Letter to the Times: Douglas County should have 5 commissioners

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Note: The Lawrence Times runs opinion columns and letters to the Times written by community members with varying perspectives on local issues. These pieces do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Times staff.

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This November election will have a very important ballot decision.

The Douglas County Commission board has been a three-member board since its formation in the late 1800s. Like many counties in the state, we have outgrown our three-commissioner board. The change to the number of commissioners has taken place in multiple counties throughout the state as the population grows beyond what they were, when formed in the late 1800s.

Douglas County has a population of 118,785, per the 2020 census data. That means that each county commissioner must respond to 39,595 constituents. The average population in those Kansas counties with a three-member board is 15,144. Thus the average number of constituents per commissioner in a three-person county commission across the state is 5,048. Douglas County commissioners must serve nearly eight times as many constituents as the average three-member commission. In fact, each Douglas County commissioner has more constituents than a Kansas state representative.

Adding two more commissioners greatly increases the diversity of thoughts, skills, and experiences to the board. This added input creates a broader range of ideas from which to determine any course of action. Gaining a broader diversity of experience and skills will help the county commissioners to make the very best decisions going forward.

Currently the county commissioners cannot even talk to one another outside of the official county commission meeting. Kansas Open Meeting rules hinder communication between any two members of the board, because if any two members are present they constitute a quorum of the board. With a five-member commission, commissioners could bounce ideas and thoughts off of each other without fear of violating the Kansas Open Meeting rules. This ability to increase communication by the commission members will greatly enhance the process.

All three current county commissioners voted to place the measure on the ballot when this idea came before them.

Adding two more commissioners has a lot of major advantages, and it’s way past time for Douglas County to move forward as so many other counties have done in recent years.

Vote YES on the five-member county commissioner ballot measure.

— Steven Crane, Lawrence

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