County commissioners might again study home rule charter

By Erik Hidle, Columbian staff writer

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Clark County is considering making another attempt at creating a home rule charter.

Such a charter, which voters have turned away in 2002, 1997 and 1982, would allow changes to the structure of county government. That could include giving residents referendum powers on county issues, changing elected offices to appointed jobs, increasing the number of commissioners and making offices nonpartisan.

The last time a home rule charter was discussed, in 2011, commissioners turned away the idea of starting the process as public support waned.

But last week, Commissioner Tom Mielke presented a new resolution on the matter to the board for discussion.

Talk was brief at the meeting, but commissioners agreed it was something they would continue to discuss. Commissioner David Madore said he wanted to learn much more about the process before making a decision. Mielke and Commissioner Steve Stuart agreed that he should take the time to study that matter. Both Mielke and Stuart have gone through briefings on a home rule charter before, during the 2011 talk.

Mielke said the reason he's broaching the subject again is that the process "allows citizens to control government."

If commissioners do eventually decide to put the matter to voters this November, they would ask for the election of 15 "freeholder" positions. Those freeholders would then be tasked with drafting the flavor of the new county charter, independent of the incumbent county commissioners.

A new charter would then be presented to commissioners for them to either approve or turn away. If it is approved, the charter would go to the voters for final adoption.

Clark County Clerk Scott Weber won election in 2010 on a campaign that he would seek to make the office he now holds appointed, not elected.

With the news that commissioners are again discussing a home rule charter, Weber said he intends to be involved in all the discussions he can.

"I'm going to definitely be part of the process," Weber said. "Right now I want to hear everyone's input on it."

Every currently elected position except the prosecuting attorney and the judges could be appointed with a change to the county charter. Weber has long said he would seek to keep the job regardless if it is appointed or elected. And while he is standing by his campaign promise for now, he did say he would be OK with whatever method freeholders decide in a home rule charter.

"I'm OK with it either way," Weber said. "Honestly, I think the most important parts are the initiative and referendums."

Weber also said he hopes freeholders would consider the nonpartisan issue, as "it really doesn't matter what political affiliation you are (in this position)." Weber ran for office as a Republican.

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