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News / Politics / Clark County Politics

Drive to repeal raises for Vancouver council, mayor kicks off

Hagensen, Pollard send volunteers out to gather signatures

By Stevie Mathieu, Columbian Assistant Metro Editor
Published: April 24, 2016, 6:30pm
3 Photos
Former Vancouver Mayors Bruce Hagensen, left, and Royce Pollard, explain a petition drive in late April for a ballot measure that would ask voters if the pay increases recently granted to Vancouver's mayor and City Council should be repealed.
Former Vancouver Mayors Bruce Hagensen, left, and Royce Pollard, explain a petition drive in late April for a ballot measure that would ask voters if the pay increases recently granted to Vancouver's mayor and City Council should be repealed. (Steve Dipaola for the Columbian) Photo Gallery

A group of community leaders on Sunday kicked off their effort to undo the pay raises recently approved for Vancouver’s mayor and city council — salary increases that former Mayor Royce Pollard called “outrageous.”

He and Bruce Hagensen, another former mayor of Vancouver, stood before a crowd of about 70 people who had filed into the IAFF Local 425 union hall in west Vancouver to learn about a potential referendum to repeal the raises.

While most city employees will receive about a 3 percent raise in 2017, the current mayor will receive a 117 percent raise next year, and council members will get about a 50 percent raise, thanks to a decision made last week by the city’s salary commission, Pollard said.

The two former mayors, 300 petition sheets in hand, asked if people would be willing to collect signatures to get a referendum on the November ballot.

Public meeting

Supporters of an effort to repeal the recently approved raises for Vancouver's mayor and city council plan to meet again at 7 p.m. May 2, most likely at the IAFF Local 425 union hall, 2807 N.W. Fruit Valley Road, Vancouver. For more information, call Royce Pollard at 360-693-7526.  

Most in the crowd raised their hands in the affirmative.

The referendum would ask Vancouver residents to approve or reject the raises. About 2,700 valid petition signatures are needed for a referendum. The group’s goal is to gather 4,000 signatures, which would give them a cushion in case some signatures aren’t valid.   

There’s not much time to pull it all off, Pollard said. The effort has a 30-day window that started on Wednesday, when the Salary Review Commission approved the raises with a 3-2 vote. That means the group’s deadline to collect all of the signatures is May 18.

“We have a very short time frame, so we need to crank it up and get going,” Hagensen said.

People gathering signatures don’t need to be Vancouver residents, but people signing the petition must be registered to vote and live within city limits. People also can’t sign the petition more than once, organizers said.

The former mayors said they weren’t opposed to a modest raise for the mayor and council, who are elected to positions intended to be part time. But their recently approved pay increases are too high considering that Vancouver also has a city manager who earns more than $200,000 a year to handle administrative duties, the former mayors said.

“It flies in the face of how our city charter is set up,” Hagensen said of the raises. The mayor and the council “do not work eight hours a day, or 14 hours a day, for the city. … The mayor and the council set policy, and the city manager administrates.”

The raises passed by the salary commission increase the mayor’s pay from $27,600 to $60,000 a year and the city councilors’ pay from $21,600 to $32,496 a year, starting in January. The mayor pro tem, a council member who fills in while the mayor is out, will see a pay boost from $24,000 to $37,500 a year.

Mayor Tim Leavitt, who lobbied hard for the salary hike and who will benefit from the pay raise for at least one year before his term ends, has said that the raises will help attract diverse mayoral and city council candidates.

Under Vancouver’s city charter, the five people on the salary commission, who are appointed by the mayor, have absolute power to set the salaries, and the commission’s decision is not subject to review by the city council.

That process was cause for concern for many people inside the Vancouver Fire Fighters Union hall on Sunday afternoon.

Vancouver resident Marilyn Ervin said she isn’t opposed to a small pay raise, but she couldn’t support such a large raise for elected positions that should be sought as a public service, not a career.   

“I don’t appreciate the way it was done,” Ervin added. “We don’t have any input about it at all.”

“I think the (salary) commission should be abolished,” said Barbara Daniels, who sat on the city’s Salary Review Commission in 2008 and 2010. She added that perhaps cost-of-living increases for the mayor and council could be approved by voters. At the very least, she said, members of the salary commission should not be appointed by the very person who could benefit financially from their decision.

Daniels also sat on the city’s charter review panel in 2009, when she unsuccessfully pushed to reform the salary review process, she said.

Some in the crowd worried that even if the referendum gets on the November ballot and voters overturn the pay increases, the salary commission could just pass a similar raise again. Pollard said he would hope the commission would listen to the voters.

If not, “our next gathering will be on the steps of City Hall,” he said.

Hagensen asked that supporters each leave with about three petition sheets, each with space for 15 signatures. The group planned to meet again at 7 p.m. May 2 at the same union hall, 2807 N.W. Fruit Valley Road, to check on their progress. Pollard said the location might change, but he would get the word out if it did.

Hagensen appeared eager to see how the petition will be received, adding that he saw an interest in repealing the raises before Sunday’s meeting.

“I’ve already had five people stop me on the street and ask for a petition,” he said.

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Other community leaders supporting the effort include former Clark County Sheriff Garry Lucas, former Vancouver City Councilor Pat Jollota, former state lawmaker and Clark County Commissioner Betty Sue Morris, former Mayor pro Tem Larry Smith, former Identity Clark County Executive Director Ginger Metcalf and current salary review Commissioner Stan Girt.

The firefighters union merely provided a public meeting space on Sunday and has not taken a stance on the referendum effort, organizers said.

Columbian Assistant Metro Editor