Clark County backtracks on weapons policy

Insurer took issue with employees having them at work

By Tyler Graf, Columbian county government reporter

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Clark County's letter to the Washington Counties Risk Pool

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Clark County commissioners Wednesday reversed a policy that granted county employees the ability to bring concealed weapons to work, if they owned a permit to do so.

The change will take the county's weapons policy back to where it was before commissioners temporarily lifted a ban last month on public employees bringing firearms to work. At that time, commissioners directed department heads not to reprimand employees who did so. That was to be in place until commissioners answered questions about how to implement a permanent change to the county's workplace violence policy, which could have allowed employees to carry concealed weapons.

The Washington Counties Risk Pool, with whom the county is already embroiled in a legal dispute, put the kibosh on the concealed weapons idea.

"The risk pool had a concern about employees having concealed weapons, even if they had a license," said Chris Horne, the county's chief civil prosecutor. The risk pool is a coalition that, among other services, provides counties with access to lower-cost insurance.

Wednesday's move appears to spell the end to a two-month-long, and occasionally contentious, process that was intended to bring the county's concealed weapons policy for employees in line with what exists for the public. Citizens with concealed carry permits are allowed to bring their weapons into some county-owned buildings.

In February, Vyrle Hill, the risk pool's executive director, addressed whether such a lenient weapons policy could have a negative impact on the county's insurance, saying it would be a hard one to value from an insurance standpoint. He said the county's insurance rate could go up or down as a result of implementing the policy.

Settlement

The county's standing with the risk pool has been compromised for months.

Since September, the pool has been saying the county violated an inter-local agreement by allowing two men, wrongfully convicted of rape 21 years ago, to sue the pool.

The county settled with the men, Alan Northrop and Larry Davis, for a combined $10.5 million last fall. The county's settlement also allowed the men to sue the risk pool for as much as $24 million. The risk pool said that's a violation of its agreement with the county.

At a meeting of the risk pool's board last week, the county was given 30 days to work out an arrangement to stay in the pool. One of the measures the county said it would take was reversing its conceal-carry policy for employees, said Mark Wilsdon, the county's risk manager.

Clark County has made other concessions to stay in the risk pool, which are tied to its settlement with Northrop and Davis. The risk pool is suing the county for breach of contract in Cowlitz County Superior Court.

Among those other concessions, the county also agreed to pay the risk pool's legal fees if the county is found in violation of its interlocal agreement, Wilsdon said. The county's conditions were outlined in a letter to the risk pool sent Wednesday.

Aside from that, Wilsdon said, there's not much the county can do.

"We can't change what happened," he said. "The settlement is a done deal."