County Auditor Greg Kimsey plans to place a two-page explanation of a proposed home-rule charter in the general election voters’ pamphlet, despite questions from Commissioner David Madore as to whether that might look like advocacy.
The Clark County Board of Freeholders approved adding the explanatory statement before dissolving their positions in May. The short-term board met between November and May to draft a series of proposed changes to county government. Voters will decide whether to approve the revisions at the Nov. 4 general election.
Kimsey, who oversees the elections division that produces each voters’ pamphlet, said the county has the authority to publish two pages of information explaining the home rule charter as long as it was unbiased and factual.
“What the freeholders asked me to do was to request the county public information office create two pages of factual, unbiased information describing the proposed home rule charter,” Kimsey said in a phone interview.
In no small part, Kimsey said, the addition of more information in the pamphlet would benefit voters.
But in emails to Kimsey in late May, Madore wrote that an extra page or two of information might be “considered by some as an advocacy document to persuade voters to approve the charter.”
The fruit of the freeholders’ labor was a 23-page document that introduces significant changes that would affect the commissioners and how their power is divided.
Commissioners Madore and Tom Mielke have vocally criticized the home rule charter. It calls for reining in some of the commissioners’ influence, in part by expanding the board from three to five members, decreasing their pay — currently $102,000 annually — to $53,000 a year, and giving an appointed executive the authority to hire and fire certain employees, including department heads.
In another email, Madore asked Kimsey whether the county commissioners also had the authority to publish two pages explaining the charter from their perspective. In response, Kimsey wrote that he’d never received a request to do that, but he would entertain the idea.
“As the proposed charter eliminates the county commissioner offices entirely and replaces those positions with council members with part-time pay for those elected to those positions, and as all executive power, now belonging to the people through their elected county commissioner representatives,” Madore wrote in a May 22 email, “I am concerned that the consequences of such radical changes to our county government will not be conveyed to the citizens unless we take careful steps to provide that information in the voter pamphlet.”
Supporters of the charter — particularly, the majority of freeholders — say it would more evenly distribute political power. Kimsey has, at times, thrown his backing behind seeking a larger board of commissioners by spearheading the Team Clark Forward group with former Commissioner Steve Stuart.
Others, including three former members of the freeholder board — Peter Silliman, Tracy Wilson and state Rep. Liz Pike — have voiced apprehension about the final document. They voted against it. County commissioners hired Silliman last month to act as their research analyst and policy assistant.
Kimsey said he planned to work with county attorneys to ensure the statement was equitable.
The former chairwoman of the board of freeholders, Nan Henriksen, said she didn’t understand Madore’s concerns.
The addition of a statement explaining the charter and what it does is not without precedent. In 2002, the last time a proposed home rule charter appeared on a ballot, the county produced a tri-fold brochure explaining what it would do. It was mailed to all county households. In that election, the charter failed.
Henriksen said the county would save around $40,000 by instead printing the information in the voters’ pamphlet.
“We really felt we were working hard to keep that summary statement … absolutely factual,” she said.
The voters’ pamphlet will also include statements for and against the home rule charter.
Along with Henriksen, the committee drafting the proponents’ statement includes Sheriff Garry Lucas, a former freeholder, and John McDonagh, publisher of the Vancouver Business Journal.
Members of the anti-charter committee are Silliman and Wilson, both former freeholders, and Stephen Moser.
The committee is not alone in its opposition to the charter. Clark County Republicans recently wrote a resolution calling for the defeat of the charter. It argues that the “charter removes power from the voter and commissioners, and tips the scale in in favor of more power to an unelected manager.”
The Republicans’ resolution says the home rule charter would unnecessarily change a long-established form of government.
The deadline for voters’ pamphlet statements is Aug. 14, Kimsey said.