Barnes sets agenda

Before being sworn in as commissioner, he weighs in on several topics in this Q&A

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A closer look

• Name: Ed Barnes.

o Age: 80.

o Background: Labor leader who has served on a number of county and statewide boards. Appointed to the Clark County Board of Commissioners on June 3.

o Swearing in: He will be sworn in at 10 a.m. Tuesday at the Public Service Center, 1300 Franklin St.

A closer look

Name: Ed Barnes.

o Age: 80.

o Background: Labor leader who has served on a number of county and statewide boards. Appointed to the Clark County Board of Commissioners on June 3.

o Swearing in: He will be sworn in at 10 a.m. Tuesday at the Public Service Center, 1300 Franklin St.

Ed Barnes usually finds himself seated directly in front of the Clark County commissioners, a little piece of real estate that allows him to launch his weekly criticisms against the board.

But the view is about to change.

This week, the 80-year-old labor leader will take a seat behind the dais, joining the two men with whom he often butts heads, commissioners David Madore and Tom Mielke. Last week, the commissioners chose to appoint Barnes to fill out the remainder of former Commissioner Steve Stuart’s District 3 term, which expires at the end of the year.

While Barnes, a Democrat, isn’t running an election campaign to hold onto the seat past December — Democrat Craig Pridemore and Republican Jeanne Stewart are vying for the position in the long-term — he has vowed to get up to speed and serve the citizens of Clark County.

And, he said, just because he’s sitting on the other side of the table doesn’t mean he will keep his mouth shut. His words, after all, have resulted in praise and condemnation in equal measure. Those words have led Environmental Services Director Don Benton, a regular target of Barnes’ invective, to threaten to file a defamation lawsuit last year.

Ahead of his swearing-in ceremony Tuesday, Barnes sat down with The Columbian to discuss what he plans to bring to the board, his view on the other commissioners and what he’d like to prioritize during the next seven months.


You have a jobs pin on, like Madore’s. What does that mean for you?

Well, (the commissioners) need to look at not just taking jobs from across the river. To outbid someone and take a (business), to offer more freebies to convince someone to move their business here, I’m not in favor of that. I asked Madore whether he’d gone down to California, since he moved here from there, to recruit any businesses. “No,” he said, “my job is here.” So maybe we should appropriate money to (Economic Development Director) Jeff Swanson, or someone, to go to some of these other states where there have been disasters.

And a lot of this stuff (Madore) is trying to take credit for from these fee waivers and such are things that happened before the fee structure started. Most of these projects were already permitted.


How will you use your background to attract jobs?

There are people I have been associated with, who I can get to come in and sit down and have a conversation with the county — if they want to have the conversation. I’m not going to bring people in just so they can listen to what they have to say and not advance some of their ideas.

The greatest job-maker in this county would be for David (Madore) and (state Rep. Ann) Rivers and (state Rep. Liz) Pike and them to get off of whatever they’re trying to work on now and go back and get the Washington Legislature to support the Columbia River Crossing.

About the CRC, how do you respond to people who say it’s dead?

The project should be three years into construction. This community would be benefitting from it, economically I mean — the jobs. The only hang-up Benton and Rivers, and (U.S. Rep. Jaime) Herrera Beutler, hung their hat on was the light rail.

I still kind of blame Benton and Rivers and (state Sen.) Rodney Tom, because I met with Tom up there at the Legislature to get him to support the Columbia River Crossing and he said, “Ed, I can’t. Because when we formed the coalition, we made an agreement that Rivers and Benton would call the shots on the Columbia River Crossing.” What they did by doing that was they not only killed the Columbia River Crossing, but they killed the money for all 39 counties for transportation throughout Washington. As far as I’m concerned, Columbia River Crossing is the No. 1 project in the country.

You mentioned transportation would be one of your top issues. Obviously, you are a proponent of the CRC. Now, Madore is talking about an east county bridge. What are your thoughts about that?

One of the concerns I have is … they (are) going to put it out for a vote, and (Madore’s) statement is there will be no cost for the county. So why put it up for a vote if someone else is paying for it? I think David didn’t realize that the 192nd interchange is in the city of Vancouver; he thought it was in the county. I don’t know how they expect anyone on the Oregon side to have any trust (in the project).


You’ve seen how the commissioners conduct business up close and personal. What’s your view on that?

I think sometimes Commissioner Mielke is too crude, the way he gives his personal opinion back to people he disagrees with. I don’t think that’s our role as commissioners. I think our role is to listen to what people have to say and then figure out how to help them. There are some issues that will never get resolved. Like marijuana … I have some real heartburn about that. But the people of the state of Washington passed it; that’s the law. And David has always said, “Well, if the voters voted for it …” just like what he did with the (advisory votes). But they just beat everybody down until they get what they want.

You’ve been critical of Mielke and Madore in the past. But can you point to anything they’ve done right?

Well, on the parks fees (that the commissioners cut) I think they are dead wrong on that. I am going to be asking for a full report on that. How many times is the sheriff’s office called out (to parks) now? Does the sheriff’s office give the bill to the county? Who’s paying for that time? The other one I am critical of is doing away with the fees for development. I’ve seen nothing so far (showing) it’s created one job. I have seen no report on who has benefited.

The county does have a list of the projects, and the companies that are involved, and the benefits they’ve received.

I’ve seen nothing about how many jobs have been created by this and what the hourly rate and benefits packages are for these jobs. If we’re going to give tax breaks to somebody, to corporations, then the public has the right to see the actual document, the names of everyone who has benefited.

Because you have been critical of Mielke and Madore, as well as Don Benton, how are you going to change your way of doing business now that you’re on the board?

After they nominated me, I said I still reserve the right to be critical on the issues I disagree with them on. But I’ve always believed in joint labor-management cooperation. In fact, I have a Barnes-Allison Labor Management committee named after me. It has set the standard for the whole United States on labor management in the electrical trade. I’m not all about being confrontational all the time. But I am one that wants to make sure the public is getting its money’s worth.

Do you know what’s happening with Benton’s threatened lawsuit against you?

No, I don’t. But I have made it very clear, “Sue me, Don,” if that’s what he wants to do. I have attorneys lined up who will defend the right to free speech. That’s another concern. David is a free-speech person, in most cases. Tom is not. The thing with Don is, he’s a bully. He was that way up in the Legislature. He showed that against Liz Pike; he showed it against (state Sen.) Annette Cleveland. He jumped on Rodney Tom when he thought Tom was going to bring up a vote for Columbia River Crossing. So, I mean, he’s always been that way. He and I have had differences in opinion over the years. People say, “You hate him.” I don’t hate anybody. I don’t like what they stand for.

How would you respond to your critics, who say you slow down the process for county meetings by reiterating the same points, meeting after meeting?

I respond to that the way David did when he (filed his complaint) against C-Tran, or against the Columbia River Crossing. The longer you repeat something (eventually) people realize there’s a problem.

Wherever you go in this state, the minute you mention you’re from Clark County, people say “I’m sorry for you — for that.” We never had that reputation before. That’s because (the commissioners) continue to battle everybody. They’ve badmouthed the people across the river, who they now want to get money from them for a third bridge.