The votes are in and Clark County Councilor Eileen Quiring O’Brien will serve another year as chair, with fellow Councilor Karen Bowerman serving as vice chair. Quiring O’Brien held on to her role as council chair with a 3-2 vote.
Charter amendment No. 3 passed by voters in November, which went into effect on Jan. 1, requires the council to elect a chair and vice chair at its first meeting of each calendar year.
Councilor Temple Lentz nominated Councilor Julie Olson for the position but failed to get the votes of Councilor Gary Medvigy, Bowerman and Quiring O’Brien. Bowerman nominated Quiring O’Brien.
As one of four Republicans on the council, Medvigy also called for better collaboration and civility among the council members and across party lines.
“I think it’s really important, especially in this new year, that we do all aspire to work as collegially as we can, with one singular purpose: to benefit the people of Clark County,” Medvigy said during the meeting.
He also said there is a “false narrative” in the community that the council is driven by partisanship, which was evidenced by voters approving a charter amendment to make the county’s elected positions nonpartisan.
“It does rear its ugly head from time to time, creating a toxic atmosphere,” he said. “Some take to Facebook or even on the dais to personally attack and un-collegially, unprofessionally for partisan reasons. … They are so divisive and unprecedented at the local level.”
Medvigy did not say to whom he was referring, but in posts on Facebook and Twitter, Lentz has been critical of actions taken by the majority of O’Brien, Bowerman and Medvigy.
He also said Quiring O’Brien has “a depth of experience” in legislative work that will take the council into the new year.
Electing Quiring O’Brien to continue as council chair didn’t sit well with Lentz or Olson.
“I hope all of the council, including those who are in the majority, will listen to it,” Lentz said. “Professionalism and decorum are something we are supposed to do, and we are supposed to treat all members of the council with respect. That can definitely start in the chair position. We’ve seen a number of times over the last few years where that hasn’t occurred.”
Lentz also said she couldn’t support keeping Quiring O’Brien as chair because voters “made it clear in November they want something different.”
“I would also agree that it would be hopeful and nice that we listen to the congeniality that Councilor Medvigy talked about. I also don’t really see that in our leadership role. It’s gotten pretty heated over the last year, for sure. At the leadership level, it starts there. I don’t believe that’s the leadership we’ve had,” Olson added.
Added late to the council agenda was a discussion on a hearing date for a mini-initiative submitted to the county in December.
The initiative, which had just over 11,500 signatures, asks the council to pass an ordinance banning mandates within the county “that discriminate against citizens regarding their health status and/or that violates existing rights to health information privacy.”
The council was scheduled to discuss the petition during council time on Wednesday, but Quiring O’Brien asked for it to be discussed earlier.
Per the county charter, the council is required to hold a public hearing within 60 days after an initiative or mini-initiative is verified and presented to the council. The proposed mini-initiative was verified on Dec. 30, giving the council until the end of February for the public hearing. The council then has 30 days from the date of the hearing to adopt, reject or amend the mini-initiative. The only dates the council has available for a public hearing are Jan. 18, Feb. 1 and Feb. 15.
“I just wanted to give the opportunity that if we did want to hear this particular mini-initiative on Jan. 18 that we would need to discuss that today before noon so it could be posted,” Quiring O’Brien said.
Bowerman said she didn’t have any objections to the Jan. 18 date but did want to make sure the meeting notice specified the meeting would be held virtually since the council had not yet decided when to resume in-person meetings.
“We don’t know that. … We’re actually going to discuss whether we’re going virtual or in-person at our next meeting,” Quiring O’Brien noted.
“I feel like we are rushing it. The timing doesn’t sound so good. We also have one of the major issues heading before the Supreme Court — the constitutionality of mandates. We have no idea when they’re going to release an opinion on that … and that’s one of the aspects of this mini-initiative. I feel like we’re rushing the date,” Medvigy said.
With not enough time to determine the format for the hearing and for public notice to be published, along with any further discussion on the proposed ordinance, the council moved the discussion to Jan. 5.
To access the meeting or for the agenda, go to https://clark.wa.gov/councilors/clark-county-council-meetings.