Dear Editor

I recently heard that Yellowstone County is considering increasing the size of the Board of County Commissioners from three (3) member to five (5). This was done in Ravalli County, through our Local Government Review process in 2006. There were a number of factors that contributed to the decision, an effective campaign declaring that more commissioners would generate better decisions, increase representation and increase efficiency (in my opinion ALL of these claims were ultimately disproven…)

At the same time voters reduced the length of terms to four (4) years following a theory that they could correct ballot choices sooner. The concern is that you can potentially elect a new majority every four (4) years and could conceivably have a senior commissioner with only two (2) years’ experience, creating a suboptimal level for continuity of government. There was also a failed attempt to have commissioners elected by district, rather than at-large, in a partisan attempt to control at least one district for a political party.

A quick synopsis of the effect of increasing the number of commissioners:

—Cost increases:

     —Two more commissioners (66% increase)

    —Additional support staff (administrative assistant)

   —New office space/ furniture as required

   —Increased travel and training expenses

—Increasing the number of commissioners provided an opportunity to allow two (2) commissioners to legally discuss matters at a sub-quorum level outside of public meetings (behind closed doors).

—Debate took longer to address 5 opinions.

—The higher number of commissioners dilutes accountability of individual board members.

— There may be opportunities to gerrymander districts and increase the not only political divide, but also the urban vs rural divide…

When has bigger government been more efficient? In my opinion, it was a very bad decision for Ravalli County. In 2016 the voters overwhelmingly overturned the 2006 decision and returned us to a three (3) member board.

I hope Yellowstone County can learn from Ravalli County’s experience!


Greg Chilcott

Ravalli County Commissioner


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