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News / Clark County News

Clark County loses seat on C-Tran board

Vote also strips county, Vancouver of veto power

By Eric Florip, Columbian Transportation & Environment Reporter
Published: November 19, 2014, 12:00am

Vancouver: three seats

Clark County:
two seats

Battle Ground:
one seat

one seat

one seat

La Center/Ridgefield/Yacolt:
one seat

A special committee voted Tuesday to reshuffle the membership of the C-Tran Board of Directors in a move that gives more representation to some of the area’s smaller cities and strips the veto power held by Clark County and Vancouver.

The result gives Clark County decidedly less influence on the transit agency’s board as it transitions to an all-Republican commission for the first time in decades. Commissioner-elect Jeanne Stewart is expected to be sworn in as soon as next week, joining fellow Republican commissioners Tom Mielke and David Madore.

Under the new C-Tran board arrangement, the county will drop from three seats to two. The city of Vancouver will keep its three seats. Battle Ground, Camas and Washougal will each have their own seats. La Center, Ridgefield and Yacolt will jointly share the final seat.

The change also means the “bloc veto” power held by the county and Vancouver since C-Tran’s inception in 1980 is now eliminated.

Vancouver: three seats

Clark County: two seats

Battle Ground: one seat

Camas: one seat

Washougal: one seat

La Center/Ridgefield/Yacolt: one seat

A 10-member board composition review committee, represented by every jurisdiction served by C-Tran, approved the change by a 7-3 vote. Madore and Mielke joined Yacolt Mayor Jeff Carothers in voting no.

Madore urged the committee to maintain a balance of power between the county and Vancouver. He had supported the county’s giving up a seat to boost the small cities’ representation, but only if Vancouver did the same.

“Do not bring an imbalance and concentrate power to the urban center,” Madore said.

Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt rejected the notion that the new arrangement concentrates undue influence to his city. At one point, Leavitt suggested Vancouver should have five votes on the nine-member board. He and others have noted that Vancouver accounts for almost 60 percent of C-Tran’s sales tax revenue, and more than 80 percent of its ridership.

Leavitt said Vancouver has collaborated with its partners at C-Tran in the past, and will continue to do so. Suggestions of a power grab are “preposterous,” he said.

“The history doesn’t show that, nor does the future bode that,” Leavitt said. “We want to do what’s best for the entire county.”

Camas, Washougal and Battle Ground had all expressed their interest in having their own seats on the board, and reiterated that stance Tuesday. The cities also wanted to see the veto, though seldom used, go away.

Tuesday’s decision grants that wish. The new board could, however, decide to enact a new veto rule if it chooses.

The new C-Tran board will likely be seated in January.

The C-Tran board now has nine voting members: three Vancouver City Council representatives, three Clark County commissioners, and three seats shared in pairs by Camas/Washougal, Battle Ground/Yacolt and La Center/Ridgefield. The board also includes a nonvoting labor representative.

The board composition review occurs every four years. This round has been anything but routine, resulting in a legal dispute and a court hearing while dragging on for a year and a half.

The committee first met in June 2013. From the start, several committee members expressed interest in giving the smaller cities more representation, at the expense of Clark County or Vancouver — or both. Vancouver, meanwhile, made it clear that it was not interested in giving up any of its clout on the board.

The process stalled amid questions about the fate of the veto power. In September, a judge ruled that the veto would be forfeited by both parties if either lost a seat on the C-Tran board. Currently, the agency’s bylaws say three negative votes by either the county or Vancouver automatically block any action approved by the rest of the board.

On Tuesday, Madore asked that the decision be delayed so Stewart could join the committee and replace interim Commissioner Ed Barnes. Mielke asked Barnes to abstain from voting, calling him a “short-timer” — a remark that drew an objection from Washougal Mayor Sean Guard.

“That is demeaning,” Guard told Mielke. “Commissioner, that is demeaning.”

In the end, Barnes’ yes vote didn’t affect the final outcome.

Columbian Transportation & Environment Reporter