General election ballots have already arrived in the mailboxes of Vancouver residents, and now local voters will have some decisions to make: who should sit in four city council seats, and whether to make changes to the city charter.
Here’s a crash course on Vancouver issues up for a vote:
Changes to the charter
Every five years, a volunteer citizen committee gets together and talks about revisions to the city’s foundational document.
Over the course of a few months, this Charter Review Committee holds a series of meetings. Their discussions could include a major structural change in how the city ought to be run. Others might just involve housekeeping — cleaning up a document that’s 68 years old.
They send their nonbinding recommendations to the city council, which can elect to put them on the ballot or shelve them. No changes can be made to the city charter without majority voter approval.
Most of the seven changes to the city charter on the Nov. 5 ballot fall into the “housekeeping” category. Prop. 2, for example, clarifies that the residency requirements imposed on city council candidates also apply to city council appointments (especially relevant now, as three current city councilors first won their seats through appointments).
Prop. 4 gives the city more flexibility in how to pay its bills — it would update the charter to let council approve regular expenses immediately after the checks are sent, instead of before. Council already does that anyway. Prop. 7 removes the phrase “police judge” from the charter, a job which no longer exists.
The most substantive question before voters is Prop. 1, or whether to increase the number of people who decide what city councilors should be paid. The change is in response to a 2016 incident, in which three people hijacked the five-person salary review commission and recommended enormous raises to the mayor and council.
Prop. 1 expands the salary review commission from five people to seven. It also ties maximum annual council raises to the Consumer Price Index.
More notable, perhaps, is the Charter Review Committee proposal that did not make it to the ballot: Divide the city into three electoral districts, as a way to potentially drum up more candidates from underrepresented groups and neighborhoods. Past and present city councils skew west-side and white.
The current city council shelved the proposal, though the committee had identified districting as its top priority. Instead, the council decided to form and appoint a new Task Force on Council Representation.
Pos. 6: Different kinds of veterans
Two veterans — one a military veteran, one a veteran of Clark County politics for the last 20 years — are in the running for Vancouver City Council Position 6.
The seat is wide open. Councilor Bill Turlay, 82, isn’t seeking a third term.
One candidate, Jeanne Stewart, has appeared on local ballots for the last 20 years in various capacities. She served on the Vancouver City Council for 12 years before sitting for a single term as a Republican on the Clark County Council.
She’s up against Sarah Fox, a city of Camas urban planner who served in the U.S. Army during the Gulf War. Fox hasn’t served on the city council, but she was previously a finalist to fill a council vacancy in 2018 that ultimately went to Laurie Lebowsky. Fox ran for the seat later that year and lost narrowly to Lebowsky.
Stewart and Fox both eked out a victory from a crowded primary race with around 22 percent of the vote apiece. The margins were narrow: Fox outpolled Stewart by 123 votes.
Their most substantive difference in opinion is over A Stronger Vancouver, a plan that would eliminate the city’s budget deficit, catch up on recession-era deferred maintenance and launch around 35 capital projects over the next decade including fire stations, parks and a new Operations Center. It’s expected to add around $30 million annually in taxes and fees.
Stewart has said she’s worried about the cost of the plan, especially its impact on property taxes. Fox has said she wants the city council to move forward, after better clarifying its priorities.
Two incumbents challenged …
Two sitting members of the Vancouver City Council are being challenged in their bids for re-election.
David Regan, a local bail bondsman, is running against Position 5 Councilor Ty Stober. Maureen McGoldrick, a former lawyer, launched a race against Erik Paulsen, who holds Position 2.
The latter race seems likely to go to Paulsen. The incumbent won 64.7 percent of the vote in a three-way August primary, compared with McGoldrick’s 20.5 percent.
McGoldrick has appeared at two League of Women Voters forums this election cycle, but otherwise engaged in very little campaigning. She has no website or social media presence, and reported no campaign contributions to the Public Disclosure Commission.
In 2017, McGoldrick advanced through a primary with about 17 percent of the vote before losing to Scott Campbell in the general election (Campbell died just before Election Day, launching the aforementioned council vacancy process that saw Lebowsky appointed).
In a League of Women Voters forum earlier this month, McGoldrick said that a women’s homeless shelter was her top priority.
Paulsen was appointed in 2019 to succeed Alishia Topper after she was elected Clark County treasurer. A strategy manager for U.S. Bank Wealth Management, he’s said his campaign motto is “thoughtful leadership.”
At the same forum, Paulsen identified his top priorities as tackling the city’s overall homelessness problem and attracting family-wage employers.
The Regan vs. Stober matchup is a bit more of a wild card. The race didn’t appear on the primary ballot, so there’s no quantifiable level of voter support for either candidate.
It’s also the most expensive race in Vancouver by a long shot. Stober has spent around $31,000 on his re-election campaign. Regan spent just over $25,000. Both have sent campaign mailers and sprinkled signs throughout the city.
In a conversation with The Columbian’s Editorial Board, the two men differed in their opinion of A Stronger Vancouver — Regan agreed with some of the programs in the package but was skeptical of many of the capital projects, while Stober said he feels the entire proposal is a worthy investment in the community.
Stober also supports the city’s involvement in combating homelessness, including the day center at the Navigation Center. Regan said homelessness problems and solutions start with “a heart perspective.”
… And one incumbent unchallenged
Mayor Pro Tem Bart Hansen is also up for re-election on Nov. 5, but he doesn’t have an opponent.
Nonetheless, the three-term councilor and accounts manager at Clark Public Utilities has raised around $4,400 and spent $2,800 on his re-election campaign.