Voters to Decide Who Selects Muni Judge

Charter Changes
Hermiston resident Percy Hawkins speaks out Monday night against a proposed change to the city charter that would make the municipal court judge an appointed position.

[quote style=”2″]Proposed Charter Changes to Appear on Ballot[/quote]

The voters in Hermiston will have a chance to determine who selects the city’s municipal court judge in an upcoming election.

The Hermiston City Council voted Monday night to put two measures on the ballot – one would ask the voters to approve a new city charter, and the other would amend the charter to make the municipal court judge position an appointed one.


The vote came after a lengthy discussion among the councilors, and comments from Hermiston resident Percy Hawkins, who wanted to know who the “Bolshevik socialist” was who came up with the idea to appoint the judge in the first place.

“We don’t need eight people to decide for the people who the judge will be,” he told the council. “This is a slippery slope. Do we let three county commissioners pick our circuit judge? Let us choose who we want to be our judge. This is a democracy.”

Councilor John Kirwan said the public was always going to have a say as to who selects the municipal court judge. The council’s job, he said, was to propose changes to the charter and then let the voters accept or reject them.

“It should never even have put up as an option,” Hawkins said.

The council worked throughout much of 2014 to come up with an updated city charter, which serves as the blueprint for how the city government operates. The most significant changes the council proposed was extending the mayor’s term of office from two years to four, and making the municipal court judge an appointed position.

The city made five public presentation on the proposed charter changes – two at the Hermiston Conference Center, and three at service club meetings. Both Hermiston City Manager Byron Smith and Hermiston Mayor Dave Drotzmann said only a minority of people expressed concern about having the judge be an appointed position.

“I feel like the discussions I had with people is that it was not a majority who were opposed to the idea,” he said.

Some councilors, however, were concerned the entire charter update might be rejected by voters over the judge appointment. In the end, the council opted to place two measures on the ballot. The first will ask voters to approve the charter with the municipal judge being an elected position. A second measure will ask voters to amend the charter to make the judge an appointed position. If that amendment fails, the judge position would remain an elected position.

Kirwan said Hermiston is one of only five Oregon cities that elects municipal court judges and that making it an appointed position would get Hermiston more in line with other cities.

Councilor Doug Smith said having judges appointed allows for more thorough evaluations of candidates. Often, he said, the public votes for names they recognize, but may not be familiar enough with their background and qualifications.

Drotzmann said it becomes challenging for the city to manage a department that is headed by an elected official who does not have to answer to the city, as other department heads do.

The council will have a look at the specific wording of the proposed charter changes at its next meeting in February.

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