Measure would require commissioners to represent separate districts

Benton County voters may get the chance to change how the county commissioners are chosen.

Jerry Jackson of Philomath and Gerald Tsupros of Alsea have filed a petition for a ballot measure to amend the county charter to require that each member of the three-person board be elected from a distinct geographic district.

At present, the position is at large, meaning that the commissioners represent the entire county.

Jackson, a Republican who has run unsuccessfully for a spot on the Democrat-dominated board in the past two elections, says he’s been hearing from area voters that they want the commissioner positions tied to specific geographic regions.

Rural Benton County residents in particular, he said, feel that their concerns are not adequately represented on the board. He said efforts to purchase the Bailey Branch rail line right of way, create new land use regulations in riparian areas and build a roundabout near the county fairgrounds are among the hot-button issues cited by disgruntled voters.

“Across the board, no matter what party they’re in, they want to have a commissioner answer to them, their district,” Jackson said. “They just want somebody that’s going to be accountable to the voters.”

Choosing commissioners from distinct areas of the county, he said, would ensure better representation.

“It’s an incentive to give more time to the people in your district,” he said.

The proposed ballot measure does not set precise boundaries for each district, merely requiring that they be roughly equal in population, contiguous in area and reasonably compact. If the measure passes, the boundaries would be set at a later date.

First, however, it has to qualify for the ballot.

Jackson and Tsupros have two years to gather valid signatures from 2,895 registered Benton County voters to get the measure on the ballot. The next regularly scheduled election is the May primary, although it’s possible a special election could be held in March.

Benton is one of Oregon’s nine home rule counties, which have their own charters that determine, among other things, how commissioners are elected.

Five of those counties — Clatsop, Hood River, Lane, Multnomah and Washington — already elect commissioners by geographic districts. Jackson, Josephine and Umatilla have the same set-up as Benton, electing their commissioners at large.

Contact reporter Bennett Hall at bennett.hall@gazettetimes.com or 541-758-9529.

Reporter Bennett Hall can be contacted at 541-758-9529 or bennett.hall@gazettetimes.com.

Special Projects Editor, Corvallis Gazette-Times and Albany Democrat-Herald

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