If this were kindergarten, the report card for the Clark County Commissioners might read: "They don't play well with others."
The latest example is a prolonged conflict with the Humane Society for Southwest Washington, which started in March when Commissioner David Madore halted a two-year contract for the organization to house stray animals. Since then, negotiations have gone back and forth, with the county examining alternatives. While the situation with the Humane Society remains in limbo — developments Wednesday left hope for a resolution — it does continue a disturbing pattern for county commissioners.
The county recently frayed its relationship with the City of Vancouver, opting to split from the Vancouver-Clark Parks & Recreation department to create its own organization. Last year, commissioners chose to end a commitment to the Columbia River Economic Development Council unless the Vancouver-based non-profit withdrew support for the proposed Columbia River Crossing; the split was formalized in March. And Madore has clashed with the C-Tran board and the Southwest Washington Regional Transportation Council over mass-transit issues.
Madore took office in January after being elected last November with a promise to shake up county government. In that regard, he has been a raging success, but there is a difference between lighting a fire under county government and engaging in a scorched-earth policy. Governance isn't about making friends, but it is about engaging with people and organizations to find a win-win solution for whatever problems arise. It is difficult to see how the county is winning many of these self-imposed battles.
On Tuesday, after the deal with the Humane Society fell apart — perhaps temporarily — Madore took to his Facebook page to comment on the matter.
"There is no such thing as no alternative and we are working with other local providers who would be happy to provide their service for half the cost," he wrote. Adding that the county will offer a contract proposal to the Humane Society, he wrote: "We hope that they will accept our offer. If they don't then their business will have some new competition."
By all means, please take the solution that will cost taxpayers half as much -- if it exists. But as the negotiations with the Humane Society have dragged on, officials found that no other shelters had the capacity necessary to house animals collected by the county, and that operating its own shelter would cost more than $1 million per year. This year, the county will pay the Humane Society about $325,000.
Looking at how much the county spends and where it spends it is not only a good idea but a great idea. The problem is the approach. The end does not always justify the means if it damages relationships that could be beneficial to the county in the future.
Meanwhile, Madore has turned the issue toward birds and rabbits. The county currently pays the Humane Society to house such animals in addition to cats and dogs, and the commission is seeking clarification over which animals the law requires it to house. Of the roughly 2,450 animals housed each year, about 35 are not cats or dogs, leading Madore to tell fellow commissioners Steve Stuart and Tom Mielke, "Let's fix the hole in the policy. It's a simple little fix."
Yet it has become a big problem, one that has dragged on for months. There's an old allegory about not fighting rabbits, because if you worry about the rabbits, the elephants will kill you. In other words, choose your battles wisely. That's something most of us start learning in kindergarten.