Questions for board hopefuls loaded

Wording strikes candidates as self-promotional on part of current commissioners

By Tyler Graf, Columbian county government reporter

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On the Web:

The complete questions and answers are on the Clark County grid at

www.clark.wa.gov/thegrid/

It’s question-and-answer time for the candidates looking to fill the vacant Clark County commissioner seat, ahead of an appointment scheduled for May 27.

The three Democratic nominees — former Commissioner Craig Pridemore, former labor leader Ed Barnes and Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Kelly Love Parker — responded in writing to 12 questions, written by the two current commissioners.

The written questions and answers are the first real glimpse at the tone and tenor of the line of inquiry Republican commissioners Tom Mielke and David Madore will make toward the candidates. But of that line of inquiry, candidates say they’re struck by the wording, which they believe places a positive spin on recent commission decisions.

“I understand the need to put a good face forward,” Love Parker said. “But the questions asked are based on a premise. … There’s a lot of spin.”

At issue, candidates say, is that aside from the boilerplate inquests about the candidates’ qualifications and views on specific issues, the questionnaire also occasionally reads like an editorial for the accomplishments of the board, with statements about the commissioners’ achievements prefacing questions about whether the candidates would support or repeal them.

In part, a question about the parking fees at county parks, which commissioners scuttled last April, reads: “Park staff is now giving service to those coming to the parks instead of taking money away from them. Do you support those changes, or should they be repealed?”

A question about “job creator” fee waivers on non-commercial development, in part, says, “Quarterly reports show that the revenue generated by the new businesses more than compensate for the waived fees. New construction is up and Clark County job growth is twice that of the rest of the state.” Following the preamble, the question is: Do the candidates support fee waivers, or would they repeal them?

Love Parker said such phrasing “begs the question,” leading candidates to take a stance they might not agree with.

Commissioners, however, have said the detailed questions will give them a better understanding of where the candidates stand on top issues. At an April 30 board time meeting, Madore said they were important and that he’d written “very specific questions” for the candidates.

In a response to the inquest about fee waivers, Pridemore wrote that he would want to see a thorough, independent assessment of the program before concluding that it’s a success. He said the short-term impacts of the fee waivers could affect law enforcement and criminal justice revenue — points the county’s budget office has also made.

“I wish I could be more idealistic about the outcome of this particular program,” Pridemore wrote, “but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t worth trying.”

Questions and answers

The commissioners’ questions tackle everything from the proposed East County bridge, coal trains, the proposed oil terminal and bus rapid transit.

In his questionnaire, Pridemore wrote that he was “highly skeptical” of whether a toll-free, East County bridge was feasible, adding that active support from local partners would be necessary to move the project forward.

In Love Parker’s response to a query about whether she’d support a “dormant” contract allowing C-Tran to cede “eminent domain” authority to TriMet, she challenged whether such a question was worth mulling.

“I think this issue is as dead as the CRC Bridge,” she wrote. “We must carefully prioritize our time and energy into issues and projects that are ‘in play’. The CRC project is a dead project, and I believe the community wants us to move on.”

Barnes, a vocal critic of the two sitting commissioners, was the most succinct in his answers, often giving feedback that was shorter than the questions themselves.

Asked whether he would support Mielke and Madore’s promise not to raise property taxes, Barnes said he would support “property tax increases to meet the county’s financial obligations.”

The sitting commissioners’ statement before the question reads: “The most current supplemental budget provided funding for eight new sheriff deputies while adding $1.2 million to our General Fund cash reserves. Staff has successfully realized cost savings while our local economy slowly but steadily increases revenues without raising tax rates.”

The county’s budget office says the funding mechanism used to pay for the eight additional deputies — culling savings from the county’s health insurance plan — is not a sustainable practice moving forward, however, and the county remains in a structural deficit.

Pridemore responded to the question by saying he doesn’t unilaterally make tax decisions as a political exercise, and that he’d assess all alternatives to taxes before supporting increases to pay for core services.

“It’s easy to maintain fiscal stability in good times,” Pridemore wrote. “The challenge is what to do it when times are not so good, whether through recessions or increased population demands on core government services. It’s even more difficult in good times to lay a firm foundation for when difficult times come.”

The complete questions and answers are on the Clark County grid: www.clark.wa.gov/thegrid/.