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News / Clark County News

Press Talk: Will an angry community act?

By Lou Brancaccio, Columbian Editor
Published: April 24, 2016, 6:10am
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“Well, here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten me into.”

couldn’t help but think of this classic line as I look around our beautiful, precious county and see the muck we keep having to dig ourselves out of.

The line was delivered by Oliver Hardy as he and Stan Laurel bumbled their way though life.

And — unfortunately — that’s what Vancouver is doing now. It has decided to play in (dramatic pause required here) The Stupid Zone. It’s a lot like “The Twilight Zone,” only significantly more stupid.

The mess I’m talking about, of course, centers around Vancouver’s Salary Review Commission. If you missed it, this appointed commission decided to give the mayor a 117 percent raise! Oh yeah, and the commission is appointed by the mayor.

Go figure.

You see, the public naïvely thought if it took the raise decision out of the politicians’ hands and put it into an appointed commission’s hands, stupid stuff wouldn’t happen. How’s that workin’ out for us?

No checks and balances

Let me make this very simple. If this Salary Review Commission decided to make the mayor’s salary $1 million a year, there is nothing you can do about it.

Capisce?

This appointed commission has no oversight.

And, please, let’s not count the onerous and awkward referendum process as oversight. If voters had to use that every time a political type did something stupid, we’d all be in a constant referendum mode.

Still, with no other recourse available to us common folk, a committee is now being formed to try to overturn this outrageous raise through a referendum. It meets at 2:30 p.m. today at 2807 N.W. Fruit Valley Road. The public is invited. Get involved.

Charter change needed

If you went to — or watched — Monday’s Vancouver City Council meeting, you never would have known of the storm clouds building just outside the doors. Not a word was spoken about this crazy raise or how scary a Salary Review Commission is without any oversight. Remember, it could give all these city councilors a million-dollar raise next time.

The councilors should have begun a discussion on how to change the charter to bring oversight to this raise process. We’ll see if they have the courage — well, it’s really more common sense than courage — to step up and do something.

Butt backward

Regardless of what you think of this crazy raise, the process is backward. Here’s why.

Listen closely to what Thomas Hackett said. He’s one of the members of the Salary Review Commission who voted to boost the mayor’s salary to $60,000 a year. He said he wanted more money for the part-time mayor position to allow more people to run. That — in turn — changes everything. It now becomes a job rather than a public service opportunity.

Noble reasoning, right?

But here’s the problem. That should not be — and is not — the role of the Salary Review Commission.

If Vancouver wants to make that kind of a sea change, there should be a community discussion. List the pros and cons. Discuss what a mayor should and should not do. After that discussion takes place, we could talk about what the mayor’s salary should be.

Instead, we got it backward. This review commission raised the mayor’s pay to try to force the change in the mayor’s role. Not your job, commissioners.

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I had an opportunity to speak to Hackett about this and — honestly — I think he gets it. Maybe I’m being naïve, but I think he now sees it from this perspective.

Listening to the people

Hackett has heard the rumblings in the community after he made the raise decision and said he wished more of them had come forward beforehand. But that suggests he really doesn’t understand the way the world works.

I told him there is an expectation that leaders in our community will do the right thing. So you don’t hear from the community beforehand. However, when you do stupid stuff that angers and disappoints them … you will hear from them.

Stepping up

So now we’ll see if the community is willing to step up to right a wrong and if the city council is willing to step up to do the same. Let’s hope so.

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Columbian Editor