At its heart, Clark County’s move toward a home rule charter and the election of freeholders is grass-roots politics at the ground level. A total of 110 candidates are on the Nov. 5 ballot for 15 positions on a board that will draft a proposed new county charter, meaning the odds are fairly high that the list includes your neighbor or your friend or that person you always see at the grocery store. There are state senators and former mayors on the ballot, plus citizens who have never ventured into the political arena (for information about the candidates, go to the top of Columbian.com and visit “Must Clicks” or type in http://www.columbian.com/freeholders).
Because of that, the ballots that will be mailed Oct. 16 might appear daunting to voters. Each of the three commissioner districts has five at-large positions, meaning voters will choose a candidate in five different races. Once elected, the freeholders will consider changes to Clark County’s system of government — the number of commissioners, whether to have an elected county executive, etc. Their proposal could in the next two years find its way to voters for approval or rejection.
Clark County voters rejected home rule charter ballot items in 1982, 1997, and 2002, but there appears to be renewed interest this time around. With that in mind, rather than make recommendations for each of the 15 positions in front of the electorate, The Columbian will take a look at some of the items likely to be considered by the freeholders:
• Yes, Clark County should expand its board of commissioners from three members to five. Much of the support for a new county charter has derived out of some voters’ frustration with what they perceive as a dominant two-person coalition among the commissioners. Expanding the board would eliminate the possibility of it being controlled by a party of two.
In addition, the board should be expanded because Clark County is expanding. In 1990, the county’s population was 238,000; by 2012, it was about 433,000. A growing population places growing demands on county government, necessitating an expansion of the board. Spokane County, the only one of similar size in Washington, also has a three-member county board; but all Oregon counties of roughly the same size have five-member boards.
• If freeholders do decide to expand the board, the move should be budget neutral. Commissioners currently earn a little more than $100,000 in salary, and those salaries plus benefits should be adjusted to avoid additional expense on the part of taxpayers.
• An elected county executive position should be established to oversee the day-to-day operation of the county’s business. Currently, Clark County has an administrator who is hired by the commissioners. Making this an elected position would mean the officeholder is beholden to the voters instead.
• County residents should be granted initiative and referendum power to get items placed on the ballot.
You can see the candidates’ stands on these and other issues at Columbian.com as listed above, and the public will have opportunities to meet with candidates. District 1 candidates will be available at 7 tonight at the Community of Christ Church, 400 N.E. 179th St. Then, candidates from each district will be available from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Oct. 17:
• District 1 at Mill Creek Pub, 1710 S.W. Ninth Ave., Battle Ground.
• District 2 at Camas Police Station, 2100 N.E. 3rd Ave., Camas.
• District 3, Latte Da Coffee House & Wine Bar, 205 E. 39th St., Vancouver.