Myrna Leija appointed to vacant La Center City Council seat

Myrna Leija was appointed to fill Position 4 of the La Center City Council. Photo courtesy city of La Center
Myrna Leija was appointed to fill Position 4 of the La Center City Council. Photo courtesy city of La Center

Former Clark County corrections deputy replaces Thomas Strobehn, who was appointed as mayor in April

Leah Anaya
For Clark County Today

On Wednesday (June 14), the La Center City Council filled a position left vacant by the appointment of Thomas Strobehn from Position 4 to the position of mayor in April. Strobehn replaced former Mayor Greg Thornton, who resigned for health reasons. Myrna Leija, who is currently seeking election for the office, was unanimously appointed this week. After being selected, Leija was immediately sworn into the seat.

In response to the appointment, Mayor Thomas Strobehn told Clark County Today, “It was great to see two qualified candidates up for appointment, with their resumes, the vote could have gone either way. La Center is lucky to have these types of leaders in their community. I think Myrna is a great fit for the council and will work tirelessly on the issues we are facing.”

La Center City Councilman Sean Boyle said, “Myrna will be a great asset to the council and to the community she serves. Her work ethic and values will benefit our city!”

Leija is a former corrections deputy in Clark County and serves in many organizations in the area. She has been active at council meetings, especially regarding the need for La Center to have better law enforcement coverage. There will be no primary in the Position 4 race as there is only one other candidate besides Leija – Crystal Harvey. Voters will decide between the two in November.

“I appreciate the vote of confidence that my fellow councilors have placed in me,” Leija told Clark County Today, “and my intention is to work diligently on behalf of the residents of La Center. I’m excited to collaborate with the Council, mayor, and city staff to make La Center a better place to live and work. One of my chief goals is to facilitate a permanent law enforcement solution for our city.”

The issue of police coverage for the city of La Center has been front and center for several years. With just under 4,000 residents, the city has a budget to cover 10.5 employees. Population has increased in the city 29 percent from 2012 to 2022, according to the most recent census. La Center had been in talks with the Clark County Sheriff’s Office for contracted law enforcement coverage, but those talks were not successful due to low staffing levels at the Sheriff’s Office. Now the city is attempting to work with Ridgefield for assistance. In the past, the two smaller agencies have been able to work together to collaborate for full coverage of both areas.

A consultant firm, Berk’s Consulting, was hired in 2021 by the city of Ridgefield to determine whether it would be possible to contract with La Center while still maintaining the same level of public safety for Ridgefield residents. While some of the positives of this collaboration would be shared cost and more backup for existing officers, some of the potential problems associated with the contract would be the fact that Ridgefield is quickly growing and will therefore have higher needs for service.

Former Battle Ground Police Chief Bob Richardson is currently serving as La Center’s interim administrative police chief but does not actually provide public services in terms of patrolling the city. The last working police officer was a sergeant, who left the agency six months ago.

At the May City Council meeting, Richardson discussed the importance of having full-time supervisor coverage with new police reform laws and general public view of police. As it stands currently, Richardson said, “police supervisors have to go to use of force incidents and investigate them. They have to OK pursuits. There’s a lot of demand that happens even at 2 or 3 in the morning where you generally have a police officer out there with little experience, because that’s where the new guys end up. You have a supervisor that needs to be out there supervising.”

The issue of available funding for law enforcement began after the opening of ilani Casino in 2017, at which point the city’s revenue declined drastically –  to the tune of almost 60 percent from 2016 to 2019. Ridgefield City Council is hosting an online public survey, available until June 21, to help determine whether they should move forward with law enforcement collaboration between that city and La Center. The council members said they will discuss the results and continue discussions at that time.

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