Freeholders back cutting commissioners’ pay by half

Recommendation part of proposed charter headed to voters in November

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What's new: Freeholders have reached consensus that under a new charter, commissioners' pay should be cut in half.

What's next: The freeholders' next meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. April 8 at the Lacamas Lake Lodge and Conference Center, 227 N.E. Lake Road, Camas. They will continue meeting until mid-May, when they intend to finish the proposed charter. Residents will vote on the charter in November.

Freeholders are elected volunteers tasked with writing a new home-rule charter for the county. The charter would change aspects of county government, including the number of commissioners, their pay and what their duties are.

What’s new: Freeholders have reached consensus that under a new charter, commissioners’ pay should be cut in half.

What’s next: The freeholders’ next meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. April 8 at the Lacamas Lake Lodge and Conference Center, 227 N.E. Lake Road, Camas. They will continue meeting until mid-May, when they intend to finish the proposed charter. Residents will vote on the charter in November.

Freeholders are elected volunteers tasked with writing a new home-rule charter for the county. The charter would change aspects of county government, including the number of commissioners, their pay and what their duties are.

A recommendation of the people in charge of drafting a new county government calls for Clark County commissioners’ pay to be sliced in half.

The county’s freeholders Saturday reached a consensus that under the proposal, elected policymakers would see their salaries cut from roughly $106,000 a year to $53,000 a year. The drop in pay would correspond to a general dip in the board’s authority. The majority of freeholders, tasked with writing a new county charter, have sided with the notion of stripping commissioners of their administrative duties, such as hiring department heads, and handing those to a county manager.

The direction in which the freeholders are heading would bring the county’s form of government in line with most local city jurisdictions, which govern using a board of part-time elected officials and a full-time manager hired to oversee day-to-day operations.

Nan Henricksen, chairwoman of the freeholder board, said the changes would be similar to the kind of citizen governance practiced by legislators in Olympia.

“Their jobs (on the board) should be compatible with having a full-time job elsewhere,” Henricksen said.

This, she said, would open the elective office to more people from various backgrounds.

May deadline

The freeholders have until May to hash out a new county charter, with the goal of putting it to county voters by November.

Six of Washington’s 39 counties have home-rule charters, which allow county government to differ from what’s outlined in state law. Clark County voters rejected a proposed charter in 2002, and nixed attempts to launch the home-rule process in 1982 and 1997.

Freeholders are cognizant of those prior losses and, as they barrel toward their end-of-May deadline for completing the charter, plan to revisit a recommendation about commissioner districts.

While freeholders have thrown their support behind the idea of adding two more commissioners to the board, for a total of five, how they’d be elected is still up in the air. Freeholders in February proposed having five separate districts for the commissioners. Under that proposal, each commissioner would be nominated by their respective district during the primary but have to be elected by the entire county in the general election.

Freeholders will review that tentative decision at their next meeting. Some members of the board feel adding new voting districts is too big a change.

Rep. Liz Pike, R-Camas, is among the freeholders who worry that some of the proposed changes to the county charter could be viewed by voters as overreaching.

“We’re overcomplicating the charter,” she said.

At the meeting, scheduled for April 8, the board will discuss other options, such as keeping the current three districts and electing the other two at-large.

Pike said it was important to create a “less cumbersome” charter that voters are more likely to approve.

Henricksen, chairwoman of the freeholders, said questions around voting districts would be the last proposal the freeholders plan to readdress.