Petitioners seek expansion of board of county commissioners

Group does not want to wait for freeholders to determine issue

By Erik Hidle, Columbian staff writer

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Some in Clark County say they don't want to wait for freeholders to determine if the board of county commissioners should expand its ranks.

To that end, folks are circulating a petition asking anyone who wants to see a bigger board to sign on.

"The freeholder process will take another year and a half," said Candy Bonneville, a county resident helping to lead the campaign. "And there are no promises (an expansion of the board) will go on the new charter. We're not optimistic about leaving all our eggs in that basket."

The freeholders are a part of the home rule process being undertaken by the county. Home rule allows voters to change local government in the manner they see fit, as long as it falls within the laws of the state and abides by the U.S. Constitution.

To that end, the commissioners have authorized the November election of 15 nonpartisan freeholder positions. The freeholders will then draft a proposed county charter and send it to voters for final approval.

Two major changes to county government — expanding the board of commissioners and creating an elected county executive — have been both ballyhooed and maligned by groups within the county.

A nonpartisan group led by Auditor Greg Kimsey, a Republican, and Commissioner Steve Stuart, a Democrat, has said expansion of the board is the way to go. Both elected officials have said the goal is to have five commissioners, while lowering individual commissioner salaries in an effort to keep the cost the same to taxpayers.

At last week's board time meeting of commissioners, where the three members discussed a litany of advisory votes for the November election, Stuart petitioned the board to seek an advisory vote regarding the expansion of the board.

Commissioners David Madore and Tom Mielke, both Republicans, were wary of that idea, saying it was for the freeholders to decide.

The demand for an expanded board has been largely political in nature. Madore and Mielke have been on the receiving end of citizen anger in recent months after their appointment of state Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, to the role of county environmental services director.

The citizens circulating the petitions see a larger board as a way to dilute the power of the current board, where only two votes are needed for a majority.

Bonneville, who is the 18th Legislative District chairwoman for the local chapter of the Democratic party, said while the Democrats do support the effort, they are seeing bipartisan support in the expansion of the board.

"And if anyone is interested in helping to move this forward, then we are interested in getting their support," Bonneville said. "I think there are people on both sides of the fence that aren't excited with the way things are right now."

The group is asking those interested to contact members in person at the Carpenters Union Hall, 612 E. McLoughlin Blvd., from 7:30 a.m. to noon, by email at ClarkCountyFirst@gmail.com, or by calling Morrie Foutch at 360-608-7997.

Erik Hidle: 360-735-4547; http://twitter.com/col_clarkgov; erik.hidle@columbian.com