Monday, September 21, 2020
Sept. 21, 2020

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Doug Lasher retires after more than three decades as Clark County treasurer

Service, modernization his legacy

By , Columbian political reporter
Published:
3 Photos
Retired Clark County Treasurer Doug Lasher is pictured at the Public Service Center in Vancouver.
Retired Clark County Treasurer Doug Lasher is pictured at the Public Service Center in Vancouver. (Alisha Jucevic/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

During the last week of his last term as Clark County treasurer, the walls and shelves in Doug Lasher’s second-floor office had been mostly cleared off.

Next to the window, overlooking a parking lot and Mill Plain Boulevard, remained frames containing his oath of office, as well as two tax warrants. The tax warrants are aging documents from 1930 and 1957, respectively, that functioned like checks for the treasurer’s office. For Lasher, they served as reminders of just how much the office has changed.

Lasher, who became treasurer in 1984, oversaw an office responsible for collecting and processing the annual taxes and assessments for 148,000 billable parcels, while also managing funds for local school districts and overseeing banking functions of 42 taxing districts.

While it’s a government function many residents would rather forget about, Lasher said he’s sought to move the treasurer’s office from relying on slow, tedious labor to more digitally streamlined and customer-oriented operations. Each time he came up for re-election during his 34 years in office, Lasher, a Democrat, recalled how there was always one more project he wanted to see through.

“It takes more than just four years to do this job,” said Lasher, a bespectacled, soft-spoken and owlish 69-year-old with neatly combed hair. He speaks cheerily about taxes, computer systems, mortgages, state statutes and other dry facets of government.

His work won him accolades, including the Outstanding County Treasurer Award presented by the National Association of County Collectors, Treasurers and Finance Officers in 2018. He’s also won praise from others in county government.

“I think his lasting impact, really, was bringing Clark County and the treasurer’s office into the electronic age,” said Republican county Assessor Peter Van Nortwick, who worked closely with Lasher and described him as affable, knowledgeable and dedicated to whatever he pursues.

Now, Lasher said he wants to pursue more time helping out his mother, completing some deferred projects at home, working on a history of the treasurer’s office and studying his genealogy. (He’s already discovered he’s related to a county official in Minnesota). Not wanting to be a politician in his 70s, Lasher said it was time to give someone else a chance to run the office.

Progress

Lasher grew up in Hazel Dell in a household where politics were regularly discussed, and his father was active in the local Democratic Party. He graduated from Columbia River High School and later Lewis & Clark College in Portland, where he obtained degrees in political science and a master’s in public administration.

Ron Dotzauer, the CEO and founder of public affairs firm Strategies 360, recalled meeting Lasher at a pivotal point in his career.

Dotzauer said Lasher was one of the first people he met after moving to Vancouver in 1972 to work on Don Bonker’s campaign for secretary of state. Bonker lost his race and encouraged Dotzauer to run for his old job as Clark County auditor. Dotzauer recalled driving around with Lasher in a big, orange Volkswagen van distributing campaign literature in rural Clark County.

“He thought so strategically and politically, it was really amazing,” Dotzauer said. “I’ve said this to other people, ‘Doug Lasher did targeting before anyone else did targeting.’ ”

Before targeting — directing a candidate’s messages to specific voters — became a mainstay of modern political campaigns, Dotzauer said that Lasher knew the voting history of county residents and figured out the right doors to knock on.

“I would have not won without Doug Lasher,” Dotzauer said. “He kept pushing me and pushing me.”

Lasher remained active in local politics and worked various government jobs. He said that he never set out thinking about running for elected office himself until 1984 when June Sparks stepped down as county treasurer midway through her term. At the time, Lasher was working in the auditor’s office and decided to apply for the position, and later beat an opponent to win a full term.

After being appointed county treasurer, Lasher recalled seeing stacks of paper and shoe boxes full of tax statements that needed to be processed manually. He said that property owners would send in tax payments knowing they had possibly months to come up with the money before their payment was processed. But Lasher said that the processing time became shorter as he steadily found ways to streamline and computerize the office’s operations.

He also was consistently returned to office by voters, facing only two opponents since being elected to a full term.

“You have your obstacles and stumbles along the way,” Lasher said. “But at least you’re progressing in a manner that’s expected by the citizens of our community.”

Republican Clark County Auditor Greg Kimsey said that Lasher was forward-looking with his office. He pointed to how the treasurer’s office set up a remittance center with Clark Public Utilities to process payments, which Lasher moved to shut down after more people opted to pay online. Another accomplishment Kimsey pointed to was Lasher pooling the county’s investments, which he said produced a higher yield.

Perhaps the most visible change he contributed to was the creation of the joint lobby with the assessor, auditor and treasurer’s offices in 2001. The idea of the joint lobby was to provide a one-stop shop for customers with business with the assessor, auditor or treasurer’s offices, instead of bouncing them around. Creating the joint lobby required a change to state law that Kimsey said was resisted by many county treasurers, but it was overcome, in part, by Lasher’s engagement in Olympia.

“He’s not just sitting back and being a passive participant,” Kimsey said. “He’s been a very active participant in the legislative process.”

Tax man

After being elected treasurer of Benton County in 2002 as a Republican, Duane Davidson recalled getting an unexpected phone call from Lasher who offered him help with the new job. Now state treasurer, Davidson said the two developed a close friendship.

While they sometimes disagreed, Davidson said their arguments were always constructive and helped each side reconsider or sharpen their ideas. Davidson said that Lasher has been focused on customer service, realizing that most people’s interaction with the government happens at the local level.

“He never took himself so seriously he wasn’t out there on tax day helping out where he could,” Davidson said.

Paying taxes may not be the most popular interaction people have with local government, but Lasher said that for each of the 67 tax seasons he was in office, he was out in the lobby talking to the public. He recalled one tax season he lost his voice after taking 300 phone calls.

“I like to talk to (taxpayers) about the value they get for their tax dollars,” said Lasher, who reminded property owners that their insurance will increase without funding fire districts. In particular, Lasher said he highlighted the importance of education, which he said is “key to having a civilized society.”

Being successful as county treasurer requires a blend of technical and political skills, Lasher said. It was easier to step down, he said, knowing that his successor, Alishia Topper, was uniquely qualified after serving on the Vancouver City Council and as tax services manager for the treasurer’s office.

Looking back, Lasher said that each year was a building block for further changes, but he added, “there’s a time to move on.”

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