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News / Politics / Clark County Politics

Clark County Council adds two members to county planning commission

3 people interviewed for seats, which have been open since November

By Shari Phiel, Columbian staff writer
Published: February 16, 2023, 8:25pm

The Clark County Council on Tuesday selected two members for the county planning commission. The council welcomed back planning commission member Karl Johnson and appointed Jack Harroun.

The council, which has been working to fill the open seats since November, selected the commission members following interviews with three candidates Tuesday. The third candidate was Vancouver resident Jeremy Baker, who challenged state Rep. Monica Stonier for her seat in the 49th District in 2022.

Johnson, who lives in La Center, has been on the planning commission since 2013. He will remain on the board until the end of 2026.

Harroun lives in Vancouver and owns a residential and commercial building company. He previously served on the city of Vancouver’s planning commission and is a past president of the Building Industry Association of Clark County.

When asked to describe a difficult planning or development decision he had to make, Johnson said the 2013 comprehensive plan update — which included the adoption of a surface mining overlay map and standards — was one of his earliest and most challenging.

“It was pretty contentious. You come out of that, and you’re trying to balance everything and trying to look at everybody’s position, and there’s a high amount of emotion,” Johnson told the council. “That’s where I cut my teeth.”

He said it’s difficult but important to weigh everyone’s needs and viewpoints, from residents to landowners to businesses and the county itself.

“You can’t walk in there with a predetermined idea of what you’re going to do, because you’re not going to hear people,” Johnson said.

As for how he handles disagreements with staff recommendations, Johnson said the commission must maintain its independence from the county.

“You cannot be in lockstep,” he said.

Johnson said the commission’s role is to examine all of the information, ferret out the details, understand the laws and then make an independent recommendation to the county council.

‘Very policy wonkish’

Harroun said disagreements with staff must be handled with respect.

“You can disagree without being disagreeable,” Harroun told the council.

He described the work of the planning commission as “very policy wonkish,” requiring the reading of hundreds of pages of documents and understanding county code and growth-management goals.

In looking at how to apply the county’s growth-management plan, Harroun said the commission serves at the behest of the county council.

“We need direction from the elected leadership of what direction do you want us to formulate the best decision from, versus all of us taking a whiff at it,” he said.

Harroun said the county’s long-term growth plans need more attention and forethought.

“I think development matters. The stuff we build could be here a hundred years or longer,” he said. “It’s really important when we develop that we’re thinking about how it interacts with the community and the environment.”

The Clark County Planning Commission meets on the first and third Thursdays of each month. For more information, go to https://clark.wa.gov/community-planning/planning-commission.

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