Ed Barnes stood at the front of the Clark County commissioners’ hearings room Tuesday and took the oath of office, officially ending a nearly two-month span during which the board operated with only two members.
Prosecuting Attorney Tony Golik presided over the ceremony, which filled the chamber with well-wishers, many sporting buttons showing support for Barnes. The Democrat’s placement on the board represents the addition of a tie-breaking vote, and one that isn’t afraid to shake things up.
After a rousing standing ovation from the room full of supporters, it was all business. Barnes, a longtime labor leader, had little to say that he hadn’t already stated — that he would listen to all citizens, stay vocal and educate himself on new issues. But others in the room expressed relief that a third member had been added to the board.
County Administrator Mark McCauley said employees were looking forward to having a three-person board. “One-to-one ties frustrate staff,” he said.
In recent months, there haven’t been many deadlocks between commissioners Tom Mielke and David Madore, both of whom are Republicans. There was one notable exception, however.
They failed to reach a consensus May 27 on which of the three Democratic candidates they would name to the board as a successor to Steve Stuart, who resigned from his District 3 seat on April 11. On June 3, they tapped Barnes.
There were other occasions when a two-member board threw a wrench into county business, such as when meetings had to be called off due to a lack of a quorum.
The commissioners thanked Barnes for filling the seat until the end of the year. Barnes is not running an election campaign and will step out of the post on Jan. 1.
Former commissioner Craig Pridemore, another name that was on the Democrats’ appointment list, is campaigning for election to the seat. He’s running against Republican Jeanne Stewart, a former Vancouver city councilor.
Madore on Tuesday said he was confident Barnes, who’s known for rarely being short of opinions, would speak his mind while on the board.
No one “will tell you what to think or say,” Madore said toward the end of the meeting.
He added: “You are part of the promising future,” a reference to the county’s slogan, “Bright past, promising future,” which Barnes had once criticized for being incompatible with Mielke and Madore’s recent leadership. Barnes has regularly butted heads with his two new colleagues on various issues, in particular their opposition to the Columbia River Crossing.
Before being named to his six-month stint on the board, Barnes was a county commission gadfly, a regular attendee of meetings and a thorn in the commissioners’ sides.
During his first official meeting Tuesday, Barnes showed flashes of his former self during a brief discussion of signs that the local economy is improving.
“The economy is turning around in Clark County,” Barnes said.
In response, Mielke said, “fee holidays,” a reference to a county program, championed by Madore and Mielke, that provides fee waivers for new commercial development.
Barnes quickly interjected: “Well, I disagree with you on that,” he said.
Barnes said he wouldn’t act as spoiler sport to all of the commissioners’ ideas, however. Instead, he said he wanted to find middle ground on issues of importance to county residents.
“I appreciate the opportunity the commissioners placed on me to express my opinion up here, rather than down there,” Barnes said.