Candidates for county council debated at League of Women Voters hosted event on issues important to the community
VANCOUVER — Candidates for Clark County Council’s District 1 position debated during a forum Tuesday night, hosted by the League of Women Voters at the Vancouver Community Library.
Incumbent Jeanne E. Stewart, who is running as a Republican, squared off with her opponent Temple Lentz, who is running as a Democrat. Both were allowed a minute and a half to respond to nine pre-written questions, presented by a moderator.
Candidates first responded to a question regarding how they plan to handle county issues connected to mental illness as well as funding any proposed solutions.
“What I really want to focus on is how we can increase those [existing] services,” Lentz said. “Supportive housing is one way that we can do that, and we can increase the beds that are available and the services that people can get. There are projects underway, and we need to continue to support them.”
Stewart responded regarding the high rates of individuals suffering from mental illness being incarcerated.
“People who are mentally ill, in the past, when a crisis is created, they’ve gone to jail,” Stewart said. “Jail is not the place for people who are sick; people who are mentally ill. And what we need to do, and we have begun doing in Clark County, we are repurposing a building that will become and active center, a crisis center, for people who are mentally ill to go to to be assessed.”
The two questions that followed dealt with overcrowding in Clark County’s jail as well as potential programs for inmates to assist them in becoming law abiding citizens.
“The first thing we need to do is determine who are those that are in jail, we know the mentally ill still end up there, we know people who have drug addiction; people who have alcohol problems end up there,” Stewart said. “We don’t just need bigger jails, we need to divert those people that need treatment and attention and medical services and addiction programs, we need those folks directed there. That will reduce jail population.”
Lentz responded concerning possible management style changes within the jail.
“They want to move from indirect supervision, to direct supervision, and that is a much more effective way to supervise inmates.” Lentz said. “It is overcrowded … the conditions are poor, they’re bad for the inmates as well as the people who work there. It’s not a good situation, and by moving to direct supervision you have staff directly on the floor interacting with inmates, and it’s a much more effective means.”
In a transition towards fiscal issues, the question was then posed regarding each candidate’s ideas on how to increase revenue in the county, and where do they believe the current council may have gone awry. Among the issues was county’s decline of an annual 1 percent property tax increase and the fees holiday.
“I don’t see anyway that we can forego that [1 percent tax] this year,” Stewart said. “What we’re looking to do now, is to make sure that our cost of doing services for the development industry and other people that come in for permits or whatever, that we are not subsidizing it. If it’s a fee, we’re trying to have it be a fee for service, and we’re trying to make sure that, the amount of the fee corresponds with what it costs Clark County to provide the service.”
Lentz responded directly and with surety.
“The extent to which the fee holiday and declining to take the 1 percent … property tax increase over the course of five years, seriously damaged Clark County’s budget,” Lentz said. “We had the opportunity to slightly keep pace, but we didn’t, and when I say ‘we,’ that existed for five years. The commission and then the council, elected to not take the 1 percent allowed increase in property taxes. By not taking that, we seriously damaged our ability to meet costs.”
The questions that followed, drew several strong partisan responses from both candidates on the subject of marijuana, as well as the selling and taxing thereof within unincorporated county areas.
Lentz said she thinks the county should rethink its choice to not allow the sale of pot, and said she says so even as someone who has family with substance abuse issues.
“The city of Vancouver does have sales, and the county encompasses the city of Vancouver. We are not currently receiving any revenue from pot sales in Clark County,” Lentz said. “But our jail and our courts, should there be any issues, are having to fund these services. We need to keep pace. The Clark County Council’s approach to whether or not we should lift this ban, has been largely to cover their ears, and hope that it goes away. It’s not going away. “
Stewart countered with speaking to the potential dangers of recreational use of modern marijuana.
“The marijuana that is sold today is not the marijuana of the ‘60s and ‘70s,” Stewart said. “It is an entirely different substance. It is synthesized, it is hybridized … it’s possibly a hundred times more powerful, and I’ve actually heard numbers that are bigger than that. I can tell you as a person who sits on the mental health sales tax executive board … I can tell you how many people need treatment … how many people need treatment for chemical dependency of all kinds. There are things I won’t do for money.”
Candidates then discussed their views on the council’s role in budgeting. Stewart challenged earlier statements made by Lentz regarding the actual length of time the county went without incurring the 1 percent tax increase. Lentz rebutted this by saying if you were to look at the record, you would find her statements to be true.
Both candidates said they believed the role of the council in budgeting is to work with the revenue and costs, as well as the county manager, on the budget.
The final two questions centered around candidates’ vision for Clark County 20 years down the line. Topics including affordable housing, agricultural lands, population increases, and environmental quality, were among the issues posed with what the candidates’ views of the future would be.
“What I really want to see for Clark County, now, in 20 years and moving into the future, is a balance community,” Lentz said. “So you have a diverse assortment of housing opportunities, of employment opportunities and of commercial opportunities. That we have a balance of types of land, that we have urban, that we have sub-urban, and that we do preserve our forests and resource land, and our small farms. This is a great place to live, but I want to be sure that it is a great place to live for all of us.”
“We want a balanced Clark County now, and we want a balanced Clark County in the future,” Stewart said. “As communities grow, they tend to grow from where the density is, to where the farms and open space used to be, and that’s a normal growth pattern for every county in the state. The difficulty is, there’s a state law called the Growth Management Act, that trumps our wishes and our desires. So as much as we know that some farm land that’s not used for farming anymore, might be useful to be maybe low density residential… we’re not allowed to convert it.”
Stewart closed by saying there is “work to do” and she hopes to create jobs, transportation plans, mental health and educational services, and housing options, while working with the homeless. Her website can be found here.
Lentz closed by saying she has been a part of the community for years, and she loves Clark County. She said she wants a council that doesn’t say “we’re working on it,” but instead simply works on it. Her website can be found here.
For more information on the race, check out Clark County’s Voters Pamphlet for 2018.