Friday, August 12, 2022
Aug. 12, 2022

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In Our View: County councilors must find common ground

The Columbian

The aggravating effort to draw a map for Clark County Council districts has had too many twists and turns to follow. But the start of this elongated journey can be traced back to Eileen Quiring O’Brien.

Last summer, Quiring O’Brien — who then was chair of the county council — unceremoniously injected herself into a process that already was difficult. She since has resigned from the council, leaving behind a mess that the remaining council members have been unable to clean up.

As Councilor Temple Lentz said last week: “This process has been corrupted since the moment the previous chair interfered with the creation of the redistricting committee. … The criticism this council has received is entirely justified. The fact that we are exhausted by a corrupted process doesn’t mean we should stop trying to correct it.”

Council members will broach the subject again Wednesday morning. In the process, several goals should be preeminent: Indeed, they must continue working to correct the process; the residences of current councilors must play no part in the decision; and following the will that voters stated in November must be a priority. The goal is to create a boundary map that will best serve constituents for a decade, not to protect sitting councilors.

Self-serving interests were the genesis of current issues. When the local Republican and Democratic parties submitted nominees for the redistricting committee, Quiring O’Brien insisted that the Republican Party take a vote of precinct committee officers — including herself and fellow Councilor Karen Bowerman.

“You need to cancel the vote and call a meeting!! Joel, I have the votes on the council to reject the nominees if you send them to us under these current conditions …,” she wrote in a text message to Clark County Republican Party Chair Joel Mattila. “You have your marching orders you do the right thing!”

Having the sitting chair of the county giving marching orders to local party leadership is unseemly, untoward and unethical. Allegiance must be to the people of Clark County, rather than a desire for party dominance.

Since then, the process has unraveled. The redistricting committee was unable to reach an agreement, which requires four votes from the five-person committee. The county council has considered several alternative maps, with the four remaining members inevitably deadlocking 2-2. Interestingly, those tie votes have represented varying coalitions, rather than predictable factions.

Councilors have expressed frustration. Gary Medvigy said: “The criticism this council has received has been unfair, unsupported, vacuous, disingenuous, intellectually dishonest. We didn’t inject ourselves into this. It was handed to us because of a poor charter that created a redistricting committee that was doomed to deadlock. This was a train wreck, but it was not our doing.”

Actually, the charter is not to blame. The wreck is not the doing of current councilors, but Quiring O’Brien was at the controls when it started going off the tracks.

Placing blame or attempting to deflect it, however, should not distract from doing what is best for voters. Councilor Julie Olson believes that is a map created by staff at the behest of the council: “It is the map — the only map — that closely reflects the map the voters adopted in November. … It’s the cleanest of all the maps.”

If that claim holds up to scrutiny, councilors should find common ground and finally move forward from a process that has besmirched county government.

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