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News / Politics / Clark County Politics

Clark County Council suspends ethics complaints review process

By Jack Heffernan, Columbian county government and small cities reporter
Published: July 26, 2020, 6:00am

The Clark County Council has suspended its review process for councilors accused of violating its Code of Ethics.

The six-month suspension, approved unanimously by the council Wednesday, comes after four complaints were filed against three of the five councilors this month. Since the review process was finalized in 2016, it hadn’t been initiated until this month.

“We’re not trying to not do this work,” Councilor Julie Olson said. “But the way this is set up right now, we just don’t have the ability to do it, I think, in a transparent, fair and predictable process.”

The first complaint, filed July 2, alleges that Council Chair Eileen Quiring violated the council’s code of ethical conduct and rules of procedure by making comments regarding systemic racism. As required in the code, the council appointed two councilors — Olson and Gary Medvigy — to an ad hoc committee to review the complaint.

Councilors declined to open an investigation into a subsequent complaint about Quiring’s service on the Clark County Law Library Board of Trustees after a legal review found that it didn’t pertain to the council’s ethics code.

On July 9, a complaint was filed against Councilor John Blom by Eric Temple. Temple, president of Portland Vancouver Junction Railroad, is currently involved with several lawsuits with the county over the railroad line, which is owned by the county and leased by Temple.

Temple has also donated $1,000 to Karen Bowerman, who is running against Blom in the Aug. 4 primary election for the Council District 3 seat.

The complaint alleges that a representative for Blom contacted a representative for Temple. Blom’s representative allegedly threatened that if the railroad owner donated any more money to Blom’s opponents, he would “destroy” him.

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Blom denied the allegation during a council time meeting July 15.

“These accusations are 100 percent false and contrived by Mr. Temple as part of his effort to influence the election in a couple weeks,” Blom said. “This is just par for the course when dealing with this individual.”

Following another legal review that found the complaint to be irrelevant in terms of council business, the council declined to open an investigation at the meeting July 15. Instead, councilors began discussing the review process itself.

“I think that we’ve got a huge mess here now that we’ve started. Now that we have this third complaint in front of us,” Medvigy said.

Hours after the meeting, Temple filed another complaint — this time against Councilor Temple Lentz. The complaint alleged that Lentz violated the ethics code by lying during the meeting and claiming, despite not reviewing evidence, that the complaint against Blom was false.

Councilors held another discussion at a council time meeting Wednesday. Olson and Medvigy said that when they discussed the Quiring matter, they had questions that were not answered in the code.

Specifically, the code mandates that a county citizen oversee the committee but doesn’t specify how the councilors should begin to search for and select that resident. It also doesn’t specify how to handle the process when several councilors face complaints, or discuss when they should recuse themselves.

“I think we’re seeing how this section of our code, our code of conduct, can be co-opted for any particular reason — political or not,” Olson said. “It has really gotten away from what I think its original intent was.”

Temple said in another email to councilors that he agreed with their decision.

“While I’m disappointed my charges won’t be heard, I fully applaud your suspension of all current complaints due to an unworkable process,” Temple said.

Columbian county government and small cities reporter