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News / Clark County News

Judge: C-Tran veto rule invalid if board changes

By Eric Florip, Columbian Transportation & Environment Reporter
Published: September 11, 2014, 5:00pm

The veto power written into the C-Tran Board of Directors’ bylaws could be in jeopardy if the makeup of the board changes, following a Clark County judge’s ruling Friday.

Currently, both the city of Vancouver and Clark County have the ability to nix any action approved by the rest of the C-Tran board. But that “bloc veto” power would become invalid for everyone if either entity loses a seat on the board, Clark County Superior Court Judge David Gregerson ruled Friday. The ruling favored the position taken by C-Tran, represented by attorney Tom Wolfendale.

A 10-member committee had been considering whether to rearrange the C-Tran board, part of a board composition review that occurs every four years. That process has been stalled since December, when the group decided to delay action until the bloc veto question was settled. The committee first met in June 2013.

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

If they vote as three-member blocs, both Vancouver and the county currently have the authority to veto any action approved by the remaining seven board members. A lawsuit filed by Clark County aimed to clarify what happens to that power if either jurisdiction gave up one of its seats. Some had questioned whether the veto — which can’t be overridden — is legal at all.

After a Friday hearing, Gregerson kept the rule in effect, at least for now. But his ruling appeared to dismiss an outcome that could leave the veto intact for one entity, but not the other.

“The bylaw must stand or fall in its entirety,” Gregerson said.

C-Tran’s bylaws state that “three negative votes” by either Vancouver or the county constitutes a veto. Clark County had argued that “three means three,” and that should remain the case even if one entity loses a seat.

Vancouver, represented by Assistant City Attorney Linda Marousek, argued that the city should keep its veto power regardless of how many seats it has on the C-Tran board. Vancouver accounts for nearly 60 percent of the agency’s sales tax revenue, and more than 80 percent of its ridership.

C-Tran argued that the veto, which has existed since the transit agency’s inception in 1980, was intended to create a balance of power between Clark County and Vancouver. “If that’s disrupted, it invalidates that,” Wolfendale said.

C-Tran made the ultimately successful motion that the veto be nullified if either entity loses any membership on the agency’s board.

When the composition review committee was meeting last year, there appeared to be momentum to do just that. Several members expressed support for giving the smaller cities more representation on the C-Tran board. That can’t happen unless Vancouver or the county give up one or more seats.

It’s unclear when the composition review committee will reconvene — or who will lead it. When the group started meeting, it elected Clark County Commissioner Steve Stuart as chair and Battle Ground Mayor Lisa Walters as vice chair. Neither holds elected office anymore.

Columbian Transportation & Environment Reporter