Freeholder candidates favor more on board

49 of 72 responding to survey say it's time to increase commissioners

By Erik Hidle, Columbian staff writer

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Most of the freeholder candidates who responded to a Columbian survey believe it is time to expand the board of Clark County commissioners.

Of the 72 who responded to the survey, 49 say they generally believe the board needs to be expanded. Twenty-two said they are still weighing the pros and cons of the move. Just two said they opposed the idea.

Adding members to the current three-member board essentially dilutes the power vested in the individual commissioners, often allows for more representation among members of the county and allows for commissioners to work together without forming a quorum -- currently created when just two commissioners meet.

Pete Kremen, who served as Whatcom County executive for 16 years before winning election to the county council, explained the benefits of additional commissioners simply as providing more representation countywide.

"It really seems like kind of an anomaly for a government to just have three people," Kremen said, noting the size of city council boards. "(Expanding) it gives the public a better opportunity to have a say in their government."

Essentially, there are two ways to accomplish greater representation. One is to completely redistrict the county, accounting for population, into five, seven or more districts.

The second way would be to allow for at-large commissioner positions that don't take into account district requirements.

Also to be considered is if commissioners should be elected only within the district they reside. As it stands now, commissioners are elected within their district in the primary but are elected countywide in the general election.

Freeholders will be allowed to decide the best way to accomplish this, if it is eventually the will of their group.

The main argument against the expansion is most often the cost of paying more individuals a six-figure salary. But Carolyn Long, a political science professor at Washington State University Vancouver who specializes in politics and elections, said it appears that concern may be solved in the balancing of commissioner pay.

"The argument against is typically the cost but the current discussion is to keep the total cost of the three salaries the same and split that among a larger number," Long said. "And that would appear to solve the concern.

"There are some that say the argument against is that the size of the current board is still sufficient and that really is the question. And it's compelling rationale that this is a big county and it's seeing growth, and with that comes new issues."

Freeholder comments

While nearly all respondents to the freeholder questionnaire favor expansion, both Kyle Greenwood, candidate for District 3, Position 4, and Mark Monroe, candidate for District 3, Position 5, stand against expansion.

"I think three is an appropriate number mostly because I think the uproar for two more is a direct result of the (Don) Benton appointment," Greenwood said. "That's not much of a reason to change what is currently in place."

Greenwood is an employee of The Columbian advertising department.

Monroe said at this time, three commissioners is the right size for the board, but does believe it should eventually expand.

"The current population of Clark County does not justify a higher number of commissioners," Monroe wrote. "However, as the county population increases over the next decade the number of positions will have to be increased to five."

For full responses from all responding candidates, visit http://columbian.com/freeholders. Select District 1, 2 or 3 above the map, click Search, then select the candidate's name.