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The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.

In Our View: ‘Yes’ on all 7 Vancouver charter amendments

The Columbian
Published: October 16, 2019, 6:03am

In 2016, Vancouver residents were presented with stark evidence of the need for changes to the city’s Salary Review Commission. Proposition No. 1 on the Nov. 5 ballot would amend the city charter to provide that change; The Columbian’s Editorial Board recommends a “yes” vote on the proposition.

In fact, the editorial board recommends that each of seven city charter amendments on the ballot be approved by voters. They are a slate of proposals that would improve the manner in which government serves citizens and have been thoughtfully vetted over several months by a charter review commission.

As always, this is merely a recommendation designed to foster discussion and provide information. The Columbian trusts that voters will examine each proposal before casting an informed ballot.

Among the propositions, No. 1 is likely to draw the most interest from residents. It would cap salary increases for the mayor, mayor pro-tem and council members at the annual rate of the Consumer Price Index for the West Region. Salaries are determined by the appointed Salary Review Commission, which would be increased from five members to seven and could also decrease salaries or make no change. Salary increases greater than the Consumer Price Index would require approval by voters.

The proposal is the result of a controversy from three years ago, when the commission approved a salary increase of 117 percent for the mayor and a 50 percent pay increase for councilors. Public outrage ensued, a petition was filed, and the commission eventually opted for across-the-board raises of 4 percent over two years.

The incident pointed out the shortcomings of a salary commission that has no limits and no oversight. In theory, the commission could raise salaries to $100,000 a year or $1 million a year; the public should not be required to file petitions and raise a ruckus in order to keep a rogue commission under control.

Proposition No. 1 would provide some checks and balances and place ultimate power where it should be — in the hands of voters.

Other proposed amendments to the charter are unlikely to draw as much attention as Proposition No. 1, but they also reflect a desire to better define and to streamline how city government functions. Proposition No. 2, for example, “clarifies that council members who are either elected or appointed to a vacant council seat must have two-year continuous city residency and also clarifies that restriction on simultaneously holding another public office means an ‘elected’ public office.”

Currently, there is no tenure-of-residency requirement for council members who are appointed by sitting councilors to fill a vacancy. Considering that three of the seven current council members initially were appointed to their seats, this issue could come into play more often than many voters realize. The other portion of the amendment addresses the fact that council members are prohibited from simultaneously holding another public office without defining “public office.”

The other propositions on the ballot also address conflicting or unclear language in the current charter or would amend the charter to conform with state law. Overall, they reflect a desire to tighten up the language that determines how Vancouver is governed and to remove loopholes that could lead to legal questions.

The Columbian’s Editorial Board recommends that voters approve each of the city of Vancouver propositions on the Nov. 5 ballot.