Commissioners delay decision on vacant board seat

By

Published:

 

Hours of interviews and a closed-door meeting ended with an impasse Tuesday, as Clark County’s two commissioners failed to agree on whom they should appoint to join their three-member board.

Commissioners David Madore and Tom Mielke said they would try to reach an agreement at a June 3 emergency meeting, scheduled for 1 p.m.

The two commissioners conducted three hour-long interviews with candidates Craig Pridemore, Kelly Love Parker and Ed Barnes starting at 1 p.m. Tuesday. They then met in executive session for about 45 minutes before announcing they could not agree on the appointment. The announcement was made with no public deliberation following the closed-door executive session.

The candidates thanked the commissioners for the opportunity to answer questions. And some wondered aloud what would happen in the ensuing week to change the commissioners’ minds in a process that has proven both political and partisan. The two sitting commissioners are Republicans and they are tasked with appointing a Democratic colleague.

The audience, many of whom had sat through a nearly four-hour-long question-and-answer session, responded with heckles of “make up your minds,” “waste of time” and “what about leadership?”

Madore left the board room immediately after announcing the impasse, saying only that the board would readdress the appointment in a week. Mielke explained that the two commissioners had disagreed on what direction to take the board.

“We thought we could do it in 15 minutes, and we couldn’t,” Mielke said of reaching consensus during the closed-door meeting.

He said it was hard enough making decisions with two commissioners on the board and questioned how much more difficult it would be if the county revised its charter and expanded the board to five commissioners. The Clark County Board of Freeholders approved a proposed new county charter Tuesday night that will go before county voters in November.

By law, the commissioners have until June 10 to appoint a replacement for Democrat Steve Stuart’s vacant seat or Gov. Jay Inslee will step in to make the appointment. Stuart stepped down April 11 and took a job as Ridgefield’s city manager. District 3 has been without representation on the board for 46 days.

“It’s a serious decision,” Pridemore said after commissioners announced there would be no appointment. “I wonder who they will be consulting with over the next few days.”

Pridemore, the Democrats’ top pick for the position, has garnered the support of his fellow candidates and filed to run for the seat in November. He will face off against Republican Jeanne Stewart, a former Vancouver city councilwoman.

During her interview, Love Parker said she would gladly act as a placeholder to continue Stuart’s vision on the board, even though she was unwilling to mount an election campaign. Madore questioned whether Love Parker’s heart was in serving.

She said her heart was in serving, but it wasn’t in running a campaign against Pridemore because she supported him politically. Love Parker said she felt Pridemore was the most capable and experienced of the three candidates.

“In my heart of hearts,” Love Parker said, in support of Pridemore, “I believe the person who can lead (the county) through every budget process is already here.”

Pridemore previously served as a Clark County commissioner for six years until stepping down in 2004 to become a state senator for the 49th Legislative District. He unsuccessfully ran for state auditor in 2012 and works as the finance director for the state Department of Licensing.

All three candidates fielded the same general questions during their interviews Tuesday. They were similar to written questions posed to candidates last week. Many of the questions related to whether the candidates supported decisions made by the current commissioners, such as implementing fee waivers on new commercial development and doing away with parking fees at county parks. The candidates agreed that they wouldn’t actively work to overturn decisions made by the current board, even if they disagreed with the commissioners about some of the decisions.

Another line of questioning was about the defeated Columbia River Crossing megaproject and whether the new county commissioner, as a C-Tran board member, would act to cancel the project’s contract with TriMet.

Pridemore said such a decision would appear rash to the county’s transportation partners in Oregon. Of the possibility of light rail ever coming into Clark County, Pridemore said he didn’t believe that would happen in his lifetime.

Barnes said he didn’t believe the CRC project was dead and would continue to support it.

If Madore and Mielke appoint a commissioner Tuesday afternoon, that person could conceivably start as early as that evening. The commissioners meet at 6 p.m. that day.