Commissioners look to eliminate C-Tran bloc veto

Vancouver council members used it to kill vote related to light rail

By Stephanie Rice, Columbian Vancouver city government reporter

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Marc Boldt, chairman of the Board of Clark County Commissioners, said Wednesday he wants to propose getting rid of the bloc veto on the C-Tran Board of Directors.

His fellow commissioners, Tom Mielke and Steve Stuart, agreed, and they will send a letter to the chairman of the C-Tran board and C-Tran’s executive director asking to change C-Tran’s bylaws, which would require a vote of the C-Tran board.

All three commissioners serve on the C-Tran Board, along with three members of the Vancouver City Council and three city councilors who represent smaller cities in the county.

Both the county and the Vancouver representatives have bloc veto power, and the city exercised its power in April to block a motion that would have ensured a public vote in November on a sales tax increase to pay for light rail.

The commissioners and three other board members — Battle Ground City Councilor Bill Ganley, La Center Mayor Jim Irish and Washougal City Councilor Connie Jo Freeman — were in favor of the motion, which had been made by Stuart.

Instead, the board ended up voting to explore other options to cover the maintenance cost of a light rail extension into Vancouver.

Boldt broached the subject of the bloc veto Wednesday during the commissioners’ regular weekly meeting with Clark County Administrator Bill Barron.

“I don’t think we need it,” Boldt said of the bloc veto. “And it’s a disservice to the small cities.”

Mielke said he thinks the power has been abused and that having the veto option takes away the incentive to work out compromises.

The commissioners will send the letter to Vancouver City Councilor Larry Smith, chairman of the C-Tran board, and C-Tran executive director Jeff Hamm.

The next C-Tran meeting is June 12, but it’s not yet known when the proposal would go to a vote.

Commissioners acknowledged that the Vancouver City Council members could use bloc veto power to kill the proposal.

Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt, who serves on the board along with Smith and Bart Hansen, said the city councilors will take up the issue with the other four members of the city council and give the idea “thoughtful consideration.”

In the C-Tran bylaws, it states, in part: “Three negative votes by the representatives of the city of Vancouver, or three negative votes by the representatives of Clark County, on any action to be taken by the governing board shall constitute a veto of that action.”

C-Tran started in 1981, and the county and the city were given veto power because there was a lack of trust, commissioners said Wednesday.

Leavitt and Smith said Wednesday that there’s good reason for the city to have veto power.

“We are the urban center, and our citizens are the primary users and the primary source of funding,” Leavitt said. “I suspect that will weigh heavily into our consideration, into whether we want to lose the ability to ensure the best interests of the primary users of the C-Tran system are taken into account when decisions are being made.”

Smith agreed that the city needs protection, but added he’s open to discussing the county’s proposal.

Stephanie Rice: 360-735-4508 or stephanie.rice@columbian.com.