State of the County: 'We're in the best shape we can be' (with video)

Commissioner Steve Stuart lists challenges that threaten county's character, then lays out a rough plan for success

By Erik Hidle, Columbian staff writer

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Clark County Commissioner Steve Stuart said the state of Clark County is as strong as he could hope, given a stagnant economy and myriad challenges facing the current commissioners.

"We're in the best shape we can be, considering the state of our economy, our state and our nation," Stuart said in the State of the County address Thursday afternoon. Stuart spoke to a full crowd in the auditorium at Prairie High School. The message he delivered was that commissioners and the county's partners must work together as they address planning issues and job growth concerns into the future.

All three commissioners took a turn at the microphone Thursday. Commissioners David Madore and Tom Mielke both told the stories of their history and how they found their way to Clark County.

Madore said he sought a move for both his family and business in 1989 that provided a quality of life revolving around a beautiful countryside, reasonable distance to a major city, access to a big backyard for his children and a business-friendly local government. He found the bounty of his wish list in Clark County, and said his desire to maintain those positive attributes drives him as an elected official.

"I could not be more grateful for the privilege to help this rare jewel of a community to prosper and thrive as we all work together to make Clark County the best place in America to live, work and raise a family," Madore said.

Mielke told the story of his upstart trucking company when he moved to the county from Spokane in 1978. He said in his years in Clark County he has learned to love and protect the land while taking an interest in the workings of government and regulation. His goal, he said, is to pass on a legacy to the next generation.

"I want my grandchildren to have the choice we have now," Mielke said. "To be able to live where they want, not where they're trapped where they don't want to be because their options have been narrowed or closed."

Stuart, who grew up in the county and attended Prairie High School, said his goals were much the same, and said the three commissioners could find common ground through the desire to preserve the county as a diverse location to live and do business.

Stuart listed challenges he sees in the future, including a "dangerous" lack of jobs, a historical reliance on homebuilding and that industry's uncertain future, growth projections that threaten the quality of rural living and a challenging county budget.

"We have reached a turning point where we will either see and address the bow wave facing us or, in a few short years, find it crushing us and our ability to provide core services such as adequate roads and public safety," Stuart said. "We will lose that which brought us here and keeps us here."

Stuart said the way to avert such a future will be challenging, but he laid out a rough plan for success. To create an economic future, he said, the path will need to be "paved literally" with road infrastructure projects. He also noted sewer and other infrastructure needs into the future.

Then, nodding to the past of his fellow commissioners in their creation of jobs in the county, Stuart said the county must continue to review the permit process and implement a way that allows job creators to easily start up in the county.

Stuart said all this must be done with an eye that stays focused on balancing the need for growth and the desire for open space in the county.

All this, Stuart said, will be accomplished by working together and respecting differing opinions and desires.

"So we each know why we make our own choices," Stuart said. "But it's not always easy to step outside our own skin to understand and support somebody else's. But we have to. Even if those choices are not what we would make now for ourselves and our families, we might want them at another point in our lives. And even if we don't want them for ourselves, we need somebody else to want them to balance our own choice."

Stuart choked up at one point in the speech as he thanked his family. He said that was caused because he began to think of his 1-year-old son, who earlier in the day had taken his first steps to his father.

"My 1-year-old, he doesn't judge me for the words I've shared today, the work that's already done, or the path that lay behind us," Stuart said. "He and all our children will judge us by the path we take ahead, and by the county we leave behind."

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