In March, Commissioner Bill Kennedy suggested that Yellowstone County consider changing the structure of its government from a three-member partisan commission to a five-member nonpartisan commission. Such an idea certainly has its merits and is a step in the right direction. Unfortunately, it ran into stiff opposition from the other two commissioners. In a system where only two votes constitute a majority, Kennedy's one vote was insufficient.
To me, this very issue illustrates the weakness of the present system. Where all other levels of national, state and local government as well as corporations (both for profit and, especially, not-for-profit) have a system where legislative, policymaking functions are separate from executive, administrative functions, Yellowstone County clings to an archaic and unfair system. Not only are the policymakers the same as the administrators, the fact that there are only three challenges the American ideal of fairness and equal representation in government.
Yellowstone County has more than 145,000 people and a budget of $40 million. All management decisions, whether crucial or routine, can be made by only two people. Regardless of the issue — whether it is how our taxes are spent, whose voices are to be considered as important or what we will do to prepare for the future — the decision making process should involve fair representation.
While Kennedy's lone voice ran into a brick wall of opposition, there are other ways to make changes. Most notable is the referendum process outlined in the Montana State Constitution.