VANCOUVER — John Blom and Eileen Quiring had their first official day of work as members of the Clark County Board of Councilors Tuesday.
Blom and Quiring, who were given the oath of office by Superior Court Judge James Rulli at a ceremony on Thu., Dec. 29, greeted the new year Tuesday in preparation for their first public meeting, scheduled for Tuesday evening.
Blom replaces David Madore as the District 3 representative on the council and Quiring takes the District 4 seat previously held by Tom Mielke.
“I’m excited to get to work,’’ Blom told ClarkCountyToday.com Tuesday afternoon. “There’s so much work that the county does. I’m looking forward to getting my hands in there and making a difference.’’
Blom is a former member of the Clark County Planning Commission. He says he’s eager to accept the challenges of his new position as an elected official and he vows to represent the will of Clark County’s citizens.
“I’ve been hearing from the citizens, what their concerns are, and I’m always ready to help champion their cause,’’ he said. “I think the message I’ve heard the clearest over the past year is they want the county government to be as efficient as possible and to be wise and good stewards of the resources we have available.’’
Blom said he watched attentively as the councilors recently went through the budget process and he believes there is more difficult decisions to be made in the future.
“That was a pretty big challenge in terms of matching revenue coming in with projected expenses,’’ Blom said. “I think we have some long-term issues we’re going to have to deal with over the next two years. We’re going to have to start looking at how we can slow the rate of expense growth from year to year.’’
One issue that Blom championed during his campaign was improvement in mental health care in Clark County. Specifically, he is a proponent for the construction of a new Mental Health Triage Center.
“The proposal is the result of a collaborative effort by Clark and Skamania County, managed care organizations, local law enforcement, Peace Health, and a number of community groups that provide mental health services,’’ Blom said. “Clark County is the only county in the state of Washington to be an ‘early adopter,’ integrating primary and mental health care. The desired center would provide diversion (from ER or jail), crisis stabilization, and also an involuntary treatment center (for people ordered by the court to enter drug/alcohol treatment).
“The primary benefit would be for the individuals in crisis who are often ending up either in ER or urgent care, or in jail,’’ Blom added. “Another critical benefit would be cost savings. The sheriff estimates diversions could provide over $700,000 in annual savings. Long-term, the center would provide diversion for individuals struggling with mental health issues, helping connect them to the treatment and preventing them from reaching a crisis point.
“The work group asked for $18.75 million from the state to design and build the center,’’ he said. “Governor Inslee’s budget included $15 million for the project. We will need support from all our local senators and representatives to get this included in the final capital budget.’’
During the past year, the council was divided from the beginning with Chair Marc Boldt and councilors Jeanne Stewart and Julie Olson forming a majority on most issues and Madore and Mielke making up the minority. Blom is hopeful a change of culture will take place.
“I think everyone is excited for a fresh start,’’ Blom said. “Regardless of what happened in the past, I think everyone is excited about the opportunity to see how this council will operate. I think there is excitement because it’s a changeover, not because of the people who have left or who is coming in.’’
Like Blom, Quiring’s initial days on the council have been very positive.
“Everybody is very cordial and friendly,’’ Quiring said when reached by ClarkCountyToday.com. “I just hope that we will be able to work together as a team. That’s my hope and that’s going to be my attempt.’’
Quiring received more than 62 percent of the vote in the November General Election, defeating Democrat Roman Battan. She vowed to spend her time on the council representing those voters who placed her on the council.
“I want to hold back on the reins of government,’’ said Quiring, who prefers the Republican party. “I definitely want to be an advocate for the people. I am there for them. I think most people want the government to use the money they have to send in wisely, whether it be taxes or fees. That is one of the things I keep in mind when I’m doing any kind of oversight or policy making.’’
Two issues Quiring is particularly passionate about are transportation and the rights of rural property owners.
“Having been on the Planning Commission, I saw how the rural community has been slighted in the sense of their property rights,’’ she said. “I don’t think they’re being taken into account enough. I want to be a strong advocate for them as well as the urban community. But, certainly the rural community has been left out of the equation far too often.’’
Quiring is confident the issue of bridges will be re-visited this year. She is in favor of a third, and possibly a fourth bridge over the Columbia River.
“We definitely need at least one more bridge,’’ Quiring said. “I don’t think we need to do anything with the existing bridge until we have a third bridge. I know we will need to retrofit the I-5 bridge so it’s completely safe, but I do believe we need another crossing maybe two. It’s going to take a lot of cooperation with Oregon and we need funding but we do have a new president who does want to spend a lot on infrastructure. If we’re going to spend on infrastructure, then maybe Washington and Oregon deserves some of that.’’