Clark County Dems seek advice on looming commmissioner vacancy

Constitution, statute differ on timeline for picking Stuart successor

By Tyler Graf, Columbian county government reporter



Did you know?

RCW 36.32.070 reads:

“Whenever there is a vacancy in the board of county commissioners, except as provided in RCW 36.32.0558, it shall be filled as follows...

“(3) Whenever there is one vacancy in the office of county commissioner, the two remaining commissioners shall fill the vacancy. If the two commissioners fail to agree upon a selection after the expiration of five days from the day the vacancy occurred, the governor shall appoint the third commissioner.”

Clark County Democrats have asked Tony Golik, the county’s prosecuting attorney, for legal advice regarding how long it will take to appoint someone to Steve Stuart’s soon-to-be-vacant seat on the Clark County Board of Commissioners.

Ahead of a meeting Friday night, at which precinct committee officers will vote on a list of three appointment candidates to fill Stuart’s seat, Democrats have raised questions about whether a Washington statute conflicts with the state Constitution. The Constitution says an appointment must happen within 60 days from an elected official’s resignation. The statute, RCW 36.32.070, indicates appointment of a county commissioner must take place within five days.

“The Constitution is clear and simple,” said Michael Heywood, chairman of the Clark County Democrats. “But this statute says five days.”

Whichever time frame the county has to follow will be a factor in how the three candidates rank on the Democrats’ list. Heywood said he expects to hear back from Golik before tonight’s meeting, which will take place at 7 p.m. at the Teamster’s Hall, 2212 N.E. Andresen Rd.

The statute says if there is a vacancy on a county commission board, and the two remaining commissioners don’t fill it within five days, the governor will step in to make the appointment.

The Democrats would like an appointment to take place during a shorter period of time. A 60-day window, mentioned in the Constitution, would stretch beyond the county’s filing deadline for the primary election. The term for Stuart’s seat on the board expires at the end of the year, and Heywood has said many party leaders would like to fill the spot with someone willing to run an election campaign.

So far, four candidates have expressed interest in filling the seat. They are retired labor leader Ed Barnes, blogger and liberal activist Temple Lentz, former county commissioner and state senator Craig Pridemore and Kelly Love Parker, president of the Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce. More names could be added to the list tonight.

Among the candidates, Lentz has said she would likely not run an election campaign if she’s appointed.

Stuart, the board’s lone Democrat, will be stepping down by April 14 to become Ridgefield city manager. The two remaining commissioners, Republicans Tom Mielke and David Madore, will make an appointment from the Democrats’ list of three candidates.

If they do not choose within the appropriate time frame, Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee would fill the slot.

Heywood said Thursday he was “hopeful” the commissioners would appoint the Democrats’ top pick despite party divisions.