Clark County to discuss revisiting home rule

Commissioners may vote May 29 on first step

By Erik Hidle, Columbian staff writer

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Clark County commissioners are scheduled to decide next week if they will begin the process of crafting a home rule charter for county government.

The first vote, expected to be taken at the commissioners' board time meeting on May 29, is a procedural matter that, if approved, would place a public hearing on the commissioners' June 4 regular hearing agenda.

Commissioner Tom Mielke pushed for a vote at Wednesday's board time meeting, but Commissioner David Madore asked for an additional week to review the matter.

Commissioner Steve Stuart, who attended the meeting via telephone, said he was fine with waiting an additional week.

But despite the delay, it appears likely the topic will be brought to a hearing.

Mielke, a Republican, has been pushing for the home rule charter for months, saying he wants to give the people a say in the makeup of local government.

And Stuart, a Democrat, appears ready to give Mielke his second vote. At last week's board time meeting, Stuart told Mielke, "I'm ready to go to hearing."

Madore, a Republican, has expressed consternation on the matter, saying some potential changes to the local form of government could be damaging to the county.

One specific concern of Madore's is that voters may create an elected county executive position. That would take several executive powers away from the elected board of commissioners and the county administrator staff position.

But Mielke has stayed the course in his desire to begin the home rule process, saying the elected officials should trust the voters.

"You have to have faith in the people," Mielke said. "Because when you look at them, all the radical things, left or right, fell off. You know, the people make good choices."

Mielke's push for the home rule charter makes him an odd bedfellow for a local group pushing for changes to local government.

The idea of creating a home rule charter was a topic recently broached amid public outcry in response to the Republican commissioners' decision to appoint state Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, as the county's director for environmental services.

Former Democratic county commissioner Craig Pridemore told a crowd of more than 100 at a May 11 meeting that a home rule process could reduce commissioner influence by increasing the number of elected officials on the board of commissioners.

Pridemore also advocated that a positive change could be made by voters electing a county executive.

"(With a home rule charter) you can structure county government the way you want it to be structured," Pridemore told the crowd.

Other changes that could be made with a home rule charter include which county positions are elected and how some initiative and referendum matters are presented to the county.

If the commissioners decide to send the matter to public hearing, they would then vote again on referring the home rule charter to an election.

If commissioners decide to undertake the process with that vote, the first order of business would be for voters to elect a board of freeholders who would craft the new charter.

That freeholder election would take place in November's general election. Under the currently proposed resolution, freeholders would be partisan with five freeholders elected from each of the three commissioner districts.

Depending on the time frame of the freeholders' work, a new county charter could go to the voters as soon as the 2014 general election.

Clark County voters have rejected proposed charters three times in the past. The last time the idea was discussed, in 2011, commissioners killed the proposal, citing a lack of community support.

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