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Wednesday, June 7, 2023
June 7, 2023

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Opponents of Vancouver pay hikes deliver petition signatures

Next step: Officials will need to verify the signatures

By , Columbian City Government Reporter
4 Photos
Former Vancouver Mayor Bruce Hagensen, second from right, and City Clerk Lloyd Tyler, right, look through a box of signed petitions Thursday at City Hall. The petition seeks to let voters decide whether the Vancouver City Council&#039;s pay hikes should be rescinded.
Former Vancouver Mayor Bruce Hagensen, second from right, and City Clerk Lloyd Tyler, right, look through a box of signed petitions Thursday at City Hall. The petition seeks to let voters decide whether the Vancouver City Council's pay hikes should be rescinded. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

In a move to retract the Vancouver City Council’s recent increases in pay, former Vancouver Mayor Bruce Hagensen ceremoniously turned over a box of 316 referendum petitions bearing 3,753 signatures to the city clerk Thursday afternoon.

“Don’t lose them,” Hagensen told City Clerk Lloyd Tyler, who is also the city’s chief financial officer.

“They’re in good hands,” Tyler replied.

The audience of about a dozen petition supporters watching the action in the Vancouver City Hall lobby broke into applause.

“We did a good job,” said former City Councilor Pat Jollota, one of the petition effort’s organizers.

If the petition has enough valid signatures and is certified, the City Council could immediately vote to repeal the ordinance that set the council’s higher pay for 2017-2018. Or the council could refer the ordinance to voters to consider repealing in November’s election. In either case, if the salaries were retracted, the city Salary Review Commission would have to reconvene to reset the salaries before the end of the year.

Tyler has 10 days to review the petition to ensure that it’s in compliance with the city charter and that the count of signatures per page is accurate. However, he expects to have the task completed in the next day or two, he said.

Next, he’ll submit the signatures to the Clark County Elections office, which will verify the signatures’ validity and quantity. That process typically takes a couple of weeks, Tyler said. The county auditor will return the petition to the City Clerk for potential certification.

The petition needs about 2,800 signatures to qualify for a ballot measure. To be valid, signatures need to be from currently registered voters who live within Vancouver city limits. That excludes thousands of voters who have Vancouver mailing addresses, including most residents of Hazel Dell, Felida and Orchards.

The petition submittal comes a month after the city Salary Review Commission dramatically boosted the mayor and city council’s salaries. The five-member volunteer commission has no oversight.

On April 20, the 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.

Jollota, who served on the Vancouver City Council from 1990 to 2010, said the raises were “absolutely ridiculous and uncalled for. It’s a part-time job. … It’s called public service.”

Mayor Tim Leavitt, a professional engineer who has been mayor since 2009, has said that being mayor of the fourth-largest city in Washington has evolved into a seven-day-a-week job and warrants a much higher salary than he’s making now. Leavitt has said he’s “99 percent sure” he will step down when his four-year mayoral term concludes at the end of 2017, even if the pay hikes stay in effect.

“If the job is too much for him, I would say resign,” Jollota said Thursday. “And that’s perfectly all right.”

Larry Smith, who retired at the end of 2015 after 12 years on the Vancouver City Council, called the pay bump “completely outrageous.”

He said a 5 percent increase would make sense, but a high salary could entice people to keep their council seats permanently, like politicians in Congress. Smith also didn’t want to see what was intended to be a part-time job of setting policy become a full-time gig, caught up in the politics of running a city.

Under Vancouver’s city manager form of government, City Manager Eric Holmes, whose annual salary is $210,000, oversees the administrative duties. The mayor and city council set policy and represent the city on various boards and public events.

All seven city councilors have signed the petition except for Ty Stober and Mayor Tim Leavitt. Some councilors have said voters should change the city charter to provide checks and balances on the salary commission.

Columbian City Government Reporter