Clark County Today Editor Ken Vance offers his perspective on the past week’s shenanigans pulled off by Clark County staff and elected officials
County Chair Karen Dill Bowerman called it “appalling.’’ Councilor Gary Medvigy said it was “an awful occurrence.’’ I believe a compelling argument can be made that neither of the councilor’s comments are strong enough to describe what took place in the past week.
Clark County elected officials and staff pulled off quite a coup this past week and the direct result of their political maneuvering is that almost $4 million additional taxpayer dollars will be collected from Clark County citizens in 2023 than would have had the chicanery not taken place.
Let’s retrace the steps taken in this disgusting example of political gamesmanship.
Abrupt appointment of Sue Marshall to District 5 seat
A long list of those players involved in county business, including the County Council, were under the impression that all three of the candidate-elects from the Nov. 8 general election would be sworn in to their seats on Jan. 3. Those in the dark included Councilors Bowerman and Medvigy, as well as Councilor Dick Rylander, who was appointed by Gov. Jay Inslee to fill the District 5 seat earlier this year. Even Marshall, one of the three (along with Glen Yung and Michelle Belkot) scheduled to join the council in January, wasn’t aware that she could take her seat earlier than what was scheduled.
All that changed when Auditor Greg Kimsey called Marshall on Nov. 30 and informed her that she was eligible to take her seat on the council immediately. It is not known who else was aware that Marshall may take her seat earlier than planned, but Kimsey told me himself that he made the call to Marshall and gave her the choice as to when she would like to be sworn in.
Kimsey told me that he didn’t know why so many others involved in county business weren’t aware that Marshall could be sworn in earlier than expected. One obvious explanation is that he allowed the misperception to exist by not communicating his plans with anyone, or at least anyone that he was not colluding with.
So, just days before the County Council was scheduled to hold public hearings on the 2023 county budget, Marshall agreed to be sworn in immediately. Kimsey then orchestrated a combination of events that Bowerman called “the most unprofessional’’ of her long career in public service.
While the councilors, including Rylander, were gathering for an executive session, Chief Civil Deputy Leslie Lopez burst into the room with all the decorum of a bull crashing into a china closet and proudly stated to Rylander that “you’re done.’’ At approximately the same time, Kimsey himself was swearing in Marshall at a separate location.
Rylander had spent considerable time preparing for the budget process. After Marshall’s abrupt swearing-in, she had just a few days to prepare and her own testimony and questions during Tuesday’s budget meeting illustrated how woefully unprepared she was to be voting on such important county business.
Oh by the way, there’s a recount underway
At the time the Nov. 8 general election was certified, Marshall held a lead of about 1,300 votes over Don Benton in the race for the District 5 seat on the council. Benton has reportedly paid $10,000 to have the county recount the ballots in 12 of the precincts in District 5.
Kimsey told me that elections officials finished sorting ballots into precincts Wednesday (Dec. 7) and the recount is scheduled for Friday (Dec. 9). This would seem to raise one significant question, if the recount hasn’t been done yet, why should Kimsey presume the recount is going to confirm Marshall’s election to office?
Instead, Marshall has already been allowed to take office and on Tuesday she was able to cast a series of very critical votes that will mean higher taxes for Clark County citizens. I’m not predicting the recount is going to change the outcome of the election, but what if it does? Isn’t that why the election laws allow a recount?
Those additional tax dollars
County staff and department heads are almost always going to ask for more resources, including staffing, during a budget process. So, it wouldn’t be hard to find a motive for those folks to have a vested interest in the outcome of the annual budget process.
In this case, prior to Marshall being sworn-in to the District 5 seat, it was widely known that Bowerman, Medvigy and Rylander would not be in favor of raising taxes on Clark County citizens. In fact, a couple of weeks prior to the scheduled budget process, Rylander stated in a public meeting that he would be voting against the county using its 1 percent annual property tax increase allowed by law, not to mention any banked amount.
Tuesday’s actual vote of the current five councilors proves that it was much more than a conspiracy theory. As expected, Councilors Temple Lentz and Julie Olson, each in their final meeting on the County Council, voted in favor of tax increases and Bowerman and Medvigy voted against. Had Rylander been in the District 5 seat as planned, the property tax increases would have failed. Instead, Marshall was there to vote in lock-step with Lentz and Olson and voila, the tax increases were approved.
But it was only $7 a year
Some in the community think folks like me are protesting a bit too much in the wake of these events. It’s been said that the property tax increase is just $7 per year for the average property owner. Let’s take a closer look. There’s more context to be gleaned.
The approved 2023 budget includes a 1 percent and banked capacity increase for the General Fund, Metropolitan Parks District (MPD) Parks Fund and Road Fund tax levies as recommended by County Manager Kathleen Otto.
Based on the median household price of $525,000, the levy increase will cost taxpayers an additional $7.19 per year for the General Fund, 90 cents per year for the MPD Parks Fund, and $26.55 per year for the Road Fund. These increases will generate an additional $1,311,776 revenue in the General Fund, $45,702 for the MPD Parks Fund and $2,463,824 in the Road Fund. That adds up to $3,821,302.
I don’t know about you, but even in a county with an annual budget of $753.5 million, $3.8 million is a lot of money. And, that comes in addition to the Public Safety Tax approved by voters, the upcoming increase in the gas tax authorized by Washington lawmakers, and the highest inflation rate in 40 years (which creates higher prices for groceries and other necessary items) and there is more than adequate cause for any citizens to have tax-and-spend fatigue.
Dysfunction on display
The event’s of the past week make one thing abundantly clear. There is serious dysfunction among elected officials and county staff in Clark County. And, it’s not the first time in the past year that has been painfully obvious. (We’re still waiting for Clark County’s disastrous redistricting process to be settled by the courts.)
There is a long list of examples of mistrust in the recent history of the County Council, the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, the Auditor’s Office and even the Clark County Sheriff’s Office.
For now, there is seemingly nothing that can be done about the additional $3.8 million in taxes you’re going to pay in 2023. It is clear that this round has been won by those who controlled the political puppet strings in the maneuvers successfully executed in the past week. But, in January there will be a new council. In the future, there will be additional elections involving county officials. We can only hope for better actions from our representatives.
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