Monday, February 6, 2023
Feb. 6, 2023

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Clark County leaders on board with charter

Councilors emphasize the need for teamwork and communication

By , Columbian Transportation & Environment Reporter
Published:

As Clark County continues to tread through the early stages of the transition to a new form of government, the county’s top leaders on Wednesday reiterated a conciliatory tone.

During a regular board time meeting, the three county councilors stressed that they don’t see any power struggle between them and Acting County Manager Mark McCauley. All have emphasized the need for communication and collaboration.

“We’re not adversaries,” said county Councilor David Madore. “We’re team members, and we’re on the same team.”

Voters approved a home-rule charter form of government in November. Among other changes, the charter will replace the three county commissioners with a five-member council, and shift executive authority to the county manager. Some of those changes, including the transfer of executive power, already took effect Jan. 1.

The three county commissioners became county councilors. McCauley, the former county administrator, became acting county manager and assumed a new job description. Two additional councilors, including a county chair, will be elected later this year, with the full five-member council seated in 2016.

County leaders have spent recent weeks discussing how to implement the charter during the next year. County Councilor Tom Mielke has called for “outside counsel” to review the charter and help interpret it — a stance he repeated Wednesday. Having another voice would help sort out where certain responsibilities fall if they’re not specified in the document itself. Councilor Jeanne Stewart said that idea has merit.

“The charter can’t prescribe everything,” she said.

The charter was written by an elected board of freeholders last year, with guidance from the county’s legal staff.

Stewart, Madore and Mielke all publicly opposed the charter before last November’s election. All have since said they intend to follow the wishes of county voters.

“The charter sets the rule. We don’t,” Mielke said. “And we need to follow, to the letter, the charter.”

Even with lengthy discussions on the subject already this year, Madore said he doesn’t yet feel there’s a substantial disagreement on how to implement the charter among county leaders. That will remain so as long as one side doesn’t push for “unilateral changes” without communicating them, he said.

Stewart said the new legislative and executive branches of the county should convey a unified message to the public about the charter implementation. People may have the perception that the charter took away an old government that gave all power to the county commissioners, and gave it all to the county manager, she said. Neither is true, Stewart said.

“It’s not a marginalized council, and it’s not a marginalized manager,” Stewart said.

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Columbian Transportation & Environment Reporter