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Lane County is crowdsourcing potential changes to its charter

Front of the Lane County Courthouse
Nathan Wilk
Lane County wants public input on potential changes to its charter.

Lane County wants to hear suggestions from residents about potential changes to the county’s charter.

Oregonians get to decide how their county governments work–and how much power they have. Lane County voted to adopt a home rule charter in 1962. The charter allows the county to operate more independently of the state government and enables residents to have a greater degree of control over local politics. Eight other counties across the state have similar charters.

“In Lane County, we tend to be a very independent group of people, and it’s understandable that people wanted more control and say in what their county government provided and how they provided it,” said Lane County spokesperson Devon Ashbridge. “And so it doesn’t surprise me that we’re one of the counties that have that.”

One example of the powers of the charter is a section on East Alton Baker Park, which used to be on land owned by the county. When the county was exploring transferring ownership of the park to the city, county residents used the charter to prevent it from being redeveloped.

“There was probably a lot of concern, I think, at the time, about what would happen to that land,” said Ashbridge. “And so this made it so that if it were transferred, it couldn’t become a golf course–my guess is probably somebody had a proposal out there to develop it as a golf course–and that it would need to maintain its use as a park.”

The charter gets reviewed every ten years by a volunteer group of county residents. This year’s review was supposed to happen in 2020, but was delayed due to the pandemic. In order to gauge interest in county projects and get ideas from the community, the review committee is asking Lane county residents to fill out a survey about what they want to see from the county over the next few years.

The survey asks whether there’s interest for initiatives including changing the name of Lane County, whether the county sheriff and tax assessor should stay as elected positions or switch to being appointed, and whether there should be campaign finance limits for local elections. County commissioners last discussed changing the county’s name in 2020, but ultimately decided to keep it pending further discussion.

“Ultimately, this committee will take that feedback, their own work in discussions, and combine those and take recommendations to the board of county commissioners for possible changes,” said Ashbridge.

Those changes would then be put on a ballot and sent to voters for approval.

A full copy of the county charter and a link to the survey are available on the Lane County website.

Chrissy Ewald is a freelance reporter for KLCC. She first reported for KLCC as the 2023 Snowden Intern.