Freeholders send proposed charter to voters

Clark County residents will vote on the document in the General Election

Clark County voters will cast their ballots this November on a charter document that has been crafted and approved by a majority of the Board of Freeholders.

On May 27, the Freeholders voted 11-3 to approve the proposed charter. Voting against the document were Peter Silliman, Tracy S. Wilson and Rep. Liz Pike (R-Camas). Rep. Ann Rivers (R-La Center) was absent from the meeting due to a family emergency.

“This isn’t a perfect document, but it is a reflection of 15 individuals that are highly capable of working with one another to carry out, as best as possible, the wishes of our citizens,” said Paul Dennis, a former Camas mayor.

If approved in the upcoming General Election, the charter would implement several major changes to Clark County government.

It calls for an increase from three commissioners to five council members. Four of the council members would be elected by district in the primary and general elections to four-year terms, while the fifth would be an at-large chairperson.

The council members would be paid less than the current county commissioners. Council members would receive an annual salary of $53,000, while the chairperson would receive 20 percent more, approximately $63,600. Currently, county commissioners earn $106,000 per year.

The proposed charter limits the county council’s duties to legislative issues, while giving administrative duties to an appointed county manager.

The county council would deal with budget, legislative and policy issues, and the county manager would focus on implementation of those policies and administrative issues.

The three Freeholders who voted against the charter said this separation between the legislative and executive branches of county government was a major sticking point because they believe it jeopardizes accountability to the voters.

“Particularly when it comes to the separation of power, we are very concerned about it and I think we could have done something better here,” Wilson said.

The proposed charter also adds initiative and referendum powers.

It calls for a periodic reodic review and potential amendment of the charter, the first coming five years after approval and at least every decade thereafter. A charter review commission would be an elected group, and all amendments must be approved by a public vote.

Dennis said this is an aspect of the charter that he strongly supports.

“I’m always a big believer in charting your own destiny, and I think that’s what this allows us to do,” he said. “It allows our children to have a say in the future as well. Undoubtedly, over time, things will change. You cannot stop change. Change will happen. But we will get a say in what change does occur.”

The Freeholders are the 15 Clark County residents elected by voters in November 2013. Led by Chairwoman Nan Henriksen, a Camas resident and former mayor, the group began meeting in December.

“I believe our result is a simple, moderate charter,” Henriksen said.

The proposed charter will be on the Nov. 4 General Election ballot. It will require a simple majority approval to pass.

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