Initial Franklin County Charter Thoughts
So, the question of the day for me is: Why did the proposed Franklin County Charter fail? Now that I’ve had a few days to think and talk about it, I think there are a number of reasons for its demise, all of which need to be addressed.
One of the most common sayings used by charter opponents was, “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.” I can understand that kind of thinking, because a lot of Franklin County is rural and we really enjoy life the way it is. There is also a natural human condition that resists change. Lots of people (my family included) still live on in a rural area, on 10 or more acres, and the last thing they want is more interference in their daily lives. My objection, however, is that by passing home rule, those who want to limit interference could have protected themselves from outside laws. Home rule can be a good insulator.
Some argued that the charter would increase the size of local government, but I think this was a misinterpretation of the charter — just because there’s greater representation doesn’t necessarily mean that there will be greater intrusion. Why expand the county council to seven members when you can stay with two associate commissioners? Well, when you’re debating a tax hike or deciding where to put a road, wouldn’t you want people from each of the the county’s seven regions to provide input, rather than just two people? Additionally, a seven-member council would better represent the county as a whole. While David Stokes and I were interviewed on KLPW AM radio in Franklin County, we heard multiple people call in with this sentiment: “This is just Washington trying to rule the rest of Franklin County.” I don’t think people realized, however, a seven-person council would have made Washington as equal as the county’s other regions — whereas it’s currently the biggest voting area.
Judging by our radio experience the other day, there had been a campaign of misinformation about the entire issue. For example, people thought that the new county council people could (and would) vote itself a raise as a first order of business. However, this would not have been possible because the charter froze salaries until 2014. After that, Missouri’s Constitution would prohibit a raise from taking effect till after there had been an election. So, even if the council would have voted itself a raise down the road, the members would have to get reelected after that vote. Something tells me that would be a hard campaign to win.
Overall, I think the charter proposal failed out of resistance to change, rather than a true understanding of what charter government is and how it can work either for or against the county’s residents. Hopefully, next time a charter is proposed people will have access to better information about what type of government a charter would really bring.