Stuart won't run for re-election

He says job of county commissioner has changed

By Stephanie Rice, Columbian Vancouver city government reporter


Updated: January 23, 2014, 7:18 PM


Citing a year of acrimony and partisanship, Clark County Commissioner Steve Stuart said Thursday he will not seek re-election this fall.

“Life’s too short,” he said.

Stuart said he’ll post a detailed explanation on his Facebook page Friday morning.

He doesn’t have another job lined up, but he said he wanted to allow potential candidates time to consider whether to run to represent his district, which falls mostly within the city of Vancouver west of Interstate 205 but does include some precincts east of I-205, as well as in Hazel Dell.

Stuart said he also owes it to his family to give himself time to find another job.

He’s been the only Democrat on the board of commissioners since 2009, but he said partisanship didn’t play a role until the addition of Republican David Madore, who was elected in 2012 over Republican Marc Boldt.

After Madore took office in January 2013, joining Republican Tom Mielke, the job ceased being about finding common ground to solve problems, Stuart said Thursday.

Right after taking office, Madore posted critical remarks about Stuart on Facebook and said state Rep. Paul Harris, R-Vancouver, had announced plans to run against Stuart.

At the time, Harris said he was merely considering running. On Thursday, Harris said he will likely put off making a decision until after the Legislature adjourns in March.

“Right now, I’m a state legislator,” he said. “I made a commitment to serve the people of the 17th District.”

Stuart said Thursday that he tried working with the other commissioners; but after several months, he realized the job was no longer one he recognized or wanted.

“It wasn’t about issues anymore,” Stuart said. “It was about ideology.”

Madore and Mielke spent considerable time on ultimately meaningless endeavors, such as passing a nonbinding resolution stating their displeasure with the Columbia River Crossing — a state and federal project over which the county has no control — and passing a resolution defining the word “integrity.”

When the integrity resolution came up for a vote in November after a two-hour debate, a visibly irritated Stuart told Madore and Mielke, “Pass it, don’t pass it. It will have no effect. This is a waste of everyone’s time and resources.”

In May, Stuart strongly objected to Mielke and Madore appointing their friend, Republican state Sen. Don Benton, as the county’s director of environmental services. At the time, then-County Administrator Bill Barron said the appointment of Benton was obliterating county process and would “devastate” county workers.

The county lost several top officials last year, including Barron, Deputy Administrator Glenn Olson, Director of Public Works Pete Capell, Budget Director Jim Dickman and Chief Civil Deputy Prosecutor Bronson Potter. In addition, three other civil prosecutors, who advise commissioners, have left or announced plans to leave.

Director of Public Health John Wiesman left after an appointment by Gov. Jay Inslee to be secretary of health; his deputy director, Marni Storey, served briefly as interim director before taking a job in Washington County, Oregon.

Rekah Strong, who resigned her position as Clark County chief diversity and inclusion officer in July, told Madore and Mielke at a public hearing in November that they are bullies.

“Your employees fear you,” Strong said. “They’re not engaged. They’re operating in a place of paralysis. You have a lawsuit that is filed against you (by a current county employee) for going against our (equal employment opportunity) practices and what we’ve committed ourselves to do for the past six years. … We’ve had a mass exodus of employees because people are fearful.”

On Thursday, Mielke didn’t immediately return a request for comment, while Madore issued a brief statement.

“I am thankful that we’ve been working well together,” he wrote in an email. “This is an exciting opportunity for our community to choose a stellar leader for this important position who will faithfully represent the people.”

Stuart, 42, lives in the Hough neighborhood with his wife, Heather, and their young son. The 1989 Prairie High School graduate has a bachelor’s degree in business and sociology from Linfield College and a law degree from the University of Oregon. Prior to becoming a commissioner he worked for environmental groups.

Stuart was appointed to fill a vacancy on the board in 2004. He won election in 2005 and re-elections in 2006 and 2010.

Tyler Grafcontributed to this story.