Home rule charter process dies

County commissioners cite low turnout at forums by effort’s proponents

By Stephanie Rice, Columbian Vancouver city government reporter

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The few people who have been after Clark County commissioners to go forward with a home rule charter process, because they claim the public doesn’t have enough of a voice in governmental decisions, didn’t testify Tuesday at a public hearing.

Of the 13 people who did stick around for the hearing — which was at the end of a four-hour meeting — 10 spoke against the proposal and three were for it.

Commissioners, unimpressed with low turnout at seven forums the county conducted on the charter process, ended up dumping the whole proposal.

Commissioners could have voted to do one of three things: put 15 freeholder positions on the November ballot; ask supporters to gather signatures to demonstrate support; or put the freeholder positions on the ballot along with a question as to whether to go ahead with the process.

Commissioners Steve Stuart and Marc Boldt were willing to vote to let the supporters try and gather some 14,000 signatures (10 percent of the number of people who voted in the last general election.) Once Commissioner Tom Mielke, who had supported putting freeholders on the ballot, heard he was going to be outvoted, he said he’d rather just dump the idea.

Had commissioners gone forward with the charter process, 15 freeholders would have written a draft county charter that would go back to voters.

Under a charter, proposed changes to the structure of county government could have included giving people initiative and referendum powers (which people have on statewide issues), making certain elected positions into appointed positions or increasing the number of commissioners, for example.

Clark County Assessor Peter Van Nortwick testified against the charter process. He said the few people he has heard support it mistakenly believe a county charter could result in lower property taxes.

Vancouver resident Ronald Morrison told commissioners, “There’s a piece of folk wisdom that says, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’” He said he’s active in the community and doesn’t hear people crying out for reform in county government.

Dick Sohn spoke in favor of the charter process. He said that people do support it, and just because they didn’t show up to the classes or the public hearing doesn’t mean they don’t.

“It’s hard to get voters’ attention until the last minute anyway,” Sohn said.

Commissioners were told Tuesday that just putting the issue on the ballot this year would cost approximately $100,000. Election costs are shared by districts and municipalities that have issues on the ballot, according to a formula created by the state auditor’s office. Because the county doesn’t have any positions up for election this year, their current contribution would be zero, said Tim Likness, the county’s elections supervisor.

Earlier, commissioners had agreed to put freeholders on the ballot. But first they wanted to have community forums to explain the charter process.

A total of 113 people (including people who went to more than one forum) showed up.

Stuart said following a Monday article in The Columbian that he received 33 emails from people who were against the charter process and nine emails from people in favor of it.

“I don’t feel a groundswell,” he said.

Home rule advocates who were not at the hearing included Chuck Miller and Jeanne Schaefer.