Democracy School – Why County Seats Matter
National politics often take center stage this time of year, but when it comes to local communities, it’s important to vote all the way down the ballot and weigh in on choosing local candidates who set policies that affect our day-to-day lives. In our first Democracy School Post we provided an overview of the legislative process and the breakdown of federal versus state government. For this edition of Democracy School, we are getting even more local and zooming in on the role of county commissioners and why it’s important for farmers and farm supporters to vote on these positions.
In Oregon, county-level policy is set by either a board of commissioners or a county court. The exact structure varies a bit depending on the county. 24 counties in Oregon have a board of commissioners with 3-5 elected members, and the remaining 12 counties are governed by a county court made up of an elected county judge and 2 commissioners. 9 counties in Oregon operate under what’s called ‘Home Rule,’ which frees up the county to govern in ways that differ from state law, within certain limits. Some counties elect commissioners based on districts within the county, others hold county-wide elections for all positions. Commissioners serve 4-year terms and judges serve 6-year terms, and elections are staggered so you won’t see all the commissioner positions up for reelection at the same time.
To get a better sense of what goes on in the life of a county commissioner, we spoke with FoFF board member and former Washington County Commissioner, Greg Malinowski. Greg says “when it comes to affecting what happens to people when they walk out their doors onto the sidewalk and down the street, the county commission plays a key role in those decisions.” From fixing sidewalk gaps to land development priorities, you’re bound to encounter the results of a commission’s decisions every day.
As a farmer, Greg takes a keen interest in land use, affordable housing, public safety, and environmental and public health policies that impact people’s lives, and his ability to continue in his family’s farming business. As a commissioner, Greg was able to help make decisions on how tax money was spent and how county resources such as fairgrounds, extension offices and health clinics were utilized. Commissioners also weigh in on rules for farmland protection, what type of agritourism is allowed (for example, farm stands, pumpkin patches, and u-pick), management of county-owned land, and where and how money is spent on infrastructure like roads.
Though no longer serving as a commissioner, Greg emphasizes the importance of speaking up, and says, “If you’re interested in your community and where it’s going, it’s in your best interest to get involved with the county commission.” It’s important to not only research and vote for the right person for the job, but also to voice your concerns and expectations. You can visit your county website to look up who represents you and how to contact them directly. You can also sign up to receive updates on public meetings (held online during Covid) where there is typically time set aside for members of the public to talk on any subject or to present testimony on a topic you care about. Tuning in for a meeting will also allow you to meet the commissioners and staff, get a sense of how the system operates, including who might share your concerns. After all, county commissioners are people living and working in your community!
DISCLAIMER: FoFF is a 501(c)(3) public charity. Contributions are tax-deductible. FoFF does not support or oppose candidates for public office. These resources are shown for educational purposes only.
Very Important Dates to know:
- Ballot dropbox sites are open 18-20 days before Election Day, depending on your area. Tuesday, October 27, 2020 is the last day ballots can be mailed. After this date, ballots must be put into an official dropbox. Please vote early!
- Election Day is Tuesday, November 3, 2020. Ballots must be received (not postmarked!) by 8 p.m. on Election Day. Please plan to vote early!