The Clark County Council is interfering in local elections, at least according to some Battle Ground City Council members and two county councilors.
“It’s egregious,” Battle Ground Mayor Adrian Cortes said Friday.
On Wednesday, the county council chose to fill an open seat on the Battle Ground city council that had been left vacant since June 8, when council member Mike Dalesandro stepped down.
After the Battle Ground council could not agree on a replacement within the 90-day window allowed by state law, the decision was left to the county. The county had 180 days from when the position was left open to name an interim councilor.
With the November general election less than 30 days away, county councilors Temple Lentz and Julie Olson said they wanted to leave that decision to voters. The Battle Ground council also sent a letter to the county asking it not to fill the position and leave it to voters to decide. The city council noted that the open seat would be filled as soon as election results were certified, typically within a few weeks of Election Day, rather than in January, when newly elected officers are sworn in.
“Since the city of Battle Ground specifically sent us a letter requesting that it not be filled, I do feel like it is a bit of an insult to the city of Battle Ground, and accordingly all of the constituents represented, to insist on filling it,” Lentz said during a Sept. 22 meeting.
Olson voiced similar concerns during the meeting.
“They would sit through maybe three meetings between the time they were appointed and when the election would be certified and the new councilor sworn in. I don’t understand why we’re going through this,” Olson told the council.
But county Councilor Gary Medvigy said during the meeting that it was important to “move as quickly and expeditiously as possible with time constraints” to fill the open seat because it had already been left open for a few months.
“It’s really unfortunate that Battle Ground sat on this for so long. I think the city, constituents have a right to a full council,” he added.
In an interview Friday, Lentz said she was “disappointed at the process in its entirety.” She said she was unhappy that the council chose to meddle in the Battle Ground elections in the first place.
Olson thought the process was disrespectful to her fellow elected representatives and to the residents of Battle Ground.
“I think it’s inappropriate given the proximity to the election,” Olson said Friday. “We didn’t have to do it. We had 180 days.”
The county council interviewed six candidates, whose names were provided by the city, selecting Tricia Davis in a 3-2 vote. Council Chair Eileen Quiring O’Brien and councilors Medvigy and Karen Bowerman voted for Davis, who is running against Neil Butler for a seat on the Battle Ground City Council in November.
Lentz and Olson voted to name Chris Regan as the interim councilor. Regan previously served three terms on the Battle Ground City Council, serving for 12 years.
“There was only one candidate, Chris Regan, who had applicable, immediately relevant experience,” Lentz said.
During the Battle Ground council’s attempts to fill the seat, Regan received three votes; Davis received none.
In an email sent to The Columbian on Friday, Battle Ground City Councilor Cherish DesRochers said, “I listened to the whole meeting while it took place and felt from the interviews that Chris Regan would be the best fit based on his ability to jump right in.”
DesRochers said she did not vote for Regan during Battle Ground’s selection process and was basing her opinion strictly on the county interviews.
Olson said Regan seemed the obvious choice to fill the seat given his experience on the council and would have been better able to get work done in the short amount of time available.
The council’s majority, however, thought Davis would bring a new perspective and new ideas to the city council, even if only for a couple of months.
“I think that would be very helpful for the city in moving forward,” county Councilor Karen Bowerman said during the interviews. “We hear about the inability to come to collegial decisions, and that is something, clearly, the city needs some help with.”
The county council’s decision to fill the seat with someone who is running for the same office has raised a few eyebrows as well.
“I don’t think that there is a technical conflict of interest, but it’s unseemly,” Lentz said. “It does lead to the appearance that the county council majority is trying to influence the outcome of the Battle Ground election.”
In the last weeks before the election, Olson said the county is, intentionally or not, giving Davis a platform to run as an incumbent.
“Yes, I’m concerned,” Olson said.
During the candidate interviews, Medvigy said he didn’t feel the county was “putting its thumb on the scale.”
“We needed to follow the law,” he told the council, adding that not naming someone to the city council would allow existing divisiveness to continue in Battle Ground.
Cortes was more direct in his assessment of the county council’s actions. He said he was outraged by the county’s decision.
“We’re each elected by the people. Therefore, we’re the voice of the people,” Cortes said. “They thumbed their noses at the voters and decided they wanted to influence the election. Bottom line.”
Cortes said the county’s actions were a slap in the face to the city council and Battle Ground residents.
“They picked somebody with no experience. They picked somebody that was running for that seat, and somebody that didn’t even get nominated through our own process,” he said.