Jayne: Problem with commissioners isn't how many, it's who

By Greg Jayne, Columbian opinion editor

Published:

 
photoGreg Jayne, Opinion page editor

I'm no statistician, but I'm not sure the numbers add up when we talk about remaking the Clark County Board of Commissioners.

Many locals have expressed a desire for an expanded commission, with the thinking being that increasing the number of commissioners from three to five would lessen the control that a single person can have over county government.

OK, we'll be more specific. A lot of people wish there were some way to mitigate the influence of Svengali David Madore and lackey Tom Mielke as they treat the county like their own little fiefdom. And citizens seeking such relief just might be in luck — lo and behold, a group of elected freeholders happen to be holding meetings about ways in which to alter the makeup of the county's government. Talk about serendipitous.

The freeholders have come out in support of expanding to five commissioners, with freeholder Peter Siliman saying, "Just having more commissioners adds checks and balances."

Goodness knows, we could use some of those. The latest absurdity to come out of county government is downright comical, as Environmental Services Director Don Benton has thrown out the idea of imposing a $150,000 annual "litter fee" on The Columbian — essentially because we often print our product on paper.

In my 26 years in journalism, I have been labeled with many a pejorative. I have been called a moron, an idiot, and a fool. A jerk and a loser. A &#@@ and a %&$#@. Heck, since I became editor of the Opinion page, some readers have tried to label me as either a Democrat or a Republican, with neither term meant as a compliment.

But I have never, not once, not even by the most vicious and vile of readers, been called a litterbug. In fact, I agree with Oscar-winner Matthew McConaughey, who according to BrainyQuote.com once said, "There aren't many things that are universally cool, and it's cool not to litter. I'd never do it."

Therefore, I am deeply, deeply offended by the accusation that my colleagues and I are littering all over Clark County — to the point where I can't extract my tongue from my cheek.

Yet, I digress. You see, we were talking about math and the difference between three commissioners and five commissioners. "When you have three, one person can really flip the constitution of county government," Tracy Wilson said when freeholders were discussing the subject awhile back.

Power of the ballot

But therein lies the problem. Yes, one person can alter the direction of the Board of Commissioners, as Madore has demonstrated. Since taking office in January 2013, he has seemingly hypnotized Mielke into being his subservient and has seized a lock-solid majority on the board — as if one brain counted for two votes on every issue.

That might sound harsh. I know Madore has some supporters, and I know they tire of The Columbian taking shots at him. I can respect that. But, aside from a long list of issues on which we can reasonably disagree, even Madore's supporters must admit that the hiring of Benton — and the manner in which it took place — is indefensible. Can we agree on that?

Beyond that, I'm not sure that expanding the board to five commissioners will ease the pain of the detractors. You see, with a three-person board, the majority requires 67 percent of the vote; with a five-person board, the majority is 60 percent. With Mielke already under his spell, Madore would need only one of the two additional commissioners to fall into lockstep.

The problem, for those who think there is a problem, isn't so much with the system but with Madore and Mielke. As freeholder Paul Dennis said, "You really have to have good elected officials, whatever the structure." Or, as Thomas Jefferson said, "Should things go wrong at any time, the people will set them to rights by the peaceable exercise of their elective rights."

In other words, the ballot is more powerful than the math.