C-Tran board review must wait on ruling by judge

At issue is veto power currently held by Clark County, Vancouver

By Eric Florip, Columbian Transportation & Environment Reporter

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Any shake-up to the C-Tran Board of Directors will wait until after a Clark County judge sorts out a crucial legal question, a committee decided Wednesday.

The 10-member group mulling whether to change the composition of the C-Tran board opted to wait for additional clarity before it acts. At issue is the veto power held by both Vancouver and Clark County, particularly the fate of that rule should the board membership change.

With three negative votes, both Vancouver and the county now have the authority to block any action approved by the rest of the board. What’s unclear is what happens to that power if either jurisdiction gave up one of its three seats on the board.

Three attorneys, including C-Tran legal counsel Tom Wolfendale, came up with three different opinions on the subject. Some have questioned whether the veto — which can’t be overridden — is legal at all.

A pending lawsuit filed by Clark County aims to have the issue resolved in Clark County Superior Court. The legal action came after the full C-Tran board agreed last month to go to a judge.

It’s unclear when a ruling may come down. But despite earlier delays, most review committee members agreed that Wednesday wasn’t the day to rearrange the C-Tran board.

“I would think it would be premature of us to change the makeup until we get clarification,” said Clark County Commissioner David Madore.

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.

The review committee has considered three alternatives, all of which would give more representation to the smaller jurisdictions. Doing so would mean taking at least one seat from Vancouver or Clark County, or both. The committee could also decide to simply maintain the status quo.

The board composition review occurs every four years. This year’s committee, a 10-member group that includes members from every jurisdiction on the C-Tran board, began meeting in June.

Several of the small cities almost immediately began jockeying for position, calling for more say in the form of their own seat. Clark County commissioners indicated they’d be willing to give up a seat under the right circumstances. But Vancouver has made it clear that it’s not interested in losing any of its representation on the C-Tran board, or its veto power.

Vancouver accounts for almost 60 percent of the agency’s sales tax revenue, and more than 80 percent of its ridership.

The jurisdictions on the C-Tran board will soon choose their representatives for next year — a process that could be complicated by possible changes on the horizon. The next regular C-Tran board meeting is in January.