Kimsey, Stuart propose reorganized Clark County government (with video)

Snohomish County model would work best, officials say

By Erik Hidle, Columbian staff writer

Published:

Updated: June 19, 2013, 8:19 PM

 

Clark County Auditor Greg Kimsey said Wednesday he will seriously consider a run for the position of county executive if it is approved by freeholders and voters in the drafting of a new county charter.

The Republican official’s words came as he stood next to Clark County Commissioner Steve Stuart, a Democrat, while the two shared their bipartisan vision for the future of government in the county.

Did you know?

• Snohomish County, north of Seattle, established its charter in 1980.

• Residents have the powers of initiative and referendum, elect a five-member county council, a county executive, prosecuting attorney, assessor, auditor, sheriff, clerk and treasurer. The medical examiner is appointed. The county council, county executive and prosecuting attorney are the only partisan offices.

Kimsey’s announcement also marks a definitive declaration that elected Republicans in Clark County stand on opposite ends of an ideological fissure when it comes to how the county must govern moving forward.

“When a government increases in size and complexity, the power of the elected officials entrusted with that government … also increases,” Kimsey said. “And when this power is entrusted in a single branch of government, and among a small number of elected officials, the potential for abuse increases.”

Kimsey says the fix to those problems lies in the charter in Snohomish County.

Looking to follow Snohomish’s lead, Kimsey said he wants to see Clark County add the powers of initiative and referendum, add a county executive and expand the commissioners from three to five, and reduce commissioner pay to avoid taxpayer burden.

In contrast to Kimsey and Stuart’s design for the future is Commissioner David Madore, a Republican, who has long said too much change would be detrimental to the county.

Specifically, Madore has spoken out against the idea of an elected county executive, saying the change would be nearing an anointment of a “monarch with his advisers.”

“My reason for supporting this in the first place is the belief that the government closest to the people is the best government,” Madore said Wednesday after hearing of Kimsey and Stuart’s declaration. “I am a strong advocate that (home rule) gives the initiative and referendum to the people. But I do not think this is a time for elected officials to redefine government. This is for the citizens.”

Kimsey said after the Wednesday meeting that he wasn’t speaking directly of Madore when he said that some in the community feel that the “current system works great.”

But Kimsey did say that he disagrees with anyone taking the stance that there should only be a slight change to the system.

“Steve and I disagree with that,” Kimsey said. “We disagree strongly. The most important element of this proposed reform is a separation of that legislative, policymaking authority from the executive, administrative authority.”

Stuart spoke before Kimsey, saying he too is supportive of a complete overhaul of Clark County government.

“Now as a current commissioner whose powers may be limited and salary may be lowered, you may expect in my self-interest I would be opposed to these ideas,” Stuart said. “But I’m not. I’m in favor of these ideas.”

After praising Commissioner Tom Mielke, a Republican, for championing the process to bring a home rule charter forward, Stuart continued: “The first step to form this better contract with our citizens, between the people we represent and the people who represent them, is that we need 15 Clark County citizens to step up.”

Enter the dawning of Team ClarkForward.

The two officials are trumpeting what Kimsey is calling a “community action committee” co-chaired by Mike Gaston, former local Republican Party chair; Dan Ogden, former Democrat Party chair; and Rekah Strong, Clark County’s chief diversity and inclusion officer.

The group is seeking residents to run for freeholder positions who share the vision Kimsey and Stuart laid out.

The 15 freeholders will be elected by voters in November. The filing week for freeholder positions will be Aug. 5 through 9.

The freeholders will be charged with crafting the new county charter to be referred to voters.

Earlier this week, commissioners confirmed a decision to make the 15 positions nonpartisan.

The county is planning to hold a July meeting on how the process will work.

After the meeting, Stuart said he does not intend to seek an elected county executive position. He also declined to endorse Kimsey, saying “we need to focus on freeholders first.”

During his speech, Kimsey said his declaration isn’t meant to be self-serving, and that he is happy to remain the county’s auditor if that is what voters decide.

Still, he believes the vision of the committee is the correct one.

“I’m not working on this out of a personal ambition,” Kimsey said. “I am working on this because I believe this is in the best long-term interests of our community.”

Kimsey is asking those interested in the new committee to contact him by email at gkimsey@comcast.net or by phone at 360-521-6685. Or contact Stuart at stevej@stuartforclarkcounty.com or 360-635-5490.

View a video of Stuart and Kimsey's announcement on The Columbian's YouTube channel.