Press Talk: The proposed charter and its chances

Opportunity to send a message

By Lou Brancaccio, Columbian Editor



Lou Brancaccio is The Columbian's editor.

In the end, the proposed county charter on November’s ballot could come down to this simple question: “Do you like the way county government is running?” If your answer is “no,” you’ll vote for it. If you like it the way it is, you’ll vote against it.

For me? I think the M&M boys (Commissioners David Madore and Tom Mielke) have exposed just how bad it can get with only three commissioners to decide our fate.

But are enough people paying attention to even notice?

I wondered about this after having a conversation a few weeks ago with a prominent elected official. This politician had been at a party chatting about a variety of topics.

“When I asked about the newly proposed charter, I ended up with blank stares,” the friend told me.

“They said they really didn’t have time to get involved in all of that stuff. They said they were busy living life. And if they come across something on the ballot they aren’t familiar with, they just vote no. Lou, I think the charter is going to fail.”

And, of course, my friend could be right.

o o o

Too busy living life.

No question, the vast majority of us are exactly like the person at the party. And that — more than anything — is what guys like Madore are counting on.

Pieces of the charter

The proposed charter is likely the most important item on the ballot in November. It will help safeguard us against the abuses that have befallen us.

More than a dozen citizens were elected as freeholders to draft this charter with the intent of improving the way we govern in these parts.

There is quite a bit of stuff in the proposal, but — for me — the three most important things are:

• It increases from three to five the number of officials who make decisions for us. It also reduces the commissioners’ salary from a gaudy $100,000-a-year-plus.

• It gives us the right to petition the county government, which is essential in allowing residents a larger voice in how we are governed.

• It allows us to revisit any of the pieces of the charter so we can adjust it if need be.

So why now?

Look, there has been a lot of dancing around about why some members of our community decided now was a good time to propose a county charter. But the answer is simple and clear. It’s all about Madore.

Madore has been a loose cannon ever since he was elected. Many of us were hoping his fresh set of eyes — he’s not a career politician — would be a good thing. Instead, he has been as bad as any entrenched political character you could imagine. He smiles a good smile, but behind it, he is all about keeping his power over us.

And if the charter fails, that’s exactly what will happen.

How bad is this guy? Who would have imagined he would hire state Sen. Don Benton — his crony and political buddy — to become the county’s environmental services director? Benton couldn’t tell the difference between biomass and bacon bits. But Benton — as state senator — was a close friend of Madore’s and did his bidding up in Olympia. Did that prompt this sweet county job that pays Benton more than $100,000 a year? Hmmmmm?

One thing is for sure: The decision to hire Benton has cost us $250,000 to settle a claim by another county worker who was never given a chance for the job. Nice going, Madore.

Now, some hardscrabble conservatives make the case that we shouldn’t change the way we govern just because we made a bad choice for commissioner. Just vote the bum out when he’s up for re-election.

And I actually agree with that point. But here’s where we differ.

Although we shouldn’t be changing the way we govern because of Madore, we should be changing the way we govern because of what Madore has exposed. Let that point settle in a bit. What Madore has exposed is how crazy it is to have just three county commissioners. Just two of them could wreak havoc.

The charter would fix that by increasing the number to five.

If you are following along, you know the Republican hierarchy is against this charter because — well — they’ve circled the wagons around Madore. But for me, this is neither a conservative nor liberal issue. A decade from now — when Vancouver is much bigger — this county could turn from leaning conservative to leaning liberal. And we could end up with two nut-ball liberals. And that — my friends — would be just as bad as two nut-ball conservatives.

We need to increase the size of the commission board to give us working stiffs a fighting chance.

For me, I am hopeful — and confident — the rank-and-file conservatives recognize this and will send a message to our community. We all need to work together.

A fork in the road

I’ve thought a lot about what my political friend said. About how so many of us do not have the time to get involved. About how we are too busy living life. But we must get involved, because our lives will surely be adversely impacted if we don’t. Sure, the county will survive if we sit back and let others do the heavy lifting.

But is that all we want? To just survive?

Let’s live life to the fullest. We can do better.