County operations best serves constituents. 

Throughout the investigation, study members will compare their findings with other government structures permitted under Idaho Code 31-5001 to determine if another form would better benefit the community. If a change is recommended, the new form would go to the public and require a majority vote to be implemented. 

Meeting officially for the second time, the committee spent most of a two-and-a-half hour meeting Wednesday night finalizing bylaws, crafting a schedule for data collection and public outreach strategies.

Interim chairman of the commission Dave Botting outlined questions to consider throughout the research:

  • Should they recommend relieving the commissioners of some of their duties through a manager or administrator?
  • Should the number of commissioners increase?
  • Should the other six elected officials — clerk, treasurer, assessor, sheriff, coroner, and prosecuting attorney — be elected or appointed?
  • Should the duty of those elected officials remain unchanged, consolidated, or further divided?

"We've been tasked to decide if the current form of government is the most efficient and effective option available to the county. To that end, we need to understand our current form of government and the decisions they make," Botting said. "Every question, every subject we raise, every witness we talk to, we should be directing all of that toward answering these questions." 

Based on the process of information gathering then discussion before crafting a recommendation, interim vice chair Brian Cleary drafted a preliminary schedule for the commission to follow.

Reflecting on optional forms of government studies done in 1996 and 2012, Cleary noted that public outreach had been minimal if done at all and likely contributed to the recommendations' failure. 

"I think in 2012 that it was just the commission putting (the recommendation) on the ballot," he said. "It just seems that you're going to need to talk to people about voting on changing the structure of their government if that is indeed what we recommend."

Individuals the groups expressed interest in receiving presentations from: 

  • The current board of county commissioners 
  • The six other elected officials
  • Former commissioners and participants of past optional forms of government studies 
  • Professional individuals who have studied and practiced law or the history of government structures 
  • The Idaho Association of Counties
  • Regional city councils — Coeur d'Alene, Post Falls
  • Kootenai County's two political central committees 
  • Relevant county staff in the finance and human relations departments

The list of potential interviewees is still being formed and will likely change as the availability of contacts becomes known.   

Since the study commission's first meeting, members have expressed strong interest in including the public throughout the process. Understanding the controversial background behind the group, David Levine — nominated to the group by Commissioner Chris Fillios — discussed with other members the importance of disseminating information about upcoming and past meetings to the public. 

"There's been a lot of speculation about what the group does and if we're going to have public comment," Levine said. "We want to be transparent by putting the documents we are reviewing online and going out and saying this is what we've started and here's what we're doing."

In the next meeting, the group plans to approve the bylaws, discuss provisions in Idaho Code 31-5001 and develop a communication strategy to promote transparency and public involvement. 

Information about the optional forms of government study is available at: https://bit.ly/3vWCcjO.