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News / Clark County News

Press Talk: Is there any way out of this?

By Lou Brancaccio, Columbian Editor
Published: May 1, 2016, 6:10am

(This is the second part of a two-part column examining raises for the Vancouver mayor and city council.)

The mayor isn’t helping

I’ve said before that I like Mayor Tim Leavitt. He’s done well by Vancouver and should be commended. But — like me — he’s not immune from doing stupid stuff.

And on this issue of the mayor’s 117-percent pay hike given to him and future mayors by an appointed Salary Review Commission, he’s really stepped in it.

The raise has so outraged some members of our community, a petition drive is underway to get the raise question on the ballot to try and throw it out.

Here are a couple of examples of Leavitt’s missteps:

Leavitt went before this Salary Review Commission to speak in favor of the huge raises he and the city councilors will receive. And at that meeting he said this:

“Today there is nobody more knowledgable and credible than I to discuss the responsibilities and commitments of elected office here in the city of Vancouver.”

Huh?

As he was speaking those words, two former Vancouver mayors were sitting 10 feet away from him. Now, some might argue they, too, have a little knowledge and credibility on responsibilities and commitments of elected officials.

Sure, they happen to disagree with Leavitt, but that doesn’t make them less credible. That was unbecoming.

• • •

If that wasn’t enough, at the city council meeting Monday, Leavitt described the group that was organizing a petition to get this raise issue on the ballot as a cabal.

Huh?

A cabal is defined as a group secretly uniting to plot against the government. It conjures up a scene of black-robed men and women who know the secret handshake, which gets them into a darkened basement with no windows, where they whisper about next steps.

Instead, what’s really at play here is a very open discussion by several prominent citizens who happen to disagree with this huge raise that brings the part-time mayor’s salary to $60,000 a year. That comment was also unbecoming.

In fact, former Mayor Royce Pollard — who is part of this so-called cabal — was just a little bit heated when he heard that. He left me a phone message. I’ve opted not to share it because — well — it needed too many bleeps. He wasn’t happy.

A way out

Let’s be honest here. Most members of the city council are looking for a way out of this gunk the Salary Review Commission put them in.

They will not say that directly, of course, but they get the mess they’re in.

For example, there’s no other way to interpret the decision of several councilors to say publicly they won’t accept the raise. They disagree with what the Salary Review Commission has done.

But refusing raises doesn’t resolve the mess.

And that’s why there is this petition drive going on now to try and get the raise question on the ballot.

For now, the city councilors are waiting to see how the petition drive plays out. One thing for certain, this issue can’t go away quickly enough, as far they’re concerned.

Another route?

City attorneys have been scrambling, trying to figure out the legal issues surrounding this raise. It’s quite the maze because of the separation needed between those getting the raise (city councilors) and those giving the raise (salary commissioners). For example, at first, City Attorney Bronson Potter advised the city council they actually could put the raise question on a ballot before signatures were gathered. Then late Friday, Potter apologized to the councilors, saying he was wrong.

He also cleared up another issue.  If enough signatures are gathered, it would have to go the Nov. 6 general election ballot.

But there’s another legal way to move this issue forward. If citizens get enough signatures, the city council could simply move to negate the raises without it ever getting to the ballot.

Now, if that happens, the raise issue reverts back to the Salary Review Commission, and who knows what these characters would do then.

Oh my! Stay tuned.

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Columbian Editor