Clark County Charter Review panel: Time to refocus

·4 min read

May 15—Clark County Charter Review commissioners called for a "reset" last week in their ongoing review of the county government's guiding document.

During a meeting Wednesday night, several commissioners expressed their concerns about the pace, focus, communication and other aspects of their efforts. They agreed to adopt a revised work plan at an upcoming meeting.

"We know everybody here has the best of intentions. We just think that, in some of the meetings, we've lost our way a bit," Commissioner Maureen Winningham said. "What we were hoping to do is just kind of reset."

Commissioners mentioned a desire to narrow, at least in the near future, the topics under the commission's consideration.

The 15 commissioners have broached numerous potential changes since they began meeting in January. On Wednesday, they talked about winnowing the focus to what they called the "big five" issues: making the county council chair an appointed position, requiring that county council positions be nonpartisan, expanding the number of council districts to five, creating an ethics commission, and mandating charter reviews every five years instead of 10 years.

"Listen, we're frustrated. We're talking to other commissioners, and they're frustrated too," Winningham said. "We feel like we need to refocus and hyperfocus (on) these five goals that we all agreed on to begin with."

Commissioners questioned the efficacy of the commission's subcommittees.

For instance, if a subcommittee drafts language to increase the number of council districts, that would also increase the number of future charter review commissioners. But the charter review process is addressed in a separate section of the 22-page document.

"(It's) sort of like dominoes: We change wording in one section that changes wording in another section," Commissioner Kelsey Potter said. "In a real-world scenario, we found some huge problems working in the silos of subcommittees."

Commissioners also lamented a lack of communication among themselves and with the public. Some noted that the lack of public engagement is especially troublesome with the summer months approaching ahead of November general election deadlines.

For example, Winningham said she only recently learned that the scope of work in the contract with Jeff Swanson — former city manager in Battle Ground who was hired to provide consulting services for the commission — was narrower than she'd believed. The contract is worth up to $20,000.

Swanson primarily facilitates every other commission meeting. The commission originally hoped a consultant also would perform other functions, such as leading public outreach efforts.

"If all that is going to happen is that Mr. Swanson is to facilitate every other meeting, I think that the voters are going to be outraged that we're spending $20,000," Winningham said. "I'm a taxpayer, too, and I don't like it."

But during the request-for-application process, no one responded who was willing to perform the full scope of work for $20,000. Swanson was the only applicant, said Kim Harless, the commission's co-chair.

"Yes, I'm outraged, too," Harless said. "That's the reality we faced is that $20,000 was not enough in order to get exactly what we wanted in that original scope."

Working as intended

While many commissioners shared significant concerns, others said the panel is working as it had intended months ago.

Commissioner Eric Holt referenced the "sausage making" process of policy making.

"I don't see us as far off track as much as not communicating how on track we are," Holt said. "We need to get some solid milestones in place to give to our voters to show them that we're being effective."

At the end of Wednesday's meeting, the commissioners approved a motion to have Swanson and the commission's co-chairs present a more refined work plan at its meeting next week.

The charter lays out the process for reviewing commissioner elections and submitting recommended changes to the document. But beyond a one-sentence overview, it does not offer much direction to the commission about how it should carry out its duties between those two periods.

After it began meeting in January, the commission spent several meetings adopting its bylaws and creating leadership positions.

Any changes the commission recommends would be forwarded to the Clark County Auditor's Office for placement on a future general election ballot.

"In our minds, it needs a little tweaking, but it is not a broken document that needs to be thrown out," Winningham said.

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