County Council takes another look at how it handles appointments

The Clark County home rule charter isn’t necessarily in conflict with federal law, but the county council would like to shine a little bit more light on how it appoints citizens to some commissions and boards.

The county has multiple citizen-led committees, boards and commissions that advise the county on issues ranging from noxious weeds to animal control.

At its Tuesday meeting, the Clark County Council heard from members of the public who were unhappy with the county’s handling of an appointment to the Columbia River Gorge Commission.

The Columbia River Gorge Commission has a bit more heft than other boards the county has a hand in selecting. Created by a compact between Oregon and Washington and authorized by federal law, the 13-member commission oversees policies and programs in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. Under the compact, the governors of Oregon and Washington each appoint three members, the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture appoints one non-voting member and the six counties in the gorge each appoint a member.

Under the county’s home rule charter, the county council confirms or rejects appointments forwarded by the county manager. Both Sherri Irish and Larry Keister complained on Tuesday about a lack of openness about the appointment process. The compact states that the “governing bodies of Clark, Klickitat, and Skamania counties” shall make appointments to the commission. Both questioned if the county’s process was legal.

During its Wednesday afternoon meeting, the council got an update from staff who explained that the county charter makes an exception for appointments covered by state law. This means the council gets to make the appointment.

Council Chair Eileen Quiring said that there are some appointments the council makes under state statute. She said that while the interviews for these appointments are conducted behind closed-door, they’re actually open to the public.

“If they wanted to come in they could come in,” she said.

The council also discussed having a system of ranking candidates for these appointments and making the interview more public.

“It is indeed an important appointment,” said Quiring, a former Oregon legislator. “There’s no doubt about that.”

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