Expect a packed — and likely contentious — first few weeks for the new Clark County council.
Newly-elected council Chair Marc Boldt, no party preference, and councilor Julie Olson, Republican, will take their oaths of office Dec. 29, marking a new era in county politics as the three-member board expands to five under the new county charter. But the time for celebrating will soon give way to a busy January.
The new councilors will be stepping in at a time when the spotlight has been on the controversial policies and culture of the board for some time, recently including a 2 percent cut of the county’s property tax levy, changes to its 20-year zoning and growth plan, and continuing criticism of how the board interacts with other jurisdictions.
That doesn’t even begin to include the slew of new policies Councilor David Madore will introduce at Tuesday’s hearing, which wasn’t originally supposed to happen at all but was scheduled earlier this month.
And when asked if he’d like to see any of the current council’s policies undone, Boldt put it bluntly.
If You Go
• What: Swearing-in ceremony for new Clark County council members. The event will be open to the public.
• Who: Council Chair-Elect Marc Boldt, no party preference, and District 2 Councilor Julie Olson, Republican.
• When: 9 a.m. Dec. 29.
• Where: Public Service Center, 1300 Franklin St. in downtown Vancouver.
“I see rolling back almost all of them,” Boldt said.
Boldt, of course, is only one vote out of five. Olson, who will represent the newly created District 2 in northwest Clark County, offered a more pragmatic answer, but nonetheless signaled change for the county going forward.
“A lot of the topics of 2015 will be under review and consideration as to how we go forward,” Olson said.
High on the priority list for both incoming councilors is the Comprehensive Growth Management Plan update, which has been at the center of heated controversy all year.
Most recently, the county council voted to move ahead with Madore’s zoning proposal, Alternative 4, that would shrink the minimum allowed parcel size for many rural lots. The council also voted to hire an additional consultant, R.W. Thorpe and Associates, to determine whether planning assumptions written by the Republican councilor are rooted in fact.
Though some rural landowners have praised Madore’s work, saying he’s helping restore rural property rights, a number of local land-use attorneys have said Alternative 4 will likely not pass muster in court, saying they would lead to suburban sprawl.
Olson wants to wait to see what the consultants find, but nonetheless says dialing back on Alternative 4 could end up being the right move.
“If we get significant amount of information that says this plan is not legally defensible, I don’t think it’s responsible to go forward with it,” Olson said.
Boldt said he plans to call a work session on the growth plan early in the year to get the new councilors caught up, as well as to hand power back to county staff in the planning process.
“Let the prosecuting attorney have the power to say, ‘This is the law, this is what we have to do,’ ” he said.
Both councilors also said they’d also like the 2 percent property tax decrease back on the table. For Boldt, that could be as soon as Jan. 5 when the council meets as a full board for the first time.
“What will probably happen is the first meeting we’ll have a motion to have another hearing the next week … to put it back where it was before,” Boldt said.
Olson called on recent heavy raining and flooding, as well as the tornado in Battle Ground, as examples of unexpected costs to the county. If staff advises against continuing with the tax cut, Olson said she’d like to reconsider it.
“We have to take a look at what our responsibilities are for these unforeseen events,” I think it’s something that we’re going to have to look at honestly and realistically and get input from staff on where we are financially.”
‘The business of the county’
Above all, however, both councilors offered an optimistic view for the new year.
“It’s going to be a very productive transition in the next couple months. It will be,” Olson said. “It’s going to be a little bumpy. We’re just going to do the business of the county. Do it in the right way for the right reasons.”
Both listed among their priorities improving the flow of regular meetings, relying less on the council’s often controversial Wednesday board time meetings and more on staff-led work sessions, and improving relationships with other boards and the public.
“I think hopefully, getting the county back to the purpose that the county was created,” Boldt said.
The county will hold a small ceremony at 9 a.m. Dec. 29 at the Public Service Center on 1300 Franklin Street in downtown Vancouver. The event will be open to the public.