“This is how the grownups do it. Clark County needs to graduate to adulthood and do it this way too.”
Last Tuesday, I attended the Clark County Council’s regularly scheduled meeting with the intention of speaking during public access time. While waiting for several hours to speak, I endured the Council Meeting lasting several contentious hours longer than it should have. The driving reason for this extensive delay is based on the content of the public agenda. My experience compels a call for a major educational, emergency intervention in Clark County, for the sake of sane and rational local government.
I have attended a lot of public meetings in a wide variety of local governments all around Washington State. These experiences help explain the interventions and suggestions provided below.
I am aware of the chasm of political division on this county council. This fact is painfully obvious to even the most casual observer or political neophyte. The comments and suggestions aren’t meant to support the Pro-Madore crowd or disparage the Hate-Madore scene. This is simply an offering to save Clark County citizens from grief and pointless wasted time, regardless of their political self-identification. An utter failing to extend common courtesy to the citizens waiting patiently to make their comments demands a real intervention.
Common sense, good government process – Clark County doesn’t have it.
In most local government bodies in Washington, work session meetings are scheduled to go over questions, background, and details associated with agenda items that will come before the elected body. In Clark County this is called “Board Time”. Those are open public meetings, but they are intended for staff to come prepared to answer all the questions asked by the elected officials. The reason normal, mature government has these sessions is because there are complex, expensive, and sometimes challenging issues which come before our elected officials, and the staff doing the day-to-day work is tasked with helping clarify and answer these questions before the issues are voted on. Citizens should want this because we don’t elect any politician (regardless of party) just to be a brain-dead rubber stamp for whatever staff dumps on their lap.
How it is done in grown-up land.
In Clark County, for some weird and inexcusable reason, the normal, rational order of government business is flipped backwards. The official board meetings when votes are taken are made on Tuesdays, then they schedule “Board Time” (or work sessions) on Wednesdays, then they post next Tuesday’s agenda items on their “grid” system for review on Thursdays, but no Board Time to hash out the details before the next Tuesday circus. On what planet does this seem like good or even functional government? Clark County has designed a process that creates maximum chaos and inefficient government even if all 5 of the County Councilmembers were angels and sang from the same choir book.
I can only speculate this strange schedule scheme was a natural mutation of the charter process. Also inexplicable, the County
Manager, Mark McCauley, is going along with this dysfunctional calendar process. I would gladly debate the County Manager on this subject if he seeks to defend this bizarre approach. Aside from the live tweeting reporter for the Columbian, no one in the room was enjoying this cumbersome and unnecessarily burdened immature process.
Speaking of the Columbian, I understand that conflict sells newspapers and is helpful clickbait, but the only Clark County entity who benefits from this is the Columbian, and judging from their steady circulation declines over the years – it doesn’t seem like they are benefitting enough to justify the public suffering. Fortunately, this problem is easily resolved.
Recommended policy changes for Clark County
This is the least controversial policy change I have ever recommended to any government entity in the last 6 years. This shouldn’t even be controversial. I defy any bureaucrat to defend the status quo because it should be embarrassing to them that anyone has to point this out. These recommendations may not pave the road to universal nirvana or a path to higher enlightenment, or even help us climb the stairway to heaven. However, I have great confidence it will get us off the highway to hell that these Clark County Council meetings have become. Very simple:
- Post “Grid” agenda Items as the first step in the process so all can see them in advance. If this seems confusing – look at any random assortment of hundreds of other elected government entities in Washington State to learn how. None of them are perfect, but the majority of them get this one right.
- Schedule “Board Time” at least a day BEFORE the general business meeting, AFTER the agenda items are on the “Grid” so the elected officials can have their political gladiator matches in an open meeting, but without unduly burdening down well-intentioned citizens who just want to be more civically engaged via public comment. This is also common courtesy. Every elected councilperson will have the opportunity to get answers to all questions they have from staff. This provides a setting which lays the foundation for the general business meeting – regardless of how they vote – the council will know exactly why they are voting the way they do.
- If “Board Time” creates an environment where agenda items are slowed down because the elected officials are doing their due diligence on issues, so be it. Staff can suck it up, do their job, and justify why the taxpayers pay their salaries. If problems are uncovered in this process, fine, then items can be tabled or delayed without wasting the public’s time. This is how the grownups do it. Clark County needs to graduate to adulthood and do it this way too.
Clark County Whistleblowers – please go here to learn more
Nothing proposed here is partisan. These minor scheduling reforms will greatly help smooth the functioning of Clark County government. These changes will bring us closer to to the decent, functional government we expect rather than the chaotic circus it has become.
Our Constitution begins with the phrase “we the people.” It was the founder’s intent that government be created by the people, to serve the people. It wasn’t their intention for the people to serve the government. It was always intended that government which failed to serve the people should be “altered or abolished.” Until we return to the founder’s intent, we remain We the Governed…