In her typically thoughtful and deliberate manner, Clark County Councilor Jeanne Stewart last week effectively articulated the problem with the county’s governing body.
At issue was a proposal by Councilor David Madore to amend the county charter in relation to the county’s ability to increase property taxes charged to residents. To which Stewart said during a public hearing: “(It) is ridiculous to be in this position that voting no on this resolution, some people would interpret that to be as a desire to see taxes increase. It’s an unfair position to put a fellow council member in.” Stewart also said, “I both don’t appreciate and resent” the resolution.
Madore has proposed preventing the county from raising its property tax levy by more than 1 percent in a given year without a vote of the people. By state law, following the 2001 passage of Initiative 747, which was devised by anti-tax activist Tim Eyman, counties may increase property tax revenue by no more than 1 percent from year to year. For example, if a county collects $1 million in property taxes one year, it may approve collections of $1.01 million for the following year. Under the law, counties may “bank” their increase; for example, if they don’t raise revenue for two consecutive years, they may increase property tax revenue by 3 percent the following year.
Madore would like Clark County to eschew its ability to bank the increases, limiting them to no more than 1 percent annually, and he wanted to place a discussion of the charter amendment on the schedule for early next year. Therein lies the problem. While Madore’s idea has some merit — few people would argue in favor of greater tax increases — his methods once again point to a politics of derision and divisiveness.
Voters last year approved a new Clark County charter, one that will increase the council from three members to five. A new councilor and a county chair will be elected in November and take office in January. Stewart argued that the council should not consider the proposal until the new councilors are seated and — with fellow Councilor Tom Mielke absent from the meeting — found herself at an impasse with Madore. Stewart’s motion to wait until January to discuss the amendment died due to lack of a second, leaving Madore to say, “It’s not dead in my eyes.”
The notion of altering the county charter in this fashion highlights once again Madore’s careless, destructive method of governance. He campaigned vociferously against passage of the charter and then ran unsuccessfully in the primary for the county chair position. And along the way he routinely has embraced tactics that serve to divide the populace rather than bring it together, persistently seizing upon wedge issues that exploit our differences of opinions rather than celebrate our commonalities.
Since being elected in 2012, Madore has managed to pick political fights with the city of Vancouver, the C-Tran board, the Columbia River Economic Development Council, and others — even the Humane Society for Southwest Washington. He also was part of a controversial 2-1 majority that approved the placement of a sign reading “In God We Trust” in the county meeting room, despite previously saying he would not support the idea unless it had unanimous support.
While supporters suggest Madore is sticking up for his ideals — and while he often claims to be following the will of the voters — the constant division he fosters is damaging to the county. Councilor Stewart should be applauded for challenging him on it.