In his campaign to retain his seat on the Clark County Council, Gary Medvigy said he doesn’t want to repeat the mistake of former President George H.W. Bush.
When accepting the Republican Party’s nomination for president in 1988, Bush famously uttered: “Read my lips: no new taxes.” Bush won the election but the pledge haunted him as the country struggled with a recession.
Speaking to The Columbian Editorial Board last week, Medvigy, a Republican, said that while he’s worked to prevent tax hikes while serving the council he wouldn’t make a pledge similar to Bush’s.
“It’s irresponsible,” he said. “We have a fiduciary duty to the county.”
Medvigy referred to the position of his Democratic challenger, Adrian Cortes, who has said that if elected he wouldn’t support any tax increases until the county improves efficiencies.
Later this year, the Clark County Council will approve next year’s annual budget, which could include a 1 percent increase of the county’s property tax levy. During the interview, Medvigy said that he pushed back against using new taxes when the county council began considering funding options for infrastructure improvements in an undeveloped area north of Vancouver.
“And that’s certainly my goal, unquestionably, no new taxes,” he said, dismissing his opponent’s position as “pandering.” “But I wouldn’t make any promises. I don’t think that’s responsible.”
A former U.S. Army general, prosecutor and California Superior Court judge, Medvigy and his wife retired to Clark County in 2016. Medvigy described retirement as a “culture shock,” and he was soon looking for a way to serve. When county Councilor Eileen Quiring was elected council chair, Medvigy was appointed to her seat representing the rural district in January.
During the interview, Medvigy touched upon the county’s aging jail, the budget and future bridges to Oregon.
Fixing the jail
In September, a task force tasked with looking into the county’s options for its outdated jail presented its report to the Clark County Council. The task force determined that the overcrowded jail is not suited for practices intended to address underlying behavioral or substance abuse problems of inmates. While the report answered questions such as the number of beds the jail would need, it stopped short of making specific recommendations due to the untenable costs of building a new facility.
After reading the task force’s report, Medvigy says he supports remodeling the current facilities.
“We need some new structures,” he said. “We need to add some additional bed space for behavioral support, addiction, detox, mental health. We need to grow some aspects of the jail infrastructure and then remodel.”
He said he didn’t believe the jail’s existing footprint is large enough and said that the jail work center off Northwest Lower River Road could be used for some additional functions. But he added that moving inmates between the courthouse and the center will create logistical challenges. He also said the county needs to have clear policies in place regarding the release of inmates prior to trial.
Medvigy could play a key role as the county continues pondering the jail’s future. The Law and Justice Council, comprised of stakeholders in the local criminal justice system, is now evaluating the issue. Earlier this year, Medvigy was appointed chair of the council. The county is expected to go to voters with a bond to pay for a jail remodel or replacement. Medvigy did not have a time frame for when that could happen.
Medvigy spoke highly of Clark County Manager Shawn Henessee’s efforts to find savings as he drafts the county’s upcoming annual budget. He praised Henessee for ending “wish lists” from county departments.
“So he’s doing the taxpayers’ bidding,” said Medvigy. “He’s doing what you would want him to do to stay within budget without looking at raising taxes. But it’s a continuing challenge.”
He said that overtime has been identified as an issue with the county’s budget, which he said could mean there isn’t enough staff or overtime is not being managed properly.
Medvigy said that “we are all losers” from the failure of the Columbia River Crossing, a massive Interstate 5 Bridge replacement project that was scuttled in 2013. Oregon and Washington have recently revived efforts to replace the century-old bridge.
He said that while serving on the Regional Transportation Council he’s been pushing for an “overarching strategic plan” that includes additional corridors. He acknowledged that the I-5 bridge draw bridge was a “bad fit” on an interstate that stretches from Canada to Mexico.
“So I want to see it replaced,” he said, calling for a time frame to be set for its replacement.
And part of that broader plan, he said that light rail to Clark County might make sense someday as the population grows. But currently, he described it as too expensive and inflexible.