Thirteen hours after being bombarded with public comment over the appointment of state Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, to the job of Clark County environmental services director, one commissioner wants to talk about changes to county meetings.
Commissioner David Madore said Wednesday he would like to see the public comment period moved to the end of commissioner meetings. Madore said the change would help avoid political maneuvering akin to a filibuster, which could grind the county’s work to a halt.
Tuesday night, nearly 100 people signed up before 6 p.m. to comment about Benton, thinking their testimony would be first on the agenda. However, Madore and Commissioner Tom Mielke, both Republicans, voted to take a fee-waiver issue first. That meant testimony on Benton did not happen until about 9:40 p.m.
“Last night you saw an attempt to defeat the fee waiver without even discussing it,” Madore said. “My top priority right now is to get Clark County back to work. I wanted Clark County back to work that night. So I want to see county business done first.”
Madore said he was frustrated the commissioners didn’t get the opportunity to take action on development fee waivers at Tuesday night’s hearing. Instead, commissioners voted to move the matter back three weeks.
The Tuesday hearing went on for 61/2 hours as a packed house commented on the fee waiver and then the Benton hiring.
One week earlier, Madore and Mielke voted to appoint Benton. The move prompted Commissioner Steve Stuart, a Democrat, to furiously claim “cronyism” and walk out of the meeting.
Commissioners Tuesday night were verbally hammered by the public as more than 40 people criticized the decision-making of the board in bypassing typical hiring protocol on hiring Benton.
Five people spoke out in favor of the appointment.
And Madore said he expects the public isn’t done airing their issues with the commissioners. Because of the late hours of the meeting, more than 40 people who signed up to speak about the Benton hire had gone home by the time their name was called.
“Those people feel very strongly,” Madore said. “But they aren’t done.”
When the board elected at Tuesday’s meeting to move comment to the end of the public meeting, it was met with boos and scoffs and people angrily shouted out objections.
On Wednesday, Stuart adamantly opposed the change in public comment, telling Madore, “The people choose what the priority is. You don’t get to.”
Mielke, who was out of town and joined commissioners by phone, said he too was wary of the change. But he offered the opportunity for commissioners to talk about the matter at their next public hearing, saying he wants there to be an opportunity for people to voice their opinion on the matter, and to hear Madore’s explanation.
Commissioners next meet at 10 a.m. on Tuesday at the Public Service Center, 1300 Franklin St.
No change on Benton
Commissioners spoke their final words at Tuesday’s public hearing after The Columbian’s press time.
But in the early hours of Wednesday morning, Stuart said he would ask the board to reconsider their action in hiring Benton as, he said, the action went against the board rules the three of them had signed earlier this year.
Madore said on Wednesday he has not changed his mind.
“I’ve said you never go back and rethink a decision unless you receive new information,” Madore said. And when asked if he had heard anything new, he replied, “No.”
Mielke was unavailable for comment on Wednesday.