Sunday, June 26, 2022
June 26, 2022

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In Our View: 3 county councilors violate duty to citizens

The Columbian

Clark County Councilors Karen Bowerman, Gary Medvigy and Richard Rylander Jr. have violated their duty to citizens, placing partisan politics and a thirst for power ahead of the will of the people.

A court will rule whether their approved map for council district boundaries meets legal requirements. But the process that led to that map has been rife with corruption and bereft of common sense, decorum and due diligence. Throughout that process, the solemn obligation of all elected officials to do what is best for the community has been abandoned.

By overriding the desire of voters, and by ignoring the vast majority of citizens who publicly commented on the matter, Bowerman, Medvigy and Rylander have added to a decadelong list of embarrassments perpetrated by the county council. A court might or might not reject the map approved by the councilors, but the stain on Clark County politics will remain. It is a stain that will mark those councilors until they are voted out of office.

The process for drawing district maps has been long and laborious. Along the way, council members have persistently dug themselves into a deeper hole, ignoring several opportunities to climb toward the light of democratic principles.

The violations of those principles began in 2021 with Eileen Quiring O’Brien, who then was chair of the county council. Quiring O’Brien left office in March, but her inappropriate influence on the selection of a redistricting committee triggered an avalanche that buried the democratic process and led to Wednesday’s vote.

Clark County voters then approved, with 71 percent of the vote, increasing the number of council districts from four to five. The map supported by voters required slight adjustments after the Census revealed population changes.

The redistricting committee was unable to reach agreement and sent the issue to the council. One would suspect that asking council members to decide districting that could influence their political futures would be an invitation for self-serving malfeasance; one would be correct.

While considering various proposals, councilors often expressed concern about which councilors would end up in which district. These concerns ignored the will of voters, ignored the fact the maps likely will be in place longer than any current member remains on the council, and ignored an obligation to serve the public.

To her credit, Councilor Temple Lentz has consistently defended democracy. “As for it not being tainted by this council, the redistricting committee was tainted by this council,” she said Wednesday. “While I believe the redistricting committee made a good-faith effort to do good work, the selection of members of that committee — foundationally — was a problem.”

When Rylander joined the council this month after being appointed to fill Quiring O’Brien’s seat, he demonstrated remarkable hubris in proposing yet another map. That is the map that was approved Wednesday by the council. That is a map that is vastly dissimilar to the one approved by voters in November.

In the end, the concerns of voters was outweighed by a desire to keep Bowerman, now the county chair, in a particular district. The addition of Rylander — after he was one of three people nominated by Bowerman — gave Bowerman and Medvigy the ability to push through a proposal powered by selfish goals rather than a desire for good governance.

The result is a shameful gerrymander that marks Bowerman, Medvigy and Rylander as embarrassments rather than dutiful public servants.

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