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April 21, 2021

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Clark County Charter Review panel eyes priorities

Board of health changes among topics discussed

By , Columbian county government and small cities reporter
Published:

The Clark County Charter Review Commission began laying out priorities last week for what it might like to change in the county government’s guiding document.

Commissioners, during a virtual workshop Wednesday, listed their top priorities. Jeff Swanson — manager of Exigy Consulting, former city manager in Battle Ground and former economic development director with Clark County — led the discussion.

Commissioners have previously expressed interest in nonpartisan county council seats and other elected positions. They’ve also floated restructuring the Clark County Board of Health, which currently consists of the county council.

“I think that we could all agree that our community would be better served by taking politics out of the Board of Health,” Commissioner Terri Niles said Wednesday, adding that medical, public health and first responder professionals and representatives of underserved communities should have seats.

Commissioners have also suggested implementing a new ethics review process or commission and more robust diversity and equity guidelines — potentially including an office specifically dedicated to the subject.

“However we can increase representation within government,” Commissioner Anthony Vendetti said.

Commissioners didn’t spend much time on potential alterations to the county manager position, save some tweaks to the hiring process — such as giving other county elected officials outside the county council a say. Some suggested a need to discuss changes to how councilors are allowed to interact with county staff.

They did, however, discuss several potential changes to the way county officials are elected.

Ideas included adding more councilor districts, making the council chair position appointed rather than elected and implementing ranked-choice voting. Commissioner Kelsey Potter noted that those who represent county council districts 3 and 4 can currently run for the chair seat during years when their positions are not up for re-election.

“I don’t think it’s fair that (councilors in) districts 3 and 4 can essentially run risk-free,” Potter said.

Some commissioners also discussed adding a nonpartisan representative to the county’s redistricting committee and fleshing out an initiative, referendum and reform process.

Mandated review

The 15-member commission is tasked with recommending changes to the 22-page document, which voters approved in 2014. After this initial review, the charter mandates a review each decade.

Some commissioners considered whether that should be cut to every five years. There was hope that the first review process can be completed quickly.

“It was created (a few) years ago,” Commissioner Doug Lasher said. “So, it’s tweaking it and making the changes necessary for the things that didn’t work or aren’t working out well.”

The commission, with five meetings now behind it, has taken some time to establish itself before discussing specific charter revisions. That has included adopting its bylaws and creating leadership positions.

One meeting lasted nearly 3 1/2 hours.

“We seemed pretty confused in the beginning, so maybe we can help the next commission out,” Commissioner Dorothy Gasque said as one of her revision suggestions.

Any changes the commission recommends would be forwarded to the Clark County Auditor’s Office for placement on a future general election ballot.

As potential revisions narrow in focus, some commissioners have said that they are conscious of concerns about partisan bias on the review commission itself. Numerous commissioners, elected last year, have ties to the local Democratic Party.

“When we get to that point where we’re ready to put stuff on the ballot, we need to make sure we have the voice of the people behind us, and that’s all people. Not just those that specifically voted us, individually, in, but really the county as a whole,” said Kim Harless, a commission co-chair.

Columbian county government and small cities reporter
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