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Dec. 3, 2022

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Clark County voters to decide on seven amendments to charter

By , Columbian Metro Editor

Editors note: This story includes corrected information.

Clark County voters will decide on seven amendments to the county charter this fall. If enacted, they would make sweeping changes to how county officials are elected and how they govern.

Proposals include increasing the number of Clark County Council districts from four to five and allowing councilors, rather than voters, to elect the chair.

The 15-member Clark County Charter Review Commission voted Wednesday to place the resolutions before voters in the Nov. 2 general election. Each resolution would amend different sections of the Clark County Charter if approved by a majority of voters.

“These amendment proposals are the result of an extensive, and intensive amount of work by the Charter Review Commission members, as well as a substantial amount of input from the community,” commission co-chairs Kim Harless and Chuck Green said in a statement issued with the package of resolutions. “We are proud to be able to present these amendment proposals to the voters of Clark County for their consideration in November.”

A full text of all seven resolutions can be read by visiting the county manager’s webpage for meetings, agendas and archives and scrolling down to the July 7 meeting.

Here are the highlights of the proposals:

Four districts to five

The county’s current system calls for four county council members elected by district residents, plus a council chair elected countywide.

The proposal would replace that system by creating five new council districts, each with about 103,000 residents. Voters in each district would cast ballots for their councilor, with no councilor elected by the county at-large.

  • District 1 would encompass the city of Vancouver east to Interstate 205 and north to just above city limits.
  • District 2 would cover Minnehaha, the VanMall area, Hazel Dell, Felida and Salmon Creek.
  • District 3 would represent the area of east Vancouver and Orchards bordered by Interstate 205 to the west, 164th Avenue to the east and Padden Parkway to the north.
  • District 4 would cover Vancouver east of 164th Avenue, Camas, Washougal and Hockinson and other unincorporated areas north to the southeast corner of Battle Ground.
  • District 5 would cover the north half of Clark County, including the cities of Battle Ground, La Center and Ridgefield, a portion of Woodland and the town of Yacolt.

The resolution would also change how the council chair was elected and the chair’s responsibilities. The chair is currently elected by all county voters, while a vice chair is selected by the council. Under the proposed change, both the chair and a vice chair would be selected by fellow council members at the first regular meeting of each year.

The chair would preside over meetings and serve as the council’s spokesperson, but would not receive the 20 percent salary bump that comes with the current position. The chair also would not automatically be required to serve on boards and commissions with more than two council members. Instead, the council would appoint its members to those boards and commissions.

If approved, the changes would take effect on Jan. 1. If two current council members find themselves in the same redrawn district, the council member who lives closest to an unrepresented district would take that post for the remainder of their term.

After current council members’ terms expire, any new councilor would need to reside within the district they represent.

Nonpartisan options

The commission is proposing two resolutions that would move the away from the current practice of having county elected offices be partisan positions.

In one resolution, the county executive elected offices of assessor, auditor, clerk, prosecuting attorney, sheriff and treasurer would become nonpartisan positions, while the county council would remain partisan.

In the other resolution, the county council would become nonpartisan, while the county executive elected offices would remain partisan.

If voters approve both resolutions, all county elected offices would become nonpartisan.

Promoting ethics

Another proposed resolution would require the Clark County Council to adopt an ordinance requiring the establishment of a code of ethics by July 31, 2022, with penalties for violations of the code.

The code would apply to all departments and entities that receive county funding and to all officials elected or appointed to administer county government.

If approved, the resolution would also direct the county manager to appoint an autonomous ethics review commission “comprised of qualified individuals in the area of ethical conduct in government” to hear and rule on complaints about alleged ethics violations, also by July 31, 2022.

The county manager would provide support staff for the commission, as well as operate an ethics complaint hotline.

Promoting diversity, equity

The resolutions also include a proposal to, upon approval, move immediately to start the process to establish a department of diversity, equity and inclusion and create a new diversity, equity and inclusion commission.

The department would include at least one chief officer appointed by the county manager who would serve as an adviser to the county manager, county council and other county officers and departments about issues related to diversity, equity and inclusion.

The new diversity, equity and inclusion commission would include nine members appointed by the county manager and confirmed by the council. It would include at least one representative from each county council district and “shall reflect the existing diversity of communities in Clark County — including but not limited to race, ethnicity, culture, Indigenous status and ability,” the resolution said.

Regulating charter review

The charter review commission also proposed changes to how often the county’s governing document is reviewed and how long commission members would serve.

The proposed resolution would require the charter to be reviewed five years after adoption and at least every five years afterward, instead of at least every 10 years.

The proposal would extend the term of a charter commission member from one to two years, or until the work of the commission concludes, whichever is sooner.

It would also change the composition of the commission to reflect switching from four to five districts and eliminating at-large representatives. The resolution would require the election of three nonpartisan representatives from each district.

Housekeeping changes

The package of proposed resolutions wraps up with a proposal that would make a series of minor changes and technical clarifications to the charter.

The documents that detail the resolutions are lengthy and detailed, so commission members are offering to visit organizations to discuss the proposed resolutions and the process that led to their creation.

“Commissioners are ready to meet with neighborhood associations, religious groups, community organizations and others,” the commission said in a press release on Thursday. It said anyone interested in having a commission member speak to their group should submit a speaker request form on the county’s website.