Panel has three options for allocating C-Tran power

Distribution of votes on agency's board under discussion

By Eric Florip, Columbian transportation & environment reporter

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The committee weighing a possible shake-up of the C-Tran Board of Directors has narrowed its options to three proposals -- two of which would shift more power to the county's smaller cities.

A 10-member board composition review committee outlined the three proposals Tuesday. They'll next go to the municipalities represented on the C-Tran board for review, before the committee takes final action as early as next month.

The C-Tran board now has nine voting members: three Vancouver City Council representatives, three Clark County commissioners, and three seats shared in pairs by Camas/Washougal, La Center/Ridgefield and Battle Ground/Yacolt. The board also includes a nonvoting labor representative.

One of the proposals on the table would simply keep the board as is -- and keep the bloc veto powers held by both Vancouver and the county. That authority, written into C-Tran's bylaws, allows either body to nix any action approved by the rest of the board. The small cities do not hold the same veto power.

Another option would allocate just two seats each to the county and Vancouver; one each to Camas, Washougal, Battle Ground and Ridgefield; and one seat to be shared by La Center and Yacolt.

The third proposal would allow Vancouver to keep its three seats on the board; give two to the county; one each to Camas, Washougal and Battle Ground; and one seat shared by La Center, Ridgefield and Yacolt.

The Vancouver City Council has made it clear that it's not interested in giving up one of its seats on the C-Tran board, noting the city accounts for most of the transit agency's sales tax revenue, and more than 80 percent of its fixed-route boardings. Councilor Bart Hansen reiterated that stance Tuesday, calling for the status quo.

"We see keeping our three seats as vital, as well as maintaining the veto," Hansen said.

Effect on bylaws

The committee, not the C-Tran board itself, holds final say on the make-up of the board. The committee does not have the authority to change bylaws, including the bloc veto rule.

But C-Tran legal counsel Tom Wolfendale said Tuesday that changing the number of seats held by Vancouver or the county would essentially do away with the veto by default. Such a change would make the veto "unenforceable" until the new board rewrote its bylaws, he said. Wolfendale said he believes that's true even if Vancouver kept its three seats, if the county does not.

Clark County Commissioner David Madore has said the county should "lead by example" and be willing to give up one of its seats to give the smaller cities more say. But Madore said he wouldn't favor an option that takes a seat from the county, but not Vancouver.

La Center Mayor Jim Irish and Ridgefield Mayor Ron Onslow both indicated they'd be fine with having shared representation as they do now. Yacolt Town Councilor Lewis Gerhardt said the same, but noted that communication concerns could arise if Yacolt were to share representation with two other municipalities.

County Commissioner Steve Stuart, who chairs the committee, said he'd be open to losing a county seat in favor of the small cities.

"This is a regional service," Stuart said. "The small cities are absolutely essential for this service to be successful, as is the city of Vancouver, as is the unincorporated areas."

The C-Tran board has used this allocation of voting power since 1998. The last review occurred in 2009.

Madore: 'Pause' BRT

During its regular meeting, the C-Tran board turned back an effort by Madore to "pause" efforts to pursue a $50 million bus rapid transit system in Vancouver.

Near the end of the meeting -- and after a lengthy discussion on the project -- Madore floated a motion intended to prevent C-Tran Executive Director Jeff Hamm from seeking a grant for part of the project "until we hear from the people" through a vote in November .

Earlier, Madore proposed an unannounced resolution to stop BRT construction until a public advisory vote. That resolution was deferred to the September meeting after legal questions arose, and board members expressed concerns about acting with no public notice or input.

BRT would build an enhanced bus system along Vancouver's Fourth Plain corridor in an effort to move passengers more efficiently and reliably. Most of its cost would be paid by grants, including a federal program that could cover up to 80 percent of the price tag. The grant Hamm is seeking would be a much smaller amount, awarded through the Southwest Washington Regional Transportation Council.

C-Tran has said it will need to pay about $6 million out of its own pocket, though it hasn't identified exactly where that money would come from.

Madore's resolution to delay the grant application failed by a 6-3 tally.


Eric Florip: 360-735-4541; http://twitter.com/col_enviro; eric.florip@columbian.com.