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March 1, 2024

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Review of C-Tran board to resume

Reorganization would likely take away veto power of county, Vancouver

By , Columbian Transportation & Environment Reporter
Published:

After nearly a year-long hiatus, the committee considering a possible shake-up of the C-Tran Board of Directors will reconvene next month.

But unlike at its last meeting in December 2013, the group will resume deliberations knowing that a reorganization of the C-Tran board will likely eliminate the veto power now held by Clark County and the city of Vancouver. That’s what a county judge ruled in September following a months-long legal dispute.

Before the C-Tran board composition review was halted late last year, there appeared to be some momentum for giving the smaller cities more representation on the transit agency’s governing body. That would require either Vancouver or Clark County giving up at least one seat on the nine-member board.

Changing the number of seats for either of those jurisdictions would also invalidate the veto power both have held since C-Tran’s inception, according to Clark County Superior Court Judge David Gregerson.

That ruling didn’t change the stance of Camas Mayor Scott Higgins, one of the committee members who had called for more say for his city.

“For Camas, it doesn’t change anything,” Higgins said of the ruling.

Camas currently shares a seat on the C-Tran board with Washougal. Both cities have said they’d like their own seat at the table. If that means the veto goes away, Higgins said, then so be it.

“We were never really vested in that,” he said. “I’m glad there’s clarity.”

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, La Center/Ridgefield and Battle Ground/Yacolt. The board also includes a nonvoting labor representative. The composition of the board is reviewed every four years.

With three negative votes, both Vancouver and the county now have the ability to block any action approved by the rest of the board. The “bloc veto” has been wielded sparingly, used only three times in C-Tran’s history, according to the agency — once by the county, and twice by Vancouver.

Vancouver has made it clear it’s not interested in losing a seat on the board, or its veto power. That stance likely hasn’t changed. But Vancouver holds only one vote on the 10-member committee that will decide what the C-Tran board looks like.

Previous proposals gave Battle Ground, Camas and Washougal their own seats on the C-Tran board. Another would also give Ridgefield its own seat. Any increase in representation for those cities would come at the expense of Vancouver or the county; by law, the board can’t have more than nine voting members.

Battle Ground City Councilor Bill Ganley said he still believes his city would be better served with its own seat on the board. Sharing a seat with Yacolt pairs two jurisdictions with very different interests and needs, he said.

The review committee will include at least one new face in Clark County Commissioner Ed Barnes, appointed earlier this year. Barnes said he’d prefer to keep the C-Tran board as is, an arrangement that has worked fine in the past.

“We should be looking for what’s in the best interest of the people of Clark County, and not what’s in the best interest of politics,” Barnes said. “To me this whole thing is about politics.”

Barnes said he understands the concerns raised by Vancouver. The city accounts for almost 60 percent of C-Tran’s sales tax revenue, and more than 80 percent of its ridership.

“Without the city of Vancouver, there wouldn’t be any C-Tran,” Barnes said.

The composition review committee will meet again at 4 p.m. Nov. 18 in the Vancouver Community Library, 901 C St. A regular C-Tran board meeting will follow.

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Columbian Transportation & Environment Reporter