Debate on a county executive is robust

Freeholder candidates look into following the model that U.S. uses

By Erik Hidle, Columbian staff writer

Published:

 

What’s a freeholder?

Clark County voters will soon choose 15 people from a field of 110 county residents to draft a charter for a new county government.

The winners of the election will become freeholders, and form a board to meet until a charter is created.

The charter will then be submitted to voters for a final approval.

Freeholders will have the power to arrange the county government in any way they see fit, as long as it follows the laws of the state and abides by the U.S. Constitution.

The board can choose to grant voters 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, such as clerk or treasurer, to appointed roles.

The candidates for freeholders face off in the Nov. 5 general election.

Each of the three commissioner districts has five at-large positions, meaning voters may choose one candidate in each of five different races.

Where do the candidates stand on an elected county executive?

DISTRICT 1

Support an elected executive

Garry Lucas (Position 1)

Morris Foutch (Position 1)

Ron Onslow (Position 1)

Donald A. Leonard (Position 2)

Doug Ballou (Position 2)

Tom Lawrence (Position 2)

Bridget Schwarz (Position 3)

Jacqueline “Jackie” Lane (Position 3)

Rob Lutz (Position 3)

Ben Meyer (Position 4)

Steve Foster (Position 4)

Troy Van Dinter (Position 4)

Patricia Reyes (Position 5)

Patrick Bourcier (Position 5)

Ralph Akin (Position 5)

Randy Mueller (Position 5)

Oppose an elected executive

Marlene (Korczakowski) Adams (Position 1)

Scott McElhaney (Position 1)

David A. Darby (Position 3)

Scott Edwards (Position 3)

Tim Podhora (Position 3)

Peter Silliman (Position 4)

David Standal (Position 5)

Undecided

Ann Rivers (Position 2)

Dan Sockle (Position 2)

Richard “Dick” Rylander (Position 3)

Chris Lockwood (Position 4)

Fiona Humphrey (Position 4)

Dick Deleissegues (Position 5)

Wendy Lyn Smith (Position 5)

Did not respond

Dale Smith (Position 1)

Darren S. Wertz (Position 1)

Joseph Zarelli (Position 3)

John Main (Position 4)

Mark Gawecki (Position 4)

Sharon Ferguson (Position 4)

Patrick O’Rourke (Position 5)

R. “Bob” Freund (Position 5)

Sherry Erickson (Position 5)

Troy Maxoy (Position 5)


DISTRICT 2

Support an elected executive

Cheryl Bledsoe (Position 1)

Diana H. Perez (Position 1)

Joel Littauer (Position 1)

Debbie Abraham (Position 2)

Esther Schrader (Position 2)

Lloyd Halverson (Position 2)

Judie Stanton (Position 3)

Paul Dennis (Position 4)

Adam Baldwin (Position 5)

Oppose an elected executive

Jamie Hurly (Position 1)

John Burke (Position 3)

Russell Boten (Position 3)

Jacob “Jake” Smith (Position 5)

Undecided

Nan Henriksen (Position 1)

Rob Perkins (Position 1)

John Bryden (Position 2)

Jim Martin (Position 3)

Liz Pike (Position 3)

Did not respond

Thomas Hann (Position 1)

Ken Kakuk (Position 2)

Tracy S. Wilson (Position 2)

Dimitry Mishchuk (Position 4)

Roger Neilson (Position 4)

Anthony “Tony” McMigas (Position 5)

Bentley Brookes (Position 5)

Chuck Miller (Position 5)

Marc Boldt (Position 5)


DISTRICT 3

Support an elected executive

Craig Riley (Position 1)

Val Ogden (Position 2)

Jim Moeller (Position 3)

Adrian Gomez (Position 4)

Don Yingling (Position 4)

Frank L’Amie (Position 4)

Kyle Greenwood (Position 4)

Michael J. Barry (Position 4)

Jackie Marsden (Position 5)

Jim Dunn (Position 5)

Jim Mains (Position 5)

John Caton (Position 5)

Oppose an elected executive

Jeanne Schaefer-Ringo (Position 2)

Alex Veliko (Position 4)

Jerry Oliver (Position 5)

Mark Monroe (Position 5)

Mike Yancey (Position 5)

Undecided

Pat Jollota (Position 1)

Carolyn Crain (Position 2)

Alice Anne Williams (Position 3)

David Gray Jr. (Position 3)

Sally Fisher (Position 4)

Temple Lentz (Position 4)

John Jenkins (Position 5)

Did not respond

Ryan Palmer (Position 1)

John Lowell Gilbert (Position 2)

Bruce A. Samuelson Sr. (Position 3)

Debbie Peterson (Position 3)

Jerry Keen (Position 3)

Keith E. Bellisle (Position 3)

Lowell D. Miller (Position 3)

Mike Woodward (Position 3)

Bill Hughes (Position 4)

Dan Barnes (Position 4)

Gene C. Ringo (Position 4)

Kris Fay (Position 4)

Winde Bekins Chavez (Position 4)

Bill Cismar (Position 5)

Bob Carroll (Position 5)

Jack Harroun (Position 5)

James “Jimmy Tee” Taylor (Position 5)

Thomas Richard Higdon (Position 5)

Candidates address other questions

See more answers from freeholder candidates who answered The Columbian’s survey. Select District 1, 2 or 3 above the map, then click "Search."

A survey of freeholder candidates by The Columbian shows the creation of an elected county executive will likely be one of the stickiest subjects discussed during the drafting of a new county charter.

Of the 72 respondents to the survey, 37 said they favored -- or gave positive feedback regarding -- the creation of a county executive. Sixteen respondents were generally or outright opposed to the idea, and 19 indicated they were considering the idea and would want to hear discussion on the matter.

Creating an elected-executive position would effectively separate the legislative and executive powers currently bestowed upon the board of three county commissioners.

The board would retain the legislative powers -- the ability to control the county budget, enact planning regulations and implement ordinances that regulate how the county operates.

The elected executive would become the CEO of county government, responsible for supervising county staff, executing the ordinances and resolutions implemented by the legislative branch, and drafting a proposed budget for the legislative branch's approval.

"That check-and-balance is one of the things our counties have created in crafting a charter," said Eric Johnson, executive director of the Washington State Association of Counties. "With an executive, you now have someone to create that check on the decisions by the legislative branch. They can say when they don't believe something is in the best interest of the county."

That means the executive has veto authority over the legislative board. And to balance that power, a charter would likely offer a way for vetoed decisions to gain final approval if a greater consensus can be reached by the legislative branch.

Pete Kremen is an expert on the county executive position through experience. He served as Whatcom County executive for 16 years between 1996 and 2011. Whatcom, which includes Bellingham, is one of four counties in Washington that operate with elected executives.

In 2011, Kremen stepped down from the executive position and ran for county council, where he is now serving his first term. Add to that six terms as a Democratic state representative, and you get Kremen's belief that an elected executive is critical for good governance.

"My observation is that the pros far outweigh the cons," Kremen said. "The pros include a more representative form of government that mirrors the state and federal government. The only con is that it's not as expeditious, and things generally take more time to get done because you have to go through a process."

But Kremen said even in that con, you find a benefit in government's being more transparent.

"I think there is less room for transparency in a standard three-commissioner form of government," he said. "The people that enact the laws really shouldn't be the ones that implement the laws. (Separating those roles) keeps commissioners from striking deals from behind closed doors."

The separation of powers also offers a clear delineation of who is in charge of county staff.

For example, both Commissioners Tom Mielke and Steve Stuart have chided Commissioner David Madore for being too involved with staff in the planning department and altering board direction at a staff level. And Madore has publicly apologized for at least one instance of altering a staff report before it was presented to the board; that would be a much more unlikely scenario with an elected executive.

"What you have in Whatcom County is that county council members are forbidden by the charter to direct or order a county employee to do anything," Kremen said. "I strongly believe that having a separately elected executive is by far the best way to go because that individual is the only person that the employees answer to. You don't have employees confused by something like … commissioners' each wanting their own roads fixed in their own district. The executive prioritizes that."

Carolyn Long, a political science professor at Washington State University Vancouver who specializes in politics and elections, said she hasn't yet taken a position on the issue of an elected county executive as she sees both pros and cons to the issue. She recognizes Kremen's points as potential pluses, but noted there are counterpoints for freeholders to consider as well.

"Some things that come out in the discussion are if you are concentrating too much authority in one individual," Long said. "The other argument is, it may not be necessary to have (an elected county executive) if you end up expanding the board of commissioners. That's not a negative, but it's a question of necessity.

"Generally speaking, the biggest concern is that right now you have a professional county administrator, who is not political. He or she brings that expertise. And I do think there is a real benefit to having that professionalism."

Elected officials' opinions

Madore and Mielke, the two Republicans on the current Clark County board of commissioners, are publicly opposed to an elected executive, saying it puts too much power in the hands of one individual. Madore likened the system to that of an anointment of a "monarch with his advisers."

The third commissioner, Democrat Stuart, has supported the creation of an elected county executive through his involvement with Team ClarkForward, a political action committee effort formed by Stuart and Republican Clark County Auditor Greg Kimsey.

"Steve and I disagree with (Madore's views on limited changes)," Kimsey said upon announcing the political movement in June. "We disagree strongly. The most important element of this proposed reform is a separation of that legislative, policy-making authority from the executive, administrative authority."

While not joining Team ClarkForward, two other Republican elected county officials have also thrown their support behind an elected-executive model.

"I support a county-executive model," Clark County Assessor Peter Van Nortwick said in July. "I support that form of government, but I don't want to be the one driving it. The bottom line is, the people need to decide."

In his response to The Columbian's freeholder questionnaire, Sheriff Garry Lucas said it was "a decision that requires more discussion, but I support an elected county executive. I believe in the wisdom of the founding fathers and the separation of powers."

Lucas is a candidate for freeholder in District 1, Position 1.

Freeholder candidates' comments

Several freeholder candidates agreed with Lucas, noting the benefits of a separation of powers among two branches as is done on the state and federal levels.

Other candidates had differing opinions.

Among reasons for opposing the executive were concerns over the veto authority, worries that as individual in charge of administration would have an "alpha personality" and financial concerns over creating a new elected position.

Jeanne Schaefer-Ringo, candidate for District 3, Position 2, said she stands against the idea of an executive as it politicizes a position where education and experience are key.

"The administrator or executive should have the education and experience needed, not just political connections," Schaefer-Ringo wrote.

Several of the "maybe" or "unsure" answers came with the caveat that the issue requires further study.

Rob Perkins, a candidate for District 2, Position 1 said he's open to seeing more information on the matter.

"I am open to the idea of a county executive position, because it is one way to have an at-large county voice in policy development," Perkins wrote. "It would have to come into existence regulated by checks and balances from other county elected officials. I believe the issue is worth detailed study by the elected freeholders, in case there are disadvantages."

For full responses from all responding candidates, visit http://columbian.com/freeholders.