Clark County told it owes economic development group

Lawyer: Not paying $100,000 would be breach of contract

By Erik Hidle, Columbian staff writer

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Clark County's legal counsel says if the county doesn't pay its bill for $100,000 to the Columbia River Economic Development Council by March 29 it will be in breach of contract.

"The only provision for nonpayment is if they are under default of the contract," said Bronson Potter, the county's chief civil deputy prosecutor, during a Wednesday meeting of Clark County commissioners. "There is no claim that they are. So at this point, under the contract, the money is owed. If we don't pay it, we are under default of the contract."

Commissioners David Madore and Tom Mielke voted to halt county money going to the CREDC in January. In a letter explaining their action, the commissioners said the move was made in response to the CREDC's support of the Columbia River Crossing project.

Commissioner Steve Stuart did not sign the letter.

Mielke asked Potter if the letter the county sent would give them a legal stance in the issue.

"We told them you violated our position, and we don't want to be invoiced," Mielke said.

Potter said he doubts the letter will make much difference.

"The contract charges them with doing certain things, and it doesn't make taking positions or not taking positions on issues a condition of the contract," Potter said. "Unless you can say they didn't do the work that is set out in the contract, you don't have a reason not to pay them."

After Potter's synopsis, commissioners didn't make a motion to change course on funding the CREDC. But Madore did say he wanted to re-engage the group in an effort to repair the "broken" relationship.

Saying he feels the CREDC does good work on the economic front, Madore said he hopes to find a middle ground on the "divisive" issue of the Columbia River Crossing.

"What I would like to be able to do is invite them, and I'll take the initiative on this because I was the instigator … in really breaking this relationship, to try and heal this relationship," Madore said. "What I'd like to be able to do is find a common ground, and a middle ground with them, and say if you will simply back away from taking a position on this and just return to neutrality … and return (to) your core mission (to) focus on bringing jobs to our community, then we can entertain, offer a new contract with them."

Madore said he would want additional escape clauses built into a future contract. He also said he would like to see the county pay the organization $10,000 per year.

Stuart was supportive of the effort, but skeptical such a move will be well received.

"Reaching out and trying to heal the relationship is a great idea," Stuart said. "I don't personally see breaching the contract, offering to reinstate it at a 10th of what they had before, and asking them at the same time to back away from the biggest job-creating project, and by job-creating I mean the biggest project to lay the foundation for jobs in our region, I don't necessarily see that as a process to success to heal the relationship. But I think you reaching out to them is wonderful."

Bill Dudley, chairman of the CREDC board, has said the CREDC currently has no intention to sue the county over breach of contract.

On Wednesday night, Dudley said he was happy to hear the commissioners are continuing to talk about the CREDC.

"The fact it came up again is good news and we will continue to work it out," Dudley said. "I think the simplest thing for me to tell you right now is we continue to have conversations with them. I think continued conversation is a huge step in the right direction."

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