It's time for a comprehensive review of the Barnstable County Home Rule Charter.
Recent developments in county government, including next week's public hearing on an ordinance related to the County Commissioners, have drawn attention to the charter and a very clear need for a review and some updates.
The current ordinance 17-14 has some merit but is a malformed beast. While it includes a provision for recall of elected County Commissioners, it does not also provide for recall of elected members of the Assembly of Delegates. After all, what's good for the goose is good for the gander.
Many people believe the proposed recall process tends to usurp the power of the voters by providing for an election to recall an errant Commissioner but does not provide for the voters to elect the successor. Rather, the Assembly would take it upon itself to elect a new Commissioner.
County Commissioners are elected in a county-wide, partisan election. They stand in primaries and then candidates move on to the general election. To by-pass that process denies the public the ability to elect their commissioners. Granted, a special primary election and a recall election will be quite costly. The nearest comparison is the recent Cape Tech special election, which cost upwards of $130,000 and was paid for by Cape Tech. If two separate elections (a primary and a recall) were to be held county-wide, we might be looking at $250,000 to attempt a recall of a County Commissioner. The cost for such a process should be borne by Barnstable County, though we're in a time when the County is doing everything it can to shed expense and balance its budget.
Recalls are a messy, expensive thing. Their very nature is to create a high hurdle so they are not employed frivolously. If they weren't, you'd see recall elections every time a local school committee member voted against a pizza party.
If we're going to have recall power, it's necessary to include the Assembly of Delegates on that menu. In the past two weeks we have seen one assembly delegate offend many people with her remarks on the American flag and another appear to violate the County charter in a public meeting. In the case of Truro Delegate Deborah McCutcheon, her remarks might have offended a sufficent number of veterans, Gold Star parents and others that someone might've pulled a recall petition had the process been available. In the case of Dennis Delegate John Ohman, his attempt to influence the County Commissioners to appoint someone Executive Director of the Cape Cod Commission appears to violate Section 2-6 of the charter - but said charter has no sanction capability built in.
The County Commissioners and Assembly of Delegates remain committed to improving good government practices in Barnstable County's regional government.
It's time for them to step up to the plate and mandate a full review of the charter and build a package of carefully-formed amendments.