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Greater Tulsa Reporter


Step Up Oklahoma Recommends County Home Rule

From Tulsa County by RON PETERS
Tulsa County Commissioner

One of the government reforms recommended by the Step Up Oklahoma group is for county citizens to be allowed to decide what form of county government best suits the needs of the county.

While the recommendation didn’t specifically endorse “county home rule,”(CHR) it’s certainly the direction inferred.

For over 20 years, the law in Oklahoma allowed for optional CHR. In the mid 1990s the then- eight elected Tulsa County officials started the statutory process for implementation of CHR when they each nominated two citizens, 16 in all, to serve on a Charter Commission.

Once the 16 members of the Charter Commission were nominated, the next statutory step was to allow Tulsa County voters to approve or disapprove both the nominations and the creation of a Charter Commission. The voters did in fact approve the nominees and the creation of the Charter Commission.

The Commission had two charges: to study the pros and cons of CHR for Tulsa County and then to recommend to the Board of County Commissioners what version should be put to a vote of the people.

Unfortunately, before the Charter Commission could conclude its work, the Oklahoma Supreme Court struck down the CHR statutes as unconstitutional, because it was a “special law” that only applied to Tulsa County.

During the time that the Charter Commission was studying different forms of county governments, a great deal was learned that should be beneficial today to better understand what CHR could look like.

CHR does not ultimately mean, as some might suggest, the consolidations of city and county governments. It is not necessarily about county government getting either bigger or smaller. Home rule is, as the name suggests, about placing the power to govern at the county level as opposed to a legislature miles away. It allows local citizens to decide, not the legislature, how county government should be structured, what services it can or may provide, and to control its own destiny. It would allow the county to pass ordinances, rules and regulations for orderly governance and for citizens to have the rights of initiative and referendum actions on issues they want addressed, as long as they comply with state laws and the state constitution.

At its core, CHR allows local decisions to solve local problems with local funding as the citizens see fit. This is the primary purpose of CHR. For example, counties could vote to establish public safety districts, fire districts, etc., where state law is silent on the matter.

Given recent events, most reasonable thinking people would agree that decisions made by governments closer to the people being governed are more likely to produce the results desired by local residents.

A CHR charter is similar to a constitution, written by representatives of the people, approved by the people and followed by those elected to county government.
While consolidation of some local government services is one form of county home rule, there are at least six other forms of CHR governance:

• Elected County Commissioners who appoint a cabinet to handle all administrative functions;
• Elected County Commissioners and an elected County Council made up of citizens elected from the cities within the county;
• Elected County Mayor who appoints a cabinet for all administrative functions;
• Elected County Commissioners who appoint a professional county manager to run the day-to-day operations of county government, similar to what a city manager does for cities;
• Elected County Mayor and County Council, establishing both an Executive and Legislative branches of government;
• Elected County Commissioners and a few other county positions, like Sheriff or Treasurer;
•Variations or combinations of any of these forms.

Once the Charter Commission had concluded its work it would make a recommendation to the Board of County Commissioner on what version of County Home Rule they would recommend be put to a vote of the people.
To move this process forward it would take amending the current law so that it applies to more than just Tulsa County. Only then would elected officials of Tulsa County be in a position to consider CHR.

When you hear the term CHR, don’t consider this to be necessarily synonymous with government consolidation. As stated above, there are many forms of local county governments that the citizens of Tulsa County might eventually be asked to consider.

Updated 02-20-2018

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