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The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.

In Our View: Study Proposition 10, then vote ‘yes’ to approve

The Columbian
Published: October 15, 2021, 6:03am

Proposition 10 on the ballot for Clark County voters is a convoluted measure that is inherently misleading and is in danger of being misconstrued by county councilors. Still, The Columbian’s Editorial Board recommends a “yes” vote for a ballot item that requires much explanation, and the board urges councilors to not read too much into the election results.

As always, this is merely a recommendation designed to foster discussion. The Columbian suggests that voters examine the issue before casting an informed vote.

For Proposition 10, being informed requires a bit of work. On the ballot being mailed to voters today, the item reads, in part: “If approved, a one-tenth of one percent (0.1%) sales and use tax will be implemented throughout Clark County. The revenue will be used to fund juvenile detention facilities and jails. This tax will expire on March 31, 2032.” The sales tax would add 1 cent to every $10 in purchases.

The issue, however, is not about funding juvenile detention facilities and jails. Instead, it is about body cameras for the Clark County Sheriff’s Office. As the “Statement For” the measure in the Voters’ Pamphlet reads: “If you favor body and dashcams for sheriff deputies, vote yes on Proposition 10!” The statement was submitted by County Councilor Karen Bowerman and two community activists.

County councilors placed the item on the ballot, saying that they have no other means to pay for body cameras; the county is unable to implement a sales tax directly for the cameras. Therefore, the plan is to use funds from a sales tax increase to pay for juvenile detention, and then divert money from the general fund to pay for body cameras.

Notably, the text of the proposition makes no mention of dashboard cameras, adding to the confusion of the issue.

Clark County — and city police departments — should, indeed, adopt body cameras and dashcams. Such cameras are essential for protecting both the public and officers, and law enforcement agencies should have strict guidelines requiring that cameras be activated during any interaction with the public. As the “Statement For” says: “By allowing the public to see video evidence of deputies’ activities, there is a more accurate record of events to help resolve complaints while improving agency transparency.”

Such transparency is imperative, but the issue raises additional concerns. During a discussion about body cameras at a council meeting in June, Chair Eileen Quiring O’Brien said: “If the public does indeed support it, they will show us that through their votes.”

If council members are sincere about gauging the public’s support for body cameras, they should ask voters about body cameras rather than cloaking the issue in a proposition about juvenile detention. Proposition 10 must not be viewed as a referendum on body cameras; they are not even mentioned on the ballot.

The financial conundrum is understandable. In Washington, local governments are limited in how much they may raise for the general fund, and previous iterations of the county council were shortsighted in declining to implement annual increases. But even in the best of times, it is difficult to get voters to approve a tax increase; these are not the best of times.

The Columbian’s Editorial Board recommends that voters study Proposition 10 and then vote to approve the measure. Even if they don’t, the county council must demonstrate leadership and find funding for sheriff’s office body cameras.