When I asked all of the members of the Vancouver City Council on Monday whether they supported Clark County Commissioner David Madore’s plan for a bridge at 192nd Avenue, I was given more feedback than what I could squeeze into a 33-inch story. (And I had to say “pretty please” to members of the copy desk to get that much inside jump space on deadline.)
The main point I wanted to make in the story was that 192nd is a city street, and county commissioners would need approval from the city to attach a bridge to it, and there’s no way the city is going to give that permission.
But another point brought up by councilors was that Madore was touting a four-lane “bridge to nowhere” as a real steal compared to the Columbia River Crossing, as if the projects were on an equal scale.
Councilor Jack Burkman gave me this map, showing a breakdown of CRC costs. It’s from 2011, so things changed, but this map shows the bridge as costing $780 million. (Madore’s bridge is estimated to cost $860 million). In our Tuesday story, we cited the cost of the CRC bridge “and landings” (which were much more involved than the ones planned for the east county bridge) as $1.2 billion, which was the most recent information available.
But the map shows the components of the Columbia River Crossing, which wasn’t just a bridge.
Another point made by councilors, which was briefly addressed in the article, was that Madore has greatly oversimplified the process of building a bridge over a federal waterway that connects two states.
Public discussions related to the bottlenecks at the Interstate 5 bridge began in 1999, and the CRC project formally entered the required decision-making process under the National Environmental Policy Act in 2005. (While Madore has said he wants to leave the feds out of it, he can’t escape the feds when it comes to environmental regulations, and this bridge would still go through the NEPA process.) The locally preferred alternative was selected in 2008 by the sponsoring agencies. A final environmental impact statement on that locally preferred alternative was released in September 2011.
I was curious to see how the vote would go on a proposed policy to let the public to pick up the tab for councilors to join civic and service organizations.
But I’ll be left wondering, because the issue died Monday night. City Councilor Alishia Topper asked for the item to be pulled from the consent agenda so it could be discussed. The council spent fewer than 10 minutes talking about the policy, which would have allowed the city to pay up to $500 in dues for approved clubs per councilor per year. (That’s a maximum of $3,500 a year.)
A majority of members said they believe their annual council salaries should be used to pay for club dues, as belonging to civic and service organizations comes with the territory of serving in local elected office. Councilor Jack Burkman said he wouldn’t personally ask to be reimbursed but he would support the policy so it would be on the books in the event a councilor felt a need to use it.
But after the discussion ended, nobody made a motion to approve the policy.
Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt, who proposed the policy, waited a few seconds then said, “OK, no motion, no second, I guess the item dies for a lack of motion of support.”
I later asked Leavitt, who owes $560 for his 2014 Vancouver Rotary Club dues and meeting assessment fees, if he’s done with the club.
Appears so, he said.
We all know people don’t seek elected office for the money.
They do it for their egos.
But most elected officials get some compensation. In the case of the Vancouver City Council, members are paid and eligible to receive health insurance. The five councilors currently earn $1,781 a month, while Mayor Pro Tem Larry Smith earns $2,000 a month and Mayor Tim Leavitt earns $2,200 a month. (Those salaries, with the exception of the mayor pro tem’s, will increase in January.)
Now, Leavitt has suggested the city pick up the tab for annual dues for a civic or service organization. Under his proposal, the city would pay up to $500 per year per council member. If the policy is adopted at the council meeting Monday, $3,500 will be included in the 2015 budget for dues.
According to a staff report from City Manager Eric Holmes, members of the council “often hold memberships in local civic and other services organizations as part of their regular community engagement activities as elected officials. Regular participation in these groups help council members maintain relationships within the community and aids in outreach to organizations that may partner with the city on mutual projects or initiatives.”
Under the proposed policy, the city would only cover dues. Extra costs, such as meals and mileage, would not be reimbursed. And membership in fraternal or social organizations would not be eligible for reimbursement.
Under the proposed policy: “The Mayor or City Manager will consider a number of factors, including the following criteria, when approving membership in community and civic organizations: the nature and purpose of the club or organization; potential benefit to the city, including the enhancement of council members’ opportunity for leadership; the cost to the city; and the extent to which the city is already represented in the club or organization.”
Leavitt, who suggested the policy at the council’s July 7 meeting, hasn’t paid his 2014 dues to the Vancouver Rotary Club. According to his billing statement, he owes $240 for annual dues and $320 for “meeting assessment.” (I asked Leavitt and Gordon Oliver, the Columbian’s business editor and Rotary member, what “meeting assessment” meant and got two different answers. Maybe a helpful Rotarian can explain in the comments.)
Rotary members meet weekly for lunch at the Red Lion at the Quay and are constantly being hit up for more cash, whether it’s throwing $1 on the table for getting named in the newspaper or making a $100 donation to the foundation, which awards community grants and scholarships.
Leavitt, a civil engineer at PBS Engineering + Environmental, said he thinks the city should pay his Rotary dues. He’s seen his primary salary decrease as his public obligations (meetings, ribbon-cuttings and other community events) cause him to miss work. PBS used to pay his Rotary dues, but stopped because having Leavitt as a member of the Rotary wasn’t a benefit for PBS. People saw Leavitt in his role as mayor, not as an engineer. Leavitt, who now gets paid on an hourly basis by PBS, said if the city won’t pick up his Rotary dues in 2015, he’ll cancel his membership.
What has traditionally been the bailiwick of candidates running for governmental position appears to be morphing into a tactic used by hyper local candidates. You see, a couple of precinct committee officer candidates are treating their campaigns like they’re running for Senate.
They’re Republicans Ann Donnelly and Dick Sohn. Residents of Precinct 225, within Vancouver’s city limits, have had the privilege of receiving the candidates’ materials in the mail over the course of the election season. A tipster who lives in the neighborhood says it’s the first time he’s ever seen PCOs battle it out in people’s mailboxes.
There is some history between the two candidates. Donnelly previously held the Republican party’s Precinct 225 committee officer position for two decades before Sohn unseated her. As her flier states, she was elected to act as a Washington state delegate at the 2012 GOP national convention.
Here’s her flier:
She also wrote a letter to her neighbors, which outlines why she is again running for PCO. In the letter, she aligns herself as a centrist of sorts, beating back against some of the more – ahem – alienating forces of the party.
I am running for PCO because I believe our party’s influence in the community can and should be improved. It is essential that our party field and elect the most qualified and persuasive candidates. To make them successful, our party organization must have the credibility and respect of the majority of the voters. I believe we can do better in this regard.
The next part of the letter is where it gets interesting.
In recent years, some leaders in our party have taken a course of action with which I disagree. It is not about whether we should be more or less conservative. It is about whether we should tolerate diversity of opinion and dissent within our ranks. I strongly believe that we should be tolerant.
I believe we are strongest when we unite behind some common ideals. In recent months and even years, a number of previously active members of our party have expressed concern about their future participation. We have kept them with us because, in future elections, their silence and absence from our activities will mean losses for our candidates.
Here’s her letter to residents:
Not to be outdone, Sohn has his own flier, which calls on his fellow Republicans to get active in local party politics. He loses some credibility by writing that by being involved his neighbors can meet “a lot of really fun people.”
His flier is here:
Based on this turn of events, I predict that in five years PCO candidates will be be advertising on television and spending thousands of their own dollars on positions that have no real power.]]>
At Monday’s Vancouver City Council meeting, TV ETC. and CVTV were re-designated as the education and government access providers for the Comcast cable system.
But, in what was a first, the council, acting on the recommendation of the Vancouver/Clark County Telecommunications Commission, denied Fort Vancouver Community Television’s application to be re-designated as the public access provider.
Or, as I prefer to think of it, the Wayne and Garth channel.
Instead of featuring the excellent musings of two dudes who spend Friday nights (party time!) in a basement in a Chicago suburb, FVTV, on Comcast Ch. 11, airs programs that are “primarily religious or political in nature.” It is, in the eyes of the commission, a “poorly operated service.”
Bob Colleti, chairman of the telecommunications commission, told the city council that recommending the denial was not a decision the commission took lightly. FVTV has been given several warnings over the years, he said.
Among the concerns:
* Fiscal sustainability. FVTV relies on $50,000 a year from Clark County, and the commission noted a possibility the county will stop giving them money. The $50,000 pays nearly 90 percent of FVTV’s operating expenses (rent, utilities, office supplies and salaries.) FVTV, a nonprofit that relies on volunteers, earns some money from classes, producer memberships, donations and fees.
* Questionable accounting/ability to follow rules. FVTV has received $1.4 million in Public, Educational and Government grants from the city and county since it started in 2002. Those grants are only for capital purchases. According to the commission, FVTV has not paid state sales taxes on some equipment purchases, has used grant funds for operating expenses, has turned in incomplete receipts and has “grant funds that are unaccounted for.”
* Turning away locally produced content. The commission has received complaints that FVTV has rejected locally produced content which it is required to air.
* Not meeting the primary goal of public access. The commission has concerns that FVTV’s focus is on training producers and citizen journalists but not actually producing programs.
According to FVTV’s application, in 2013 it aired 2,496 hours of local programming out of 5,616 hours. I’m not sure how “local” is defined, but many programs are based in Portland.
Among the 210 shows aired in 2013: “The Meat of the Word,” “The Victory is Won,” “Jimmy Be Free,” “New Tang Dynasty,” “Cannabis Common Sense,” “DOA Pro Wrestling,” “Is The Rapture Coming Soon?” “Joseph Hozan Ministries“, “Psychiatry: An Industry of Death,” “Worship for Shut-Ins” and “Don’t Buy Those Bones.”
On Tuesday, county commissioners will vote on the recommendation to deny FVTV’s application. Jan Bader, the city’s program and policy manager, said the city and the county have to agree on the public access provider. If commissioners decide to give FVTV another shot, Bader will have to go back to the drawing board. If commissioners side with the city council, FVTV will be on-air through Dec. 31, then it will have to return all equipment purchased with PEG grants in the past five years to the city.
The city and county don’t have to have a public access provider, Bader said. Given the platforms people have today, including YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and blogs, many communities are choosing not to have a public access station, Bader said.
Comcast doesn’t want the channel dark, but Bader said she doesn’t know what would replace public access programming. The commission could put out a call for proposals to see if another group would be well-suited to run Channel 11.
On Monday, three FVTV board members pleaded for a chance to make Channel 11 a “true community asset,” but, as you’ll see in the video, the majority of the council was unmoved by their performances. The vote was 5-1 to dump FVTV. Councilor Alishia Topper was absent and Councilor Bill Turlay was the lone “no” vote. (Turlay was also the only member listed among FVTV’s 2013 programming. “Bill Turlay” aired 21 times while he was running for mayor.)
Paul Suarez, The Columbian’s web producer, did his best to make a clip of the highlights, but it’s still more than four minutes long. Bader and Colletti are featured, along with FVTV board members and city councilors Jack Burkman, Larry Smith and Bart Hansen.
Turns out the Clark County Fair isn’t the only place Ted Nugent has had to scratch off his concert schedule.
As we reported, Nugent was supposed to play the fair on Aug. 5, and the news of his show prompted Vancouver resident Troy Maxcy to start an anti-Nuge petition on MoveOn.org.
Within a week the Nugent concert at the grandstands had been canceled — but only because of a contract issue, according to fair manager John Morrison. Morrison explained that fair contracts signed with artists prohibit the performers from playing other shows within a certain distance and time of the fair. Nugent’s “Shut Up & Jam!” tour includes shows Aug. 2 and 3 at the Emerald Queen Casino in Tacoma. Morrison said he only learned of the Tacoma dates on May 1, when he went online to check ticket sales.
Had he known about the Tacoma shows, Morrison said, he would have never booked the “Cat Scratch Fever” singer.
Even if Morrison had canceled Nugent because of protests over Nugent’s right-wing political views, he wouldn’t be alone. The Couer d’ Alene Casino canceled Nugent’s Aug. 4 show, saying “his racist attitudes and views,” were not welcome after a blogger from the Southern Poverty Law Center called attention to the show.
There is some good news for Nugent fans yearning to hear “Wang Dang Sweet Poontang” (sample line: “She’s so sweet when she yanks on my meat”). On Tuesday, Aug. 5, the day he was supposed to play the fair, he’ll be playing at the Portland Expo Center.]]>
I follow “Overheard in the Newsroom” on Twitter, because it produces occasional gems:
This quote came to mind during a July 7 Vancouver City Council meeting, when councilors were discussing whether the three city council representatives on the C-Tran Board of Directors should vote to terminate a contract with TriMet regarding the operation of light rail. (The next day the C-Tran board ended up not taking any action.)
Here’s from the city minutes, which I’m using because it’s too painful for me to go back and listen to the discussion:
TRIMET CONTRACT RE: COLUMBIA RIVER CROSSING PROJECT LIGHT RAIL TRANSIT
Mayor Leavitt explained that C‐TRAN may discuss whether to explore terminating the contract with TriMet regarding CRC light rail transit due to some board members’ apprehensions that allowing the contract to remain active, although idle, could potentially mean the CRC plans for light rail could be implemented if conditions of the contract regarding that project design were eventually met. Council discussed at length the potential risks involved with seeking to terminate a legal agreement with TriMet vs. allowing the contract to sit dormant; the potential of the contract conditions actually being met and the actual viability of the contract at this point; and options for working in partnership with TriMet to determine how to move forward in regards to the viability of the contract. By concurrence, Council directed its C‐TRAN Board representatives to support working in partnership with TriMet to determine the best next steps with the contract and to not support any termination action that would result in legal action against TriMet or would incur a significant cost to C‐TRAN.
When Leavitt introduced the subject he laughed a bit, as if acknowledging he thinks it’s ridiculous people are pushing to kill a contract for what he called an “idle” project.
Idle? Is that what we’re calling it now?
Councilor Jack Burkman got into the details of the contract, which was specific to the Columbia River Crossing proposal. You know, the one that died in 2013. Then died again this year.
Councilor Anne McEnerny-Ogle said, “The question comes down to, ‘Is CRC dormant, or is CRC dead?’”
“As Councilmember Burkman pointed out, there are so many restrictions that need to happen before this contract is implemented I believe there’s an opportunity to ask TriMet to void the contract,” McEnerny-Ogle said.
“It sounds like Anne hit the nail on the head,” said Councilor Alishia Topper. “Is CRC dormant, or is it dead? That’s the million-dollar question.” A lot of resources went into creating that contract, Topper said, “and until that question can be answered with a definitive response, it seems premature to terminate it.”
Wait. That’s a million-dollar question? One that hasn’t been definitively answered?
Let’s hear from Councilor Larry Smith.
“The realist inside of me says that the CRC is dead … I don’t think it’s dormant,” Smith said.
Smith said his No. 1 priority is replacing the Interstate 5 bridge and he thinks the TriMet contract will impede progress to creating partnerships with people who opposed the CRC. But then his inner realist also tells him that Oregon won’t want a replacement bridge without light rail, so it’s no use trying to win over the anti-light rail crowd.
As noted in the minutes, the group agreed to suggest asking TriMet if the contract can be voided with no penalty. (I question the accuracy of the minutes, as I thought councilors wanted assurance there’d be no legal action against C-Tran for terminating the contract, not against TriMet, and Burkman was clear that he wanted no cost, not “no significant cost.”)
But the question, “Dormant or dead?” was answered only by Smith, or at least his “inner realist.”
I guess I don’t understand the meaning of the word “dead.” And that’s fine. The Board of Clark County Commissioners took it upon themselves to define integrity, so the Vancouver City Council can decide to define “dead.”
It’s been a rough couple of weeks at public meetings. First there was the Sieg Heil dude, whose Nazi salute set the C-Tran board on edge (yet elicited a smattering of applause among the audience, who were perhaps unaware that nowhere in the tenets of National Socialism is there mention of Bus Rapid Transit). Then at Tuesday’s Board of Clark County Commissioners meeting, a man angry at the commissioners’ inability to set a new policy on fireworks in unincorporated areas despite voter approval last year to do so repeatedly asked why they hadn’t tackled the issue yet.
The discussion became increasingly heated, as the man asked the same question — why haven’t the commissioners set a date to address the county’s fireworks policy? — repeatedly, over and over, often interrupting the commissioners. County attorney Chris Horne tried to smooth things over, but to no avail. The commissioners’ responses were also not suitable. So the man asked again, multiple times, pleading for them to explain their knuckle dragging in terms that even a 5-year-old would understand (all while pronouncing Madore’s name MAY-door).
At a certain point, the commissioners just shut down and start staring at him. That elicits a near apoplectic reaction from the man, who is hellbent on getting answers. Finally, the county’s Senior Policy Analyst Axel Swanson sidles up to the seated man like a bouncer at a bar ready to 86 him. The man finally gets up and returns to his seat, but only after delivering one of the most mind-bending back-and-forth conversations I’ve witnessed between the commissioners and a citizen.
Below are two versions of the exchange. The first is a best-of video; the second is the full version.
As a local government reporter, I’m so numb to writing about ridiculous amounts of money, millions and millions of dollars, the money doesn’t seem real.
But $20,000? That’s the same amount my husband and I have saved up, over months and months and months, for a home remodeling project. I suspect other people have an easier time imagining what they could do with an extra $20k than they could playing the If-I-Won-Powerball game.
Twenty thousand isn’t enough for you and your spouse to quit your jobs and buy a vacation home in Hawaii and fly your friends and families over for parties. (And then ruin your life because everyone keeps asking you for money.)
But for most of us, $20k is a nice chunk of change.
On Monday, I went to a Vancouver City Council workshop on phase 2 of the West Vancouver Barracks remodeling project. (Unlike the remodeling project my husband and I are planning, this one will cost millions.)
The city has been working on the West Barracks since the federal government approved the transfer and allocated some money for renovations. The West Barracks are among city-owned properties in the Vancouver National Historic Reserve, and are managed for the city by the Fort Vancouver National Trust.
In 2002, the council voted for a plan to renovate the buildings, and the plan included a hostel.
Seriously, a hostel?
Probably because the buildings are old, excuse me, historic, they figured they could lure some thrifty young twenty-somethings into staying there. Or maybe the train of thought didn’t even reach that station, because I’m not convinced city officials at the time even knew what a hostel is. Hint: Hostels are located in big cities that young people actually want to visit. Since they are traveling on the cheap, they need access to good public transportation.
Hostels are not in suburbs that tout attractions like the Old Apple Tree.
How could ANYONE have thought a hostel was a good idea, let alone all seven members of the council? I wasn’t covering the city then, but I’m told the idea came from a city official who was ever the optimist.
An updated report prepared for the Trust by E.D Hovee & Company, shared with the council on Monday, includes this sentence: Based on two separate feasibility studies, it was determined that reuse of this building as a hostel was not financially feasible.
I asked Jan Bader, the city’s program and policy manager, how much those studies cost.
The first study was in 2001 by Hostelling International’s Pacific Northwest Region, Bader said. The only cost was from people to travel from Seattle to check out the site, and city records don’t indicate that the travel was paid for by the city, she said.
So, that’s fine. Invite some people to check out the place and after they politely say the numbers wouldn’t pencil out, move on. Except, no. Because, well, I’ll just let Bader say it in her own words:
“Given the Council directive for hospitality use, the City commissioned a more formal hostel study in 2002 which was done by Hovee at a cost of $20,056. When the Historic Reserve was created by Congress in 1996, federal funds were authorized to get the work of developing the site started. The hostel study was paid for from those federal funds. The results of the study showed that a hostel wouldn’t pencil out as a stand-alone operation, even if all the tenant improvements were done for them. The study also reflected some concern about whether there would be sufficient interest in Vancouver as a travel destination that would appeal to the hostelling audience,” Bader wrote in an email.
Wow. Spending $20,000 for a study on an idea you’ve already been told is bad?
Oh well, it was only federal money, right?]]>
Commissioner David Madore is living by Mark Twain’s old adage that one shouldn’t let the truth get in the way of a good story. In a Facebook post Monday, Madore spreads a baffling rumor about Scott Campbell, publisher of The Columbian.
You see, the commissioner received an anonymous note the other day. It said that the boat owner who’s causing all of the bridge lifts on the Interstate 5 bridge was Campbell. Now, instead of thinking, “Hmmmm, this sure is unsubstantiated. Logic would dictate that a business owner would have better things to do with his time than take his boat out for a joyride during the middle of the day for the express purpose of causing a bridge lift,” Madore decided to use the letter as the basis for a blog post.
Perhaps I’m biased on the matter. After all, Campbell’s name appears at the bottom of all my paychecks. But this does not appear to be a responsible or ethical use of a political platform. Madore expounds on the letter, musing, “If driver frustration can be maximized, they can be manipulated to cry for a resurrection of the CRC Light Rail tolling boondoggle as false hope to do something even if it does more harm than good.”
He ends the post with a passage from Luke 16:10: “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.” While that verges on tautological thinking, there is a smattering of truth to it, even if it’s kind of irrelevant to the discussion. I mean, if we’re cherry picking Bible passages, doesn’t it also say “You shall not spread a false report”?
I asked Campbell about his boat, and he was all too happy to share.
He said his boat causes at most two bridge lifts a year. These typically occur during the springtime, when runoff causes the river to rise and, hence, elevates his sail’s mast. It’s not uncommon for sail boats to cause bridge lifts, especially during times of high water. His vessel, which looks similar to others cruising the Columbia, is not alone in causing lifts. He’s certainly not causing any right now because his vessel is currently moored near Seattle.
The Columbian has also received tips about “problem vessels” that regularly cause lifts. So we looked into whether the rumors were true. We have a public record from the Oregon Department of Transportation that lists the names of everyone who has called in a lift during a particularly bad period of time. There are no repeating names on the list.
But, hey, as Polly Hicks writes in Madore’s comments, “Hmmm…. if true, isn’t that interesting?” Indeed, but the operable word is “if.”