There are the routine, somnambulant speeches at civic club meetings … and then there's what happened Wednesday at the Rotary Club of Vancouver. A Democrat and a Republican shared the spotlight and launched what could become the most monumental government reform in Clark County history.
As we editorialized two weeks ago, public sentiment regarding a new county charter has undergone a tectonic shift in the past year or so, from widespread apathy to broad enthusiasm. And on Wednesday, Democratic County Commissioner Steve Stuart and Republican County Auditor Greg Kimsey christened what they're calling Team ClarkForward with the intent of changing county government to a system resembling Snohomish County's. Among the differences: Snohomish County (third-largest in the state, county seat Everett) has five commissioners (Clark has three), voters have powers of initiative and referendum and a county executive is elected (here, that position is hired by county commissioners).
All ideas are worth pursuing. We will wait on expressing approval until a plan emerges after a long and complex process involving 15 elected freeholders, numerous public meetings and formal action by the county commissioners. Already, though, there are many encouraging aspects of what happened Wednesday:
Stuart and Kimsey are ahead of the curve. They have established a beachhead of reform before this issue gets confused and bogged down among myriad, more poorly organized reformists.
It's good to see a bipartisan leadership emerging. Stuart and Kimsey also announced a community action committee co-chaired by Mike Gaston, former local GOP chair; Dan Ogden, former Democratic Party chair; and Rekah Strong, Clark County's chief diversity and inclusion officer. We suppose there are some radicals in both parties that resent such cross-party contamination, but bold compromise is crucial if any meaningful reform is to occur.
The risk of cronyism, ostensibly, could be diluted by separating powers. Kimsey explains: "The most important element of this proposed reform is a separation of that legislative, policymaking authority from the executive, administrative authority."
Financial impacts already are being dealt with; if there is to be an expansion of commissioners from three to five, salaries would be reduced, Stuart and Kimsey are proposing.
Local Republicans, essentially, are being challenged to choose between positive reform and self-serving traditionalism. County Commissioner David Madore supports giving voters the powers of initiative and referendum, but "I do not think this is a time for elected officials to redefine government. This is for the citizens." But that is precisely what Stuart and Kimsey propose: empowering citizens through the process involving freeholders.
Although Snohomish County is emerging from a nasty scandal involving its former county executive, putting such a position before the voters could be a wise move. Madore disagrees. He fears the possibility of a "monarch with his advisers," apparently forgetting that he and County Commissioner Tom Mielke enraged citizens of both parties with their recent appointment of state Sen. Don Benton as the county's environmental services director.
Regardless, these issues remain to be decided. For now, the deck is being shuffled and the cards are about to be dealt. We're glad the game's being played, and that citizens and not politicians occupy the most powerful seats at the table.