The Clark County Council has created an ad hoc committee to review an ethics complaint filed last week against Chair Eileen Quiring over her handling of recent discussions on systemic racism.
Following the council’s code of ethical conduct, two councilors — Gary Medvigy and Julie Olson — were appointed to serve on the three-person committee. Additional specifics, including the selection of a county resident to head the committee, will be discussed at a future meeting.
The complaint, filed Thursday by longtime county critic Bridget McLeman, alleges that Quiring violated the council’s code of ethical conduct and rules of procedure in several instances in the past few weeks. It alleges that several of her comments and actions violated one of the principles in the code that requires councilors to “perform the duties of public office with fairness and impartiality so as to enhance public confidence in county government.”
The statement that has captured the most attention came during a council time meeting June 24, when Quiring said that she does “not agree that we have systemic racism in our county. Period.” Quiring has since defended her comments and rejected calls for her resignation.
Quiring challenged the basis of the complaint in a text message Friday, saying she was “disheartened.” Despite joining the unanimous vote Tuesday to create the committee, the chair maintained that position.
“I think that this particular complaint has no merit, but the ad hoc committee will determine that,” Quiring said.
Interim County Manager Kathleen Otto said at the beginning of the meeting Tuesday that the county had since received a second complaint, which was filed by Vancouver resident Cheryl Aichele. The council then moved into an executive session to discuss the complaints.
Later, Chief Civil Deputy Emily Sheldrick of the county’s Prosecuting Attorney’s Office said that she reviewed Aichele’s rules of procedure complaint related to the fact that Quiring serves on the Clark County Law Library Board of Trustees. Because the complaint concerned the law library board specifically, it is irrelevant in terms of the council’s own rules of procedure, Sheldrick said.
Councilors unanimously voted to decline sending the second complaint to the ad hoc committee.
Otto said that the council received between 56 and 60 written public comments ahead of Tuesday’s meeting. Since the council has been meeting remotely due to COVID-19, it has only been accepting written comments.
On Saturday, the Clark County Republican Party published a document titled, “The MOB is here in Clark County. And it is NOW time for the counterforce …” The document calls on party members to push back against protest movements in the past few weeks and come to Quiring’s defense.
The document says that the majority of citizens have reached a tipping point due to several recent events, including, “the MOB’S demand that politicians who do not bow to the MOB resign immediately. Most recently with Clark County Councilor Eileen Quiring.”
On June 27, the NAACP Vancouver and League of United Latin American Citizens called on Quiring to resign. A resignation petition that began circulating online June 27 had more than 7,300 signatures as of Tuesday afternoon.
Ed Hamilton Rosales, president of Southwest Washington League of United Latin American Citizens, Council 47013, wrote in an email Tuesday that the organization would welcome any opportunity for a civil conversation. On June 30, LULAC, the NAACP Vancouver, YWCA Clark County and the Clark County Volunteer Lawyers Program sent a letter to the council requesting a listening session.
“Systemic racism isn’t a partisan issue and shouldn’t be made as such — we should all be working to eradicate it,” Hamilton Rosales said. “I personally do find it interesting the use of the term ‘MOB’ was heard at last week’s county council time implying a connection to the organizations who requested a listening session with Clark County Council. Now, in this letter, the same connotation is made.”
Golik decries racism
Also on Tuesday, Clark County Prosecutor Tony Golik, in a joint letter with the Clark County Prosecuting Attorney’s Action and Reform Committee, said that systemic racism exists in Clark County — including systemic racism in the criminal justice system “of which we are a part.”
“To deny it is to perpetuate it. Systemic racism has its roots in our history, our laws, and our culture. But it is not always overt and obvious. It is hidden in the structures of our society,” the letter reads. “Even when its operation is invisible, its devastating, generational impacts can be seen throughout our community.”
The letter says that the experiences described by many who have suffered from racism “should be enough,” but it said empirical evidence also proves that it exists. Specifically, the letter referenced racial disparities in public schools’ discipline and hiring practices, higher education outcomes and access to health care.
“It is time to change. What we have been doing as a society simply is not working,” the letter reads. “We in the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office have the power to evaluate policies, laws and practices to change those that have contributed to institutional racism.”
The attorneys commended Clark County Sheriff Chuck Atkins and Vancouver Police Chief James McElvain for removing “thin blue line” and “blue lives matter” iconography from public property. They said that removing the symbols was not an easy decision and that the meaning of symbols is not always universal or perpetual.
“Our law enforcement community is listening and learning, and we commend that process and progress,” the letter reads. “When we hear difficult truths about our community, we must reject the instinct to be defensive. We must reject the desire to put ourselves in the right and we absolutely must reject the temptation to turn a blind eye and say that racial inequity and systemic racism are only problems in other communities. We need to put aside those instincts to truly be able to hear what marginalized voices are saying.”
The attorneys said they are committed to educating themselves, listening to those impacted by systemic injustice and pursuing anti-racist policies “to truly ensure equal justice under the law.”
“We make the commitment to the community to actively educate ourselves and listen to the members of our community who have been impacted by systemic injustice,” the letter reads. “We commit to pursuing anti-racist policies to truly ensure equal justice under the law.”