Despite Election Defeat, Ricelli Proposes County Commissioner Increase

Feb 11, 2016

Even though Spokane County voters just rejected a measure that would have expanded the county commission from three to five members, a state lawmaker has proposed a bill that makes another attempt.

Democratic Representative Marcus Ricelli has proposed a bill that would allow counties of a specific size to increase their county commissioners from three to five, if they haven’t already done so.

Ricelli points out that Spokane County, with 500,000 people, still has the same number of commissioners as when it was incorporated over a hundred years ago.

In his bill, Ricelli calls for a bipartisan group to draw up new district boundaries and commissioners to be elected specifically from those districts.

Ricelli points to a problem with the current setup--because of the state’s open meeting law--that essentially forbids two commissioners from discussing county business together if they are not at a public meeting.

“One, if a commissioner gets sick, they don’t have a quorum.  Two, if two of the commissioners want to work on public policy and have coffee together, right now they can't.  They have to have a public meeting. That doesn’t seem how we can promote good governance.”

But for current Spokane Commissioner Al French, the state’s meeting law is not a problem. “We have so many meetings during the week that there is plenty of time to talk about anything. And if there is a need for a meeting, it just means 24-hour notice, and, again, we can meet and talk about anything."

For Ricelli there is another issue that threatens the current way commissioners are elected in Spokane county--a recent 9th circuit court case.

“There is a court case going through federal courts that says the way we elect our county commissioners  might be unconstitutional because they run in the county in districts first and then in the general.  So if you vote in that election, you don’t have a say who is coming out of that primary.”

Commissioner Al French downplays that court decision, saying, "The ninth circuit court has been overturned more than any other court, so I don’t see this surviving, and we have a state constitution that defines they way this is addressed.  It is in our state constitution.”

French believes the Supreme Court will overturn the 9th circuit court ruling.

French also questions the cost of moving to five commissioners. “To go to five commissioners means you need to add staff, plus support, and you’re talking half a million dollars of cost for the county. If the state wants us to go to five commissioners, let the state pay for the other two.”

Ricelli’s bill was approved by the state government committee in the House, and has moved on to the rules committee.