Tuesday, December 6, 2022
Dec. 6, 2022

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Clark County Council deadlocks on empty seat; decision will go to Inslee

The governor will choose from the three candidates nominated by the council chair

By , Columbian staff writer

Picking a replacement for now-retired Clark County Councilor Eileen Quiring O’Brien will be up to Gov. Jay Inslee rather than the county council.

Despite spending more than two hours on Tuesday interviewing the three candidates selected by Chair Karen Bowerman, the council ended in a deadlocked 2-2 vote.

The seat has been vacant after Quiring O’Brien retired on March 1. Quiring O’Brien announced her intention to the leave the council in January but didn’t officially resign until Feb. 24.

While Councilor Gary Medvigy recommended turning the decision over to the governor to expedite the process, state law may prevent that from happening as quickly as he had hoped.

“This newly created district, the north county, needs representation,” Medvigy said. “We need a full council with diversity of opinion and thought,” he said following the interviews.

According to Mike Faulk, deputy communications director for the governor’s office, state statute gives nonpartisan county councils 60 days to fill a vacancy. Once that 60-day window has ended, the governor has 30 days to select a replacement from the list of candidates provided by the county.

The county council’s 60-day clock began ticking on March 2, giving it until May 1 to select a replacement. Inslee won’t be able to consider those candidates until May 2, and has until June 1 to name the replacement.

“Here, it looks like the retiring council member is a Republican, so Clark County will probably forward to the governor’s office their list of three Republican nominees, from which the governor will select the appointee. Importantly, the governor’s appointment can only happen in that window 61-90 days after the vacancy occurs and only if the county legislative authority can’t agree on an appointment,” Faulk said.

Councilor Julie Olson said the council still has time to go back to the drawing board and select a new pool of candidates to interview. However, Bowerman said that pool had essentially been exhausted and said it would be better to turn the decision over to the governor.

The council did not appear to be aware that the governor would not be able to take action on naming someone to the council until the 60-day window had expired or how that would affect the council’s decision.

Three candidates

The three candidates interviewed Tuesday, described by the council as all Republicans, included longtime political activist Dick Rylander, retired U.S. Customs special agent Thomas Schenk and former county policy analyst Peter Silliman.

After interviewing the candidates for over two hours, the council met briefly in executive session. When the council returned to the public meeting, Medvigy nominated Rylander for the seat. Bowerman and Medvigy voted in favor of his appointment to the council while Councilors Temple Lentz and Olson voted against.

“He is very articulate, and he’s got really broad experience, a very diversity-oriented experience as a family man. He’s certainly very well invested in this county with the number of family members living here, and his work and scouting, soccer, baseball, bowling and other activities,” Medvigy said when nominating Rylander.

Lentz, the lone Democrat elected to the council, thanked the candidates for their interest and for participating in the interviews. However, when Medvigy made a motion to appoint Rylander, she said each of the candidates’ answers raised red flags.

“It’s our responsibility to vote according to how we feel we can best represent our constituency. At this moment, I’m not able to support this motion,” Lentz said.

Olson shared similar concerns with the candidates’ answers.

“I also had some issues with a few questions, really important questions for me with regard to the Board of Health. I don’t believe I will be able to support the motion either, because these are really important questions and these are really important times. It’s an important role that this council plays,” Olson said.

With the council deadlocked, Medvigy said he was disappointed not to have the entirety of the county’s residents represented on the council.

“We have a deadlock which, unfortunately, we may see replicated over and over and over again in every issue that comes before us in order to take action until we get a fifth councilor,” Medvigy said.