Freeholders tweak proposed charter

Board works out details; Dan Ogden takes late wife's seat

By Tyler Graf, Columbian county government reporter




■ What’s new: The Clark County Board of Freeholders have completed the first run-through of the draft charter, which is planned to appear on the November general election ballot.

■ What’s next: The freeholders’ next meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. May 13 at the Public Service Center, 1300 Franklin St., Vancouver. The board will conduct a second reading of the charter and continue to make tweaks.

With the clock ticking on drafting a new county government, the people tasked with writing the charter are digging into the details.

With less than a month to go before the charter is set to be completed, much of the heavy lifting in drafting a new county charter has already been completed. Tuesday's meeting of the Clark County Board of Freeholders was dedicated to tweaking the details of what's currently proposed.

That tweaking will continue until the board approves a final charter on May 27. The group plans to put the charter before voters in November.

Members of the 15-member board said Tuesday they wanted to reconsider how an elected county board, with five "council" members instead of three commissioners, would be able to hire and fire a county manager, and how salaries for the part-time board members would be decreased. As proposed, the charter calls for changing the county board of commissioners to a five-member council, with administrative oversight of daily operations coming from a county manager.

A top issue Tuesday was how many board members — or how few — it would take to hire or fire a county manager. While some freeholders wanted such moves to take a supermajority of the board, or four out of the five members, others called for that figure to be dropped to a simple majority.

Requiring the higher, supermajority standard would put too much power in the manager's hands, Freeholder Vice Chairman Joe Zarelli said.

"(With a supermajority) you know you only have to keep two people happy, and you've got a job for friggin' life," Zarelli said "You can't give a person a job for life."

Others, including Freeholder Temple Lentz, didn't necessarily see it the same way.

"Because we are separating the powers, this is the key hiring decision the council will make," Lentz said. "We should have a council in supermajority agreement in hiring or firing this key position."

Ultimately, the freeholders voted to move forward with a simple majority for firing a county manager.

They also removed language from the draft charter that would prevent a county employee from holding a partisan elective office. They replaced it with a clause that says that no county employee can also hold an elected county position.

Despite there only being two meetings left before the board dissolves, the freeholders also appointed their newest member at Tuesday's meeting. With a unanimous vote, Dan Ogden was appointed to the position for which his late wife, Val Ogden, had previously served.

Val Ogden was a long-time political activist and legislator. She died April 9 at the age of 90.

Dan Ogden's appointment received applause from the audience. He was in attendance but declined to say much except that he believed in the work the freeholders were doing.

The next freeholder meeting is scheduled for May 13 at 6 p.m.