What makes a qualified candidate?

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What should make a candidate qualified for appointment to a position on a local government body?

This question will be up for discussion during Monday night’s Washougal City Council meeting. The topic is a result of councilman Jon Russell’s opposition to the recommendation by a panel that Mike Briggs be appointed to the city’s Planning Commission. That panel included a current planning commissioner, city councilman and city department head.

As recounted in an article in today’s Post-Record, Russell said he questions the appointment because Briggs has made “disparaging remarks” and “personal attacks” against Mayor Sean Guard, the City Council, and developers on local blogs and in the media. Although no specific examples of this were mentioned that evening, the issue is expected to be part of Monday’s agenda.

An informal survey of Briggs’ public comments reveals that he has leveled strong criticism against some decisions of the Washougal City Council, and some actions of specific members, including Russell, Michael Delavar and Dave Shoemaker. However, Briggs has also voiced his support of other council actions.

It’s not a secret that Briggs does not agree with Russell’s support of issues including having red light cameras in Washougal city limits and the Arizona immigration law, among other things. In fact Briggs has accused Russell, a 2010 Primary Election candidate for the 18th Legislative District representative seat, of using these issues to “grab media attention to further his own political ambitions.”

Those kinds of comments have not portrayed the City of Washougal in a positive light. But, isn’t this kind of criticism and critical thinking about the decisions made by our leaders an essential part of the public process? Shouldn’t citizens feel free to publicly, and even vehemently, disagree with the actions, comments or opinions of its city officials without fear that it will lead to a backlash later on?

The answer to all of these questions is most definitely “yes.”

If we judged the abilities of an individual to serve on a government committee, council, board or commission based on the fact that they simply made critical comments in the public arena, it is likely that there would be very few people left that fit the “qualifications” to serve.

As the council hears Russell’s reasons for his opposition to the recommended appointment on Monday, they should all consider that citizens who opt to apply for spots on appointed boards and commissions should be considered based on their qualifications for the position — his or her ability to weigh information and make decisions, knowledge of the pertinent issues, and commitment to the community.

Briggs may or may not be the right candidate for the job of planning commissioner, but no one should be penalized in this way for making critical opposing comments about a decision made by or the stance of a government body or elected leader. To do so would be wrong, and drastically infringe upon that individual’s freedom of speech.