Freeholders to be sworn in Tuesday

15 selected by voters will get to work on charter proposal for county

By Erik Hidle, Columbian staff writer

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Shortly after the results of the Nov. 5 election are certified Tuesday, Clark County's 15 freeholders will be sworn into office and convene for their first meeting as a board.

The meeting begins at 6 p.m. at the county Public Service Center, 1300 Franklin St. and is comprised of mostly introductory and procedural matters for the newly formed board. The meeting is also to be recorded by Clark-Vancouver Television.

The biggest decision facing freeholders in their first meeting, is the election of a board chair, vice chair and secretary.

The acting chair entering the first meeting is state Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, who received the most votes in the election.

The remainder of the meeting is intended to serve as a primer of what roles and duties are bestowed upon the board.

What the freeholders will do

The goal of the board is to return a new charter to the voters of Clark County.

The changes can be whatever the board sees fit to make, as long as it falls within the laws of the state and abides by the U.S. Constitution.

The freeholders — and eventually the voters — can choose to grant themselves the power of initiative and referendum authority within the county, expand the number of commissioners serving on the board, separate legislative and executive powers by electing a county executive, make elected officials nonpartisan or change some elected positions to appointed roles.

But successfully navigating the process, and having the voters approve the final product, is a daunting task that just six of Washington's 39 counties have seen success with. And Clark County voters turned away charter measures in 1982, 1987 and 2002.

Clark County commissioners have vowed to remain out of the process as elected officials, however, they have said they may attend meetings of the freeholders to observe. Commissioner Tom Mielke stated at a recent board time meeting that he may make public comment as a resident of Clark County if the freeholders open the meetings up to the public.

Commissioner Steve Stuart has also stated that he hopes to see the board move swiftly in an effort to see the new charter placed on the November general election ballot in 2014.