Monday, March 1, 2021
March 1, 2021

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In Our View: Charter panel should move county forward

The Columbian

Included on the lengthy ballot for the Nov. 3 election are candidates for the Charter Review Commission. Voters should endeavor to select members who will continue to move county governance forward rather than revisiting grievances of the past.

In pondering the makeup of the commission, it is instructive to revisit Clark County’s recent history. In the early part of the past decade, Clark County government was beset by infighting and cronyism, with sound public policy frequently giving way to ideology.

By 2013, voters had seen enough. They elected 15 freeholders to propose a county charter, and the charter was approved with 53 percent of the vote the following year.

The charter changed county government from three commissioners elected countywide to a five-member council, with four members elected by district and a chair elected at-large. It also encoded a separation of powers, with councilors serving as the legislative branch tasked with approving policies and a county manager serving as the executive branch to carry out those policies. Councilors hire the county manager but are not involved with the day-to-day operations of county affairs.

As dictated by the charter, it now is time to elect a review commission to study the impact of the changes and assess where improvements can be made. Three members will be elected from each of the four council districts and three more will be elected countywide for a total of 15.

The review commission will meet next year and devise proposals to put before voters.

The commission will have much to leave intact, as most of the arguments against the charter have proven to be unfounded. For example, critics claimed that the changes would increase the cost of county government, but a 2018 report by The Columbian detailed that administrative costs have been reduced. For another example, opponents suggested that councilors would be unable to speak out under the new system or effectively engage with constituents, but that has been untrue.

Indeed, there are issues that warrant scrutiny. The council has had difficulty hiring and retaining an effective county manager, and the commission must find the cause and propose ways to improve stability. But adjustments to the charter should require the precise work of a scalpel rather than the inexact slices of a hatchet.

While The Columbian Editorial Board did not interview all candidates for the review commission, many of them warrant attention.

Doug Lasher, for example, served honorably as Clark County treasurer for 34 years and has strong insight into the workings of county government. Eric Holt has run unsuccessfully for office in recent years and has demonstrated a thoughtful approach to government. Bridgette Fahnbulleh is president of the local chapter of the NAACP and can offer a perspective that often is disenfranchised in local government; she is running against Mike Dalesandro, a former mayor of Battle Ground who also would be a voice of reason on the commission. And Brent Boger is a longtime Washougal City Council member and deputy Vancouver city attorney.

In addition, many candidates have impressive records of community service but have never before sought an elected position. The statements and backgrounds for all candidates can be found in the Voters’ Pamphlet.

Choosing the Charter Review Commission is the next step toward improving Clark County government. To do that, voters should continue to move forward while rejecting the county’s troubled past.