Michelle Belkot and Chartisha Roberts shared their views this week at the forum hosted by the League of Women Voters of Clark County
Three of the five positions on the Clark County Council are up for grabs on the Nov. 8 general election ballot. Earlier this week, the candidates for the District 2 seat participated in a candidate forum hosted by the League of Women Voters of Clark County at the Vancouver Community Library.
Michelle Belkot and Chartisha Roberts advanced from the August primary election. One will emerge as the replacement for current Councilor Julie Olson, who did not seek reelection.
To view the video of Monday’s candidate forum, go to cvtv.org.
Here are the questions asked of the candidates by moderator Amy Easton at this week’s forum as well as the candidates’ questions:
Why do you want to be a council member? What issues are most important to you? And what skills and abilities would you bring to the position?
Belkot: I’m running to bring the voice back to District 2. There has been a lot of miscommunication, or just the residents of District 2 not being listened to by the current county councilor. I want to bring that voice back to the people. The people’s opinions matter to me. The skills that I bring to the table are that I’ve served 25 years collectively in the Air Force and the Navy. I have 20-plus years in acquisition of multimillion dollar construction and architecture and engineering contracts in the federal government. I’m a veteran, a mother and I bring a very diverse and experienced background to this position.
Roberts: I am a graduate from University of Oregon, with my Bachelor’s Degree in General Science. Also, I have background experience in HR (Human Resources) and transportation. When it comes to problem solving, I understand the importance of involving others to maximize the solution that benefits everyone. Being the leader, it’s important to listen, and to be transparent and collaborative. Just like you I want to see the county safe and thriving, not just for today, but for tomorrow as well.
Aerial fireworks have become a greater fire hazard because of the drought in recent years. What do you think about permanently banning this type of fireworks except for community displays?
Roberts: I believe with the fireworks that are, first off, they sound like you’re in a war zone. It’s disruptive to members of the community that have had trauma. But I also understand that it is a way of celebration, especially for the July 4th, it’s a very patriotic holiday. So I’m going to continue to have those community conversations, but then also realize that it does take resources from fire, and also for code enforcement as well. So, we need to be mindful of that too. So I’m willing to have those conversations. But I understand the importance of both sides.
Belkot: As someone who grew up in Clark County, the fireworks display was something that was known around the West Coast that we have the biggest display west of the Mississippi. I love fireworks. I think it’s great. I’m a veteran. It celebrates the independence of our country. This year, they had it on July 3 and called it Summerfest. There wasn’t a lot of community involvement. In a small way, I think that fireworks bring us together as a community. It’s a sign of celebration. It’s fun. Obviously, if there’s a drought or 116 degree temperatures, like there was last year, we should maybe take a look at that. But I think fireworks are just a great way to celebrate our independence and I think they’re fantastic.
Would you support cities annexing unincorporated areas inside urban growth boundaries as a way to improve existing services? Why or why not?
Belkot: Clearly the urban growth area goes north into District 2. I’d be very watchful (to see) if the citizens are served and it’s beneficial for all, not just more land grab by the city. Annexation has to make sense for all community parties. And that’s what I would be looking for and advocating for.
Roberts: I think I can speak for most of the constituents in District 2 that we wouldn’t necessarily like how things are done right now with the county services. But if we were annexed into the city, I would ensure that we work together to make that transition smooth for all of us.
Should the county take steps to provide more affordable housing within the current unincorporated designated growth areas of Clark County? If so, how?
Roberts: I definitely think that we should be expanding the resources for affordable housing. In a study done by WalletHub, Vancouver was ranked 175. And that was the eighth worst on the list because of the city’s tight market, and more than 25 percent of the homeowners are spending more than 30 percent of their income towards housing. The County Council also makes permits and zoning policies that we need to enhance our mixed housing with more apartments, multi-family houses and District 2 can definitely handle more urban density. We need to look at innovative ways to serve our community. And I think we need to definitely look at working towards better affordable housing, because that is one of the reasons why we have such a large homeless population.
Belkot: Affordable housing is a very complex issue in Clark County, just before digging a hole with all the permits it takes to build a house. It’s $93,000 as of six months ago, which is a lot of money. I think things also get very convoluted with the county with the cost of permits and the amount of permits that are required to build a house in the county. The county buildable lands reports seemed very lopsided and didn’t really address the county government part. It didn’t show what they could do to lower costs for the people to afford homes in Clark County. So I think they really need to look again and look at that. But they really need to address the permitting issues. I’ve talked to a lot of building stakeholders, stakeholders in this area that have said it’s really a problem and that getting through to the permitting office is a nightmare, if they can get through at all.
Specifically, what transportation projects would you rank highest for the use of county road funds?
Belkot: The I-5 bridge? That’s a big one to me. My family’s personally affected by the potential of having to lay tolls before anything is built. I can’t even imagine paying $16, maybe even more, that really needs to be addressed. It’s been an issue for two decades. I remember it was the Columbia River Crossing, and now it’s the Interstate Bridge (replacement). I don’t think that tolls are the answer to that. To build the I-205 Bridge, they built that bridge with gasoline tax money. They didn’t do it with tolls. So it can be done. And I support a third bridge now.
Roberts: I think with transportation, the top resources or programs that we need to be looking at is the I-5 interchange off of 179th. Also, we need to be looking at The Vine that will be coming from the waterfront all the way to Salmon Creek through Highway 99. Also, I think it’s important to maintain our roads. I know the bridge is an important factor to look at but we technically don’t have jurisdiction over the bridge. Obviously, I would advocate and make sure that the county’s needs are heard and hopefully being met. But, I would rather focus on the things that we actually have control over, which is making more livable neighborhoods with walkable access to public transportation and better roads.
Do you support the proposed charter amendment to adopt rank choice voting for county positions?
Roberts: I think Rank Choice Voting is a great opportunity for nonpartisan races. I think it gives more opportunity for people of color and women to be representative in government and also be a reflection of the community. And also, I think it’s a safe and effective way for our voices to be heard. We can go with the public or popular person, but we also can try to vote for people that we also like, as well by ranking. So I think it’s a great idea.
Belkot: I personally don’t like it or don’t support it. I don’t think that it works. It was repealed in several different counties in our state in 2009. And Pierce County, why did they repeal it? It was complicated, it was costly. The candidate with the most votes isn’t guaranteed to win, which that’s an issue. Many citizens have serious concerns about voter integrity that go back to 2000, 2016, 2020. I don’t think right now is the time for a complicated and confusing system to throw on top of our voting system. I support RejectAllSix.com. I really encourage people to go there and check that out.
How can the council improve the perception by some residents that their input is not valued when a proposed project may affect them?
Belkot: Probably, by communicating with people. I know in District 2, the current county councilor doesn’t respond to several different stakeholders, business owners, to the point where they have sent her certified mail and she doesn’t respond back. In the voters pamphlet, that’s my personal cell phone number. So, if the voter had a concern that had to do with any project within District 2, give me a call. It’s me. It’s not an answering service. Being responsive to emails, that’s also helpful. Feel free to reach out to me anytime now and if I get elected.
Roberts: I agree, I think that we are not being heard. And I think it’s important to create different ways of communicating to the constituents and also being available. I’m very responsive as well, my phone number and email is listed on my website, and then the voter guide as well. So if you have any questions, please let me know. But also while canvassing, a lot of people don’t even know what is going on and what the County Council even does. So, I think it’s very important to continue to educate our constituents, our everyday people, on what’s going on with the community before we’ve already made a decision. And then we say, ‘Oh, we want your input now.’ So understanding what the county does and how we serve you. And then also, when projects arise, involve them from the very beginning, not the end.
The new council will be adopting an updated Comprehensive Growth Plan by 2025. If you were the sole decision maker, how would it look different from the current plan?
Roberts: What I like about the growth plan is that we can always readjust it. I think it’s important to be mindful of what we’re doing with the land use and how we’re using that land use, whether it’s in relooking at open spaces to develop or not (rural development), but keeping our rural spaces for our farmers. Also looking at our high density populated areas and how we can adjust the growth and moving that. I think it’s important to invest in businesses as well, whether it’s small or large. I think it’s important also to look at where we’re replacing schools and police facilities and fire stations. And I think with the plan, I also think it’s important to involve the community as well. I don’t think I should be the sole person making those decisions. I think it’s very important to involve and ask the community What we’re looking for with following the policies of the county.
Belkot: The county’s Urban Growth Area does not have enough vacant land to meet future needs. I think there’s a disconnect between what the county feels its obligation is and what the reality is. I think we need a variety of different housing, we need to find areas with high density, urban development, cottage housing, accessory, developing dwelling units, apartments. There’s a lot more housing opportunities that we could involve our community. And I think that needs to have another go around and review what is our needs for our community and what’s in that plan because our population growth has exponentially exploded in this county and we need more housing.
The County Council recently passed a resolution to transfer oversight of the jail from the sheriff to the county council. Do you support this move? Why or why not?
Belkot: I was very shocked and dismayed about that decision, because they didn’t ask for any public input. They just sprung it on us without talking to any of us. Even the sheriff candidates that are running right now, they spoke out against it and asked for more time to make the decision. And then today, one of the former sheriff candidates during the primaries was appointed as taking over Jail Services, with no oversight by the sheriff. That’s the way that it will now be set up for the future. I think that’s a big problem because that makes it so the county councilors have no input or control over Jail Services now and that a hired county employee will now be making those decisions. So, if they have an issue with his performance, the sheriff can’t do anything about it. He can’t fire him and neither can the county councilors. So I was not supportive of that decision.
Roberts: I would say many other constituents and myself were very surprised with the decision that the county made by taking over the management of the jails. Watching the meeting when it took place and hearing those constituents and having them speaking their ideas on why we shouldn’t have done it or actually involving the community more as well. I also wanted to highlight, which no one has highlighted, that there was one person who actually worked there who expressed that they want to feel safe, and that that decision was to make the jails work on being safe. So, I think it’s important to involve the constituents when you’re making those huge decisions and to stakeholders that do impact the jail and ownership over that as well.
Roberts: I know I’m not your average typical candidate, but I’m here to serve. I’m here to do all the hard work that needs to be done. I want to bring collaboration, I want to bring our voices back to the table and not only my voice but others that don’t look like me, others that don’t think like me, and I think that is what’s missing in this community. And I’m willing to be that candidate to understand that there are different barriers that do prevent others from being successful in this county. I want it to be safe and I want it to be the best and thriving county it can be so I ask for your vote ElectChartisha.com.
Belkot: I’m running to represent the District 2 voices again, representing people over politics as was mentioned by another candidate. This has become a nonpartisan position. I have a proven record of leadership and doing multimillion acquisition construction projects as well with the military. I’ve been endorsed by the Clark County Sheriff’s Guild, the Builder Industry Association, LifePak Slavic vote … I’d be honored to have your vote. If you want to learn more about me go to MichelleBelkot.com.