Council of Governments moves closer to fruition

Studying reports and schedules at a meeting Wednesday about creating an Island County Council of Governments are, from left, Oak Harbor Mayor Patty Cohen, Coupeville Mayor Nancy Conard and County Commissioner Mac McDowell. - Rick Levin
Studying reports and schedules at a meeting Wednesday about creating an Island County Council of Governments are, from left, Oak Harbor Mayor Patty Cohen, Coupeville Mayor Nancy Conard and County Commissioner Mac McDowell.
— image credit: Rick Levin

After months of informal lunch meetings to discuss goals, a coalition of local government officials is close to becoming its own governmental body -- the Island County Council of Governments.

While this may sound like another level of bureaucracy in the making, officials involved with the council say they don't intend to create another time- and money-consuming layer of government. What they are trying to do is help governments cooperate.

The Council of Governments, or COG, is a seven-member advisory board intended to tackle issues of economic development throughout the entire county through cooperation between the county and its cities. Comprising the council are mayors from Langley, Oak Harbor and Coupeville, as well as a representative from the county's port districts and all three members of the Board of Island County Commissioners.

Largely fashioned on Skagit County's successful COG, Island County's COG members have been meeting informally for the past year to decide what the council should do. On Wednesday, representatives agreed to take a draft of COG bylaws and articles of incorporation to their respective bodies for approval.

Though there are still a few details to be worked out -- specifically where or if the COG can get a budget -- officials say they expect to be up and running as an organization in October.

The purpose of the COG, as stated in its draft Articles of Association, will be "the study of regional and governmental problems of mutual interest and concern." According to Island County Commissioner Mike Shelton, the council should serve the whole of Island County as a region and not as another body administering to county government.

"There ought to be a commonality of interests," Shelton said Wednesday. "I hope we're all interested in pulling in the same direction for Island County."

Coupeville Mayor Nancy Conard said she envisions the COG functioning largely as an advisory board that makes recommendations to the board of commissioners on how to distribute Rural Counties funding, which this year totals about $400,000.

Shelton said the council, with regard to such funding, would allow representatives from different jurisdictions throughout the county to take part in all decisions.

However, a number of members have expressed concern about the council becoming simply another study-conducting, revenue-chomping government agency at a time when government revenues are dwindling due to such tax-limiting initiatives as I-695 and I-737. Many officials have interpreted the success of such citizens' initiatives as a call for a reduction in the perceived bloat and expense of government bureaucracies.

Oak Harbor mayor Patti Cohen said she supports the idea of the council taking a look at issues of mutual concern, though she doesn't want COG "to be yet another arm of government."

Commissioner Mac McDowell also warned against the council morphing into redundancy.

"Right now is the wrong time to set up another layer of government," McDowell said.

Shelton said he doesn't perceive the council as creating another layer of government.

"It's a cooperative venture amongst the cities and the county," he said.

The proceedings Wednesday were held up a bit by a debate over exactly how a COG budget would be constituted should members decide to create one. The main contention revolved around the idea of assessments to members, which the by-laws state cannot be levied without a unanimous vote by every member of the council.

McDowell objected to the idea of one person being able to vote down an aspect of COG's budget.

"I don't think anything unanimous is good in government," he said. "You can't have one person able to say 'no.'"

Although members agreed creating a budget may be necessary to process and distribute any potential grant funds, most appeared to reject the concept of assessing fees to members. Shelton was one of the objectors.

"I'm not saying it's going to be without a budget," Shelton said. "I am saying it's going to be without assessments."

Members did to move forward with approval of COG's draft by-laws, and to work out any kinks in the process.

"I'd like to see us move ahead with this," Mayor Cohen said. "I believe in the Council of Governments."

Langley mayor Lloyd Furman said he agreed with the idea of further hashing out the details of how the COG will function.

"I think it's beneficial for us to talk," Furman said.

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