When District 2 Clark County Councilor Julie Olson announced in April that she would not seek reelection, three women filed to fill her seat.
Chartisha Roberts, Kim Hamlik and Michelle Belkot will face off in the Aug. 2 primary, with the top two vote-getters moving on to the November general election. District 2 covers an area that includes most of Hazel Dell, Felida and Salmon Creek.
Roberts and Belkot faced each other in a 2021 Vancouver school board race won by Sandra Zavala-Ortega. This is Hamlik’s first run for office. All three say they are ready for the challenge.
Roberts is a human resources professional and lives in Vancouver with her 11-year-old son (“who’s going on 30,” she quipped) and has primarily worked in the transportation and health care sectors. A Black woman, she said she chose to run because she wants to help create an inclusive council that represents the county’s diversity.
“I want to bring a more positive change to Clark County,” Roberts said.
Hamlik is a small-business owner who has lived in the Vancouver area for four decades. Prior to opening her business, she worked in education and was the dean of students at a business college. Hamlik said she chose to run because the council needs people who can work together to get things done. She said that while watching the council meetings, she realized it was “a little messed up.”
“Nothing was getting done, which bothered me,” she said. “I just felt like I wasn’t being represented the way I wanted to be represented.”
Hamlik said she knows how to communicate, knows how to work together on issues and knows how to compromise, and that’s what the council needs.
“If you have communication and respect for each other, you can come to some kind of agreement,” she said. “It may not be perfect … but you can come up with a resolution on any issue.”
Belkot is a mom and a 24-year veteran of the U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force who now works as a civil servant. She has put public safety at the top of her priorities, along with homelessness and transportation.
Belkot said there is an obvious disconnect between what residents in the county want and the efforts of the county council. One example, she said, was the mini-initiative to “ban discriminatory health mandates,” such as mask and vaccine requirements, which was voted down by the council in January.
“Some of the things going on in the county concerned me just like they did when I ran for the school district,” Belkot said.
Seeing how the council handled the last redistricting effort and how the council responded to public health issues during the pandemic led to her decision to run for office.
“I have 20 years of saving taxpayers money on multimillion-dollar contracts, and I plan to do the same for the District 2 citizens of Clark County,” Belkot said.
Like many Clark County residents, the candidates are concerned about public safety. From rising crime rates to cutbacks at the sheriff’s office, they agree that something needs to be done.
“It’s time to work with the sheriff, not against the sheriff,” Hamlik said.
One program she would like to see the county pursue is a mental health intervention team similar to a program launched in Battle Ground in May, which pairs crisis support specialists with police to respond to some calls.
“I think that is a great idea. … Our police officers are not trained for that stuff, and I don’t know why we put them in those situations, but we do,” Hamlik said.
She admitted she doesn’t yet know what the solutions are but said something has to be done to address staffing shortages at the sheriff’s office. Hamlik also believes the jail’s infrastructure needs will becoming a more pressing problem in the coming months.
Roberts said her chief concern is making sure the sheriff’s office is adequately funded, but she also wants to make sure those funds are spent wisely.
“We all need to be asking if you do get these funds, what are you going to do with it? What is the vision for public safety? … We also need to build the trust back between the community and the sheriff’s office,” Roberts said.
The District 2 candidates disagree on whether to approve Proposition 11, the 0.1 percent public safety sales tax increase placed on the ballot by the county council. If passed, the measure would generate an estimated $12 million annually, with the county receiving 60 percent and the remaining 40 percent going to the cities.
The county councilors have said the revenue would be used to pay for ongoing costs for a body and dash camera program for the sheriff’s office, as well as providing funds to the sheriff’s office and paying for needed upgrades and improvements at the county jail.
Roberts said she supports the measure, with a caveat.
“As long as there is accountability and training, I’m all for the body cams,” she said.
As a human resources professional, Roberts said, she understands the importance of paying deputies what they deserve and hopes a portion of the tax proceeds will be used for that.
Hamlik said there are pros and cons to passing Proposition 11, but rising inflation, gas prices and possible tolling on the Interstate 5 Bridge have made her leery of the measure. She said that while the sheriff’s office needs more funding, this may not be the right time for a sales tax increase.
“I want to say yes, we need the tax, but then I don’t want to add that burden to our people,” Hamlik said.
Belkot she said supports increasing the pay for sheriff’s deputies, which lags far behind other jurisdictions, but can’t support the tax increase.
“I propose that (American Rescue Plan Act) money be used now to fund the first couple of years of body cams as well as increasing (sheriff’s deputies’) salaries up to comparable standards,” Belkot said. Increasing salaries for deputies should be addressed first because deputies won’t stay at a job if they can earn $20,000 a year more at another police department in the same county, she added.
“We need to look at the pay as a whole, permanently. … It really has to be addressed for long-term stability,” Belkot said.
With the county’s population growth expected to continue for some time, Roberts said, the council’s land-use decisions have never been more important.
“Whenever there’s growth, there’s growing pains as well. How do we maintain the current structures we already have but then address the expansion and growth?” she asked.
Roberts said managing growth is delicate balancing act. One example is the development of Vancouver’s waterfront. She said many people think it’s great to see the area grow, but just as many people remember walking along the river and enjoying the waterfront view.
She said land-use decisions will also affect which much-needed jobs come into the county. She also wants to see environmental concerns considered more in the decision-making process.
“We can’t deny that the climate change is happening. We went from 80 degrees in April to snow the next week then weeks more of rain. … It needs to be about how we are protecting the environment. We want this to be for generations to come, not just for our time,” Roberts said.
Reducing homelessness is a top priority for Belkot, but she said the infrastructure and programs needed to address the issue are already in place.
“The government takes more control and more money, but nothing’s getting solved,” she said.
Belkot said housing-first programs are destined to fail.
“We need to pivot to a reduction-based strategy rather than throwing more dollars at services. They’re just enabling this issue and not solving the problem.”
Belkot said proven programs should continue to be funded, but those without proof of success should be cut. She said she also wants to see law enforcement and mental health professionals brought into the county’s discussions.
Hamlik said she sees a different path to addressing homelessness.
“We need to get to the root of the cause. I do believe it’s drug use and mental illness,” Hamlik said.
She said the growing number of homeless encampments and “tent cities” has left many people feeling unsafe walking down the street. That can’t continue, she said.
Along with providing better programs to address the needs of the homeless, Hamlik said, the county’s economic growth will help address homelessness as well as affordable housing.
“We don’t just need houses. We need jobs. … It’s time to look at the big picture,” she said.
Hamlik said the county needs to provide more access to commercial and industrial development in the vacant buildable lands model, comprehensive plan and urban growth area to help drive economic growth.
One development she’s looking into is the state Department of Social and Health Services behaviorial health facility proposed for Northeast 50th Avenue. Hamlik said she is concerned about the shortage of mental health workers and facilities in Clark County.
“We know something has to happen, and wherever we put it, no one is going to be happy,” she said, adding, “As long as everything is run the way it’s supposed to be run,” she could support the development.
Roberts said seeing homeless individuals camped along her drive home every day made her question what is wrong with the system and what’s driving so many people to live on the streets.
“My heart goes out (to them). I look at it as a symptom, not that they are the problem,” she said. “There are a lot of things that made Clark County great, and I want to foster that for generations to come.”