Behind-the-scenes wrangling over the appointments of two C-Tran board members has some elected officials from Clark County's small cities saying new County Commissioner David Madore overstepped his bounds. For his part, Madore says he's only trying to promote fairness on the board.
Because of the controversy, one of C-Tran's appointed positions is in limbo leading up to the board's first meeting of the year, and two communities are without representation for at least one meeting.
Yacolt withdrew its approval of Battle Ground City Council member Bill Ganley, the C-Tran board's longest-serving member, in mid-December. Ganley has represented Yacolt and Battle Ground on the board since 1998.
Some city officials point to Madore, a vocal critic of the Columbia River Crossing, as the reason for the possible shuffling of power on the board. While commissioner-elect in December, Madore met privately with elected officials from Yacolt, Ridgefield and Battle Ground to discuss a number of issues, including possibly revamping who represents small cities on the C-Tran board.
The conversations centered on Ganley and fellow board member Jim Irish, the mayor of La Center, and another long-serving C-Tran board member.
Battle Ground Mayor Lisa Walters, who met with the then-commissioner-elect for a mid-December lunch meeting, characterized Madore as "stirring the pot" with his line of inquiry.
With three C-Tran board members already highly critical of the CRC — including county Commissioner Tom Mielke, Washougal City Council member Connie
Jo Freeman and Madore — adding two more bridge critics to the board would create a majority slate of opposition. As Southwest Washington's mass transit agency, C-Tran is heavily involved in the crossing project, which includes extending Portland's light-rail line to Clark College.
During the meeting, Walters said Madore told her that Ganley had served on the board for too long. Madore asked her to look into how Ganley voted on high-profile projects, such as the Columbia River Crossing.
"He hadn't been sworn in yet," Walters said, "and he was already out causing trouble like this."
Yacolt Mayor Jeff Carothers said Madore met with him and staff members in December. At the meeting, Madore started a conversation about C-Tran, Carothers said.
Yacolt had unanimously approved Ganley's reappointment in November. But in a Dec. 18 letter to C-Tran, the town formally withdrew its approval. In Ganley's place, Yacolt instead endorsed Town Council member Lewis Gerhardt of Yacolt, an unprecedented move that places the status of the seat in question.
Carothers said the decision hinged on giving Yacolt more of a say on the board. The town of 1,605 people is served by one C-Tran bus route, with stops twice a day.
Although they have representation on the board, small cities have the least say in how decisions are made. The nine-member C-Tran board is made up of the three Clark County commissioners, three members of the Vancouver City Council and three representatives of the county's small cities. The county and Vancouver have the ability to perform bloc vetoes, a power the small cities don't have.
Camas and Washougal share one seat on the board, as do Ridgefield and La Center, and Battle Ground and Yacolt.
With Ganley's seat in dispute, Battle Ground and Yacolt must agree on who will act for them on the board by Tuesday or risk having no representation, said Scott Patterson, C-Tran's public affairs director.
Ganley has been a proponent of building a new bridge across the Columbia River and supported taking Proposition 1 to county voters in November. The proposition would have raised sales taxes to help pay for light rail over the bridge. It was soundly defeated by voters.
He says he feels he's been unfairly painted as a "pro-light-rail guy."
Madore says Irish 'too liberal'
Meanwhile, talks with Ridgefield officials in December were along the same lines.
Mayor Ron Onslow said Madore labeled Irish, Ridgefield's C-Tran representative, as "too liberal" for the C-Tran board.
He suggested someone from Ridgefield serve on the board in Irish's place, Onslow said.
A nine-year member of the C-Tran board, Irish has supported the CRC but has said he believes a vote on light rail should be left up to county residents.
"I think all of this stems from (Madore's) objection to the Columbia River Crossing," Onslow said.
Onslow said Madore also suggested the county could provide legal or other services to Ridgefield or Yacolt. Onslow questioned whether that setup would be legal.
When Onslow left for a vacation toward the end of December, Madore contacted city council members about the possibility of appointing someone new. The city nonetheless voted to reappoint Irish later in December, and the city sent a formal letter to C-Tran Wednesday confirming Irish's appointment to the board.
While Madore acknowledged Wednesday that he spent December talking to city leaders about their needs, he said he didn't place any pressure on elected officials to rethink their C-Tran appointments based on political motivations.
He said he was trying to build relationships with leadership in the county's small cities and ensure fair representation on the C-Tran board.
"I would call it fairness and equal representation," Madore said.
He said it would be highly inappropriate for him to intervene in a city's decision-making process and would "warmly accept" any representative approved to the C-Tran board.
Eric Florip contributed to this story.