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Some Vancouver councilors would refuse salary hike

City attorney outlines referendum process

By , Columbian City Government Reporter
Published: April 25, 2016, 10:03pm

Several Vancouver city councilors on Monday said they would either decline the hefty pay recently allotted by the city Salary Review Commission or donate the extra pay to charity.

“I made a contract with the voters, and part of that contract was the salary,” said Councilor Anne McEnerny-Ogle, who is mayor pro tem. “(A raise) doesn’t work for me and for my position and for my contract with the citizens.”

“I do not need a raise,” said Councilor Bart Hansen, who, along with Councilors Alishia Topper and Jack Burkman, said they would refuse the salary increase. Topper said she might give the excess salary to the Council for the Homeless to address affordable housing issues. Councilor Bill Turlay, who said he was “not looking” for a raise, said he’d consider donating the money to his favorite charities — after first talking it over with his wife.

Salary petition will be at farmers market

Supporters of an effort to repeal the recently approved pay raises for Vancouver’s mayor and city council will be gathering signatures and handing out petitions from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at the Vancouver Farmers Market. The market is downtown at Sixth and Esther streets.

About 2,700 valid signatures must be gathered by May 20 for a referendum to be placed on an election ballot asking Vancouver residents to approve or reject the raises set this month by the city’s salary review commission. To be valid, the signatures must be from city residents who are currently registered to vote.

Royce Pollard, one of two former Vancouver mayors leading the referendum effort, said he doesn’t want to leave petitions in stores for people to sign because he wants someone present to ensure the signatories are registered to vote, live within Vancouver city limits and haven’t signed another referendum petition on the same issue.

For more information, call Royce Pollard at 360-693-7526, Pat Jollota at 360-695-3262 or Bruce Hagensen at 360-694-1841.

Last week, the salary commission increased the mayor’s pay for 2017-18 by 117 percent, from $27,600 to $60,000 a year. City councilors’ pay is rising by 50 percent, from $21,600 to $32,496 a year. The mayor pro tem, a councilor who fills in when the mayor is unavailable, will see a pay boost from $24,000 to $37,500 a year, a 56 percent increase. The five-member volunteer salary commission adopted an ordinance Wednesday setting the salaries.

The large raises prompted two former Vancouver mayors, Royce Pollard and Bruce Hagensen, to create a petition for a citizens’ referendum to repeal the salaries. At a meeting held Sunday attended by roughly 70 people, they distributed referendum petitions, which require at least 2,700 valid signatures to qualify for a ballot measure.

At Monday’s council meeting, City Attorney Bronson Potter explained how the referendum process would work according to the city charter, which authorized the creation of the salary commission. There are two different paths, he said.

The first is that referendum advocates would gather the required number of signatures and present them to the city clerk, who would verify the petition was in the proper form. Then the county auditor would verify the signatures.

If the petition was eligible, the council could vote on whether to repeal the ordinance that sets their salaries for the next two years. If the council’s vote passed, there would be no need for a ballot measure. If the council’s vote failed, the referendum would be placed on November’s ballot.

A ballot measure this year would require the council to make an emergency declaration because municipal elections are held on odd-numbered years, according to the city charter.

Here’s the second path: Following the county auditor’s verification of the petition’s signatures, the council would adopt a resolution by Aug. 2 for a ballot measure with a yes-or-no vote regarding whether the salaries should be repealed.

In both cases, if the salaries were repealed, the Salary Review Commission would have to reconvene, hold at least two public hearings and then reset the salaries by the end of the year, Potter said.

Topper said the petition effort was likely to qualify for a ballot measure, and so the council should make a decision quickly to avoid dragging out a painful and divisive community debate like that of the Columbia River Crossing.

“It distracts from the most important things we need to be accomplishing,” she said, citing affordable housing and funding more police officers.

Mayor Tim Leavitt said the council should let the referendum process unfold.

“If this is really that passionate an issue for the broader community outside this little cabal of individuals, they should collect enough signatures … and we will have before us a requirement to put it on the ballot,” he said.

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