Most troubling about the action by Clark County Commissioners David Madore and Tom Mielke to withdraw the county’s financial support of the Columbia River Economic Development Council is the way in which the decision was made. It was made not during a regular, televised meeting of the commissioners but at a Jan. 16 untelevised weekly “board time” in a small conference room. Board time meetings are open to the public, but conspicuous by his absence at this meeting was the man Madore and Mielke knew would oppose their decision, County Commissioner Steve Stuart.This is not how good governments operate. The shared opposition by Madore and Mielke to the Columbia River Crossing and light rail is well known, but this decision could have been much more open and measured. If their action was wise, why not (1) maximize public participation and (2) submit it to the sharpest scrutiny and make it live on its own merits? Instead, Madore and Mielke ignored open government principles and chose to spite the CREDC, Clark County’s largest business recruiter and jobs promoter.
Which takes us to the second troubling aspect of this action. It openly defies Madore’s campaign promise to “open the floodgates” to jobs. Those floodgates were not exactly lubricated by the decision to stop annual payments of $100,000 to a highly respected nonprofit. Keep in mind that the CREDC, according to a recent Columbian story, “helps grow existing businesses, helps entrepreneurs secure capital, (and) preserves and creates more land for industrial and commercial employers … .”
Third among the flaws is Madore’s and Mielke’s mistaken perception of the CREDC as a promoter of light rail. Yes, the CREDC supports the Columbia River Crossing and, yes, light rail is a part of that plan. But the CREDC has taken no stance on light rail, per se. As President Lisa Nisenfeld said last month, “Several years ago, we passed a resolution saying we supported a new bridge. We have said nothing about light rail or tolling.”
More succinctly, the CREDC’s stance on a new bridge is “to get it done. … I attend an occasional meeting on the bridge,” Nisenfeld also said, “but we are not engaged on a day-to-day basis. There is nothing in our current work plan about the bridge.”
The fourth strike against Madore and Mielke is their warped interpretation of last November’s failed ballot proposal to fund light rail maintenance and operation with a sales-tax increase. According to the Jan. 16 letter from Madore and Mielke to the CREDC, “voters took a firm position against light rail” in that election. Well, the two commissioners are welcome to feel that way; many others feel the same way. But the truth is, that ballot measure specifically proposed a tax increase, which is precisely why it was opposed by many light rail supporters such as the Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce, Identity Clark County and The Columbian.
To their credit, through this action Madore and Mielke may galvanize the CRC supporters. Sometimes adversity and opposition are the best things that can happen to strengthen a movement. The CRC should be made to answer all serious inquiries and challenges, thus to accentuate its accountability.
As unbecoming as this whole thing feels, the CREDC will probably find ways to compensate for this funding loss. And there should be no surprise that this high drama occurs with Madore new to the board of county commissioners. In the end, politicians make points any way they can.