Clark County Home Rule Charter
In November 2014, the voters of Clark County voted to adopt the home rule charter form of government. A Home Rule Charter is similar to a Constitution, but for our county. It provides for the structure and foundation of county government, as well as provides for citizen participation in government via initiative, referendum and mini-initiative. It provides for separation of the executive/administrative and legislative branches of government.
Seven Washington counties have successfully adopted home rule charters: King (1969), Clallam (1977), Whatcom (1979), Snohomish (1980), Pierce (1981), San Juan (2006), and Clark (2015).
Charter Review Commission
The current charter contains a requirement that it be reviewed by a 15-member elected review commission. Three members are elected countywide and each of the four county councilor districts has three commissioners as well. As required in the charter, commission members were elected in November 2020 and took office in January 2021. Any changes to the charter that the review commission recommends would go to a countywide vote in a general election.
The terms of the current Charter Review Commission will expire December 31, 2021.
At its July 7, 2021, meeting, the Charter Review Commission passed seven resolutions to put the following measures on the November 2, 2021, General Election ballot:
Resolution No. 2021-1: A RESOLUTION to submit to the voters of Clark County a proposal to amend the Clark County Home Rule Charter regarding making the positions of County Executive Elected Offices (assessor, auditor, clerk, prosecuting attorney, sheriff and treasurer) nonpartisan for declarations of and filing for candidacy, and listing on the ballot in elections for such positions.
Resolution No. 2021-2: A RESOLUTION to submit to the voters of Clark County a proposal to amend the Clark County Home Rule Charter regarding making the positions of County Councilor Offices nonpartisan for declarations of and filing for candidacy, and listing on the ballot in elections for such positions.
Resolution No. 2021-3: A RESOLUTION to submit to the voters of Clark County a proposal to amend the Clark County Home Rule Charter, to provide for five-district County Council composition and redefine the appointment and function of the council chair.
Resolution No. 2021-4: A RESOLUTION to submit to the voters of Clark County a proposal to amend the Clark County Home Rule Charter regarding charter review frequency and charter review commissioner terms of office.
Resolution No. 2021-5: A RESOLUTION to submit to the voters of Clark County a proposal to amend the Clark County Home Rule Charter by requiring adoption of a new ethics code and autonomous review process.
Resolution No. 2021-6: A RESOLUTION to submit to the voters of Clark County a proposal to amend the Clark County Home Rule Charter by establishment of an office of diversity, equity and inclusion and a diversity, equity and inclusion commission.
Resolution No. 2021-7: A RESOLUTION to submit to the voters of Clark County which would make minor corrections and technical clarifications to the Charter.
The County Council added two Charter amendment measures to the November 2, 2021, ballot. These are shown below. More information on the two County Council amendments can be found here.
Clark County Council - Ordinance No. 2021-07-11: AN ORDINANCE, proposing an amendment to the Clark County Home Rule Charter relating to procedures for processing initiative, mini-initiative and referendum petitions.
Clark County Council - Ordinance No. 2021-07-12: AN ORDINANCE, proposing an amendment to the Clark County Home Rules Charter relating to the persons eligible to vote on certain initiatives, mini-initiatives and referenda.
All measures will be “Yes/No” questions on the ballot. A simple majority of “Yes” voters is needed for any measure to be approved. For those receiving a majority of “Yes” votes, the measure would go into effect January 1, 2022 unless otherwise noted in the specific measure.
Nonpartisan Elected Offices Amendment Measures: Charter Amendment Measures 1 and 2
The Clark County Home Rule Charter currently requires that all the county elected offices be partisan offices. The voter would have two questions to consider: Should the county executive elected positions (assessor, auditor, clerk, prosecuting attorney, sheriff and treasurer) become non-partisan? Should the county council offices become non-partisan?
The Clark County Home Rule Charter currently requires that all the county elected offices be partisan offices. If Amendment #1 is approved, this amendment would make the county executive elected offices, which includes the assessor, auditor, clerk, prosecuting attorney, sheriff and treasurer, nonpartisan offices. If Amendment #2 is approved, this amendment would make the county councilor elected offices nonpartisan offices. If both Amendment Measures #1 and #2 are approved, all county elected offices would become nonpartisan.
Amendment measures #1 and #2 are independent, separate proposals. The Charter Review Commission, through its outreach to the community and elected officials, heard a pretty clear opinion that proposals to make elected positions nonpartisan should be separated between the county executive elected offices, which serve more to oversee the administrative functions of county government operations, and the county council, which is the policy-making body of Clark County government.
To clarify, these measures would make the elected offices nonpartisan. When it comes time to file as a candidate for an elected position, these would be listed as nonpartisan and there would not be a requirement to state party preference, or “no party preference”. Additionally, these positions would be listed under “County Nonpartisan Offices” on the ballot. Candidates still have the opportunity to align with a political party, but would not have that preference shown on the ballot or in the Voters’ Guide/Pamphlet.
Five-district County Council Amendment Measure: Charter Amendment Measure 3
This amendment would change the number of councilor districts from four (4) to five (5) districts, which would happen by adding a 5th council district and by eliminating the countywide, at-large council chair position. The total number of councilors would not change and would remain at five council positions.
If approved, this amendment would expand the Clark County Council from four (4) to five (5) geographic districts. There would still be five (5) county council positions: the current four district positions would remain district representatives, while the current at-large, countywide chair position would be reclassified to represent a new, fifth district. If approved, this amendment would also amend the selection process for the county council chair position, requiring the five (5) elected council members to select one of the council members, at the first council hearing of every calendar year, to be the chair for the following year.
While there are several sections of the charter that would need to be amended to implement this amendment, it’s not as complex as it seems. The current charter provided for a new geographic district representation and transition when it was approved by the voters in 2014 and enacted at the beginning of 2015. This amendment follows the same lines as far as defining council composition, including chair, defining the district boundaries, and providing for a transition between what was and what will be.
During the process which led to the current Home Rule Charter being drafted, the Board of Freeholders worked with county staff to develop a five-district proposal map. The Districts Sub- Committee of this Charter Review Commission acquired that map and worked with the county’s Geographic Information Systems Department to modify the previous map’s boundaries to balance the population in each district based on estimates of current population, in accordance with the criteria contained in state law (Chapter 29A.76 RCW, “Redistricting”). The process also worked to ensure existing precincts were not split by district boundaries. The draft five-district map brings each district to within 0.2% of the population goal per district. The county’s Redistricting Committee, required under state law, will be convening after the precinct-level 2020 Census numbers are received, either late in 2021 or early in 2022. They will work to use these district boundaries (if this amendment is approved) or the current councilor district boundaries (if this amendment is not approved) and make modifications to formally balance population per district.
This amendment would eliminate the countywide, elected council chair position and replace it with a new council position representing the new District 5. To smoothly transition the county council and ensure no disruption to council’s proceedings and operations, the countywide chair position would be transitioned into representing District 5 during the 2022 transition period. As the countywide chair position is up for re-election in 2022, so would the new District 5 representative. To file for the new district, the candidate would need to reside within the boundaries of the new District 5.
The short answer is no, they were drawn based on criteria contained in state law (Chapter 29A.76 RCW, “Redistricting”), modifying a previously-generated map during the freeholder process. The boundaries were drawn using 2020 population estimates; state law says, “Population data may not be used for purposes of favoring or disfavoring any racial group or political party.” The current charter included a transition plan to cover how the council would transition from a three-person commission to a five-person council with four geographic districts. The map and transition plan in this amendment were guided by what’s currently in the charter.
Based on the current charter’s transitional language, all five current councilors would “continue in office as a county council member for the remainder of the term to which he or she was elected.” Three positions are up for election in the 2022 election cycle: Districts 1 and 2, and countywide chair. The other two positions were elected in the recent 2020 election cycle and their terms continue through 2024. Upon enactment of this amendment, the current representatives of each of the four districts would continue as representatives of the revised Districts 1 through 4. The countywide council chair position would be eliminated and instead a new District 5 would be created. The current countywide council chair representative would represent District 5 during the transitional year 2022, and that District 5 position would be up for election in the 2022 cycle.
The current charter also includes a provision for this occurrence: “If two council members reside in the same district, the council member residing closest to another council district, other than their district in common, shall represent the other district for the remainder of the term for which they are elected.” In this instance, the current councilor living closest to District “A” would continue to represent that district if they no longer reside within District “A’s” boundaries for the rest of their current term. At the next election cycle for that district, only those residing within District “A’s” boundaries would be eligible to run for that office. The countywide council chair does not represent a specific district; thus, the transition plan for this amendment moves that position immediately into the District 5 position upon this amendment taking effect. In the 2022 election cycle, only those residing in the new District 5’s boundaries would be eligible to run for that office.
This amendment would not change the total number of councilors; there are currently five and council would remain at five council positions. There may be a slight budget savings as the 20% salary increase given to the countywide elected chair would be eliminated as all five councilors would then be paid the same.
Charter Review Frequency and Commissioner Terms of Office: Charter Amendment Measure 4
This amendment would change the frequency of Home Rule Charter reviews from at least every ten (10) years to at least every five (5) years. Additionally, it would change the length of terms of Charter Review Commissioners from one year to two years (or until their work is complete, whichever comes first).
If approved, this amendment would revise the frequency of charter reviews from every ten (10) years to every five (5). If approved, this amendment would also amend the duration of Charter Review Commissioner terms from one (1) year to two (2) years. Also of note: if both the five-district county council amendment (#3) and this amendment (#4) both pass, the composition of future Charter review commissions would change to reflect five districts each electing three representatives, and there would no longer be three at-large, countywide positions.
The 2021 Charter Review Commission convened and undertook the first-ever review of the Home Rule Charter, five years after it first took effect in 2015. Commissioners realized that, with substantial growth in population in certain areas of the county, changes in state and federal law, and changing dynamics of society and the community as a whole, there were several amendment proposals that were being considered. The decision was to place the highest priority measures on the 2021 ballot, but, in the time remaining in their one-year terms, consider measures for the 2022 ballot. Commissioners believe that a ten-year review cycle was too long between reviews, and one-year terms were not long enough to give them time to adequately consider all of the potential changes to the charter. The general opinion of the 2021 Charter Review Commission was that a measure should be placed on the ballot to reduce the time between reviews from ten to five years, and to increase the terms of the elected Charter Review Commissioners from one year to two years, or until their work is complete, whichever comes first.
Ethics Oversight Amendment Measure: Charter Amendment Measure 5
This amendment would establish in the charter an Ethics Code, an Independent Ethics Oversight Commission, and an Ethics Oversight and Compliance office that coordinates ethics training, ethics compliance, ethics oversight issues and staffs the ethics commission.
If approved, this amendment would require the Clark County Council to adopt by ordinance a Code of Ethics on before July 31, 2022. If approved, this amendment would also require the county manager to establish an autonomous Ethics Review Commission, and a supporting Ethics Oversight and Compliance office by July 31, 2022.
To foster public trust in local governance. The proper operation of responsible government requires that public officials and employees be independent, impartial, and responsible to the people; that government decisions and policy be made in the best interests of the people, the community and the government; that public office not be used for personal gain, and that the public have confidence in the integrity of its government.
Currently, the Code of Ethical Conduct adopted within the county council’s Rules of Procedure is the only formal ethics policy in place. This requires appointing two sitting councilors to review ethics complaints against other councilor(s) and is not an independent ethics review process.
This amendment would require council adopt by July 31, 2022, a Code of Ethics ordinance, including penalties for violations; establishes an autonomous Ethics Review Commission, comprised of independent reviewers to investigate complaints of potential violations of the Ethics Code; and requires the council to budget for an Ethics Oversight Office in the county manager’s office to accept (including a hotline) and investigate complaints.
It is anticipated that the county manager would work with county council to budget this office out of existing general fund resources. The county manager has discretion to establish this office using existing staffing resources as well. The cost of the hotline should be minimal in terms of overall county budget. The cost of investigating individual ethics complaints and convening the Ethics Review Commission could be similar to Pierce County’s pay as you go system. Pierce County annually budgets $60,000 for its Ethics Review Office and Commission, but over the last few years, has spent on average less than $15,000 per year for its ethics review program.
Proposal to Establish a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Department and DEI Commission Amendment Proposal: Charter Amendment Measure 6
This amendment, if adopted, would establish, in the county manager’s office, a new department focused on monitoring, advising, and driving improvement across the Clark County government on issues relating to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). The department’s chief officer will work with the county manager to create a Commission on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. The commission will consist of nine members appointed by the county manager and confirmed by the county council.
Community input to the Charter Review Commission was that the county would benefit from a DEI program focused on monitoring, advising, and driving improvement across Clark County government. Community members have brought to the commission their belief that a DEI program will serve to enhance the county's ability to serve the needs of its entire population, especially one which supports diverse talent and individuals who bring with them unique experiences, opinions, and thoughts on critical local issues. Community members also have commented that implementing a DEI program in local government and including a community commission will help cultivate an environment of inclusion, acceptance, and appreciation for individuals of all backgrounds, beliefs, and experiences.
Diversity acknowledges the presence of differences within a given setting, collective, or group. These generally include cultural factors such as race/ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability status, age, educational status, religions, geography and other experiences.
Equity in this context is a focus on ensuring everyone has the opportunity to meet their full potential. Pursuing equity includes the process of developing, strengthening, and supporting policies and procedures that distribute and prioritize resources to those who have been historically and currently marginalized.
Inclusion is active and ongoing engagement with people that ensures opportunities and pathways for participation in all aspects of a group, organization, or community, including decision making processes. Applied to a worksite, inclusion builds on the assets that a diverse workforce provides by creating an environment of involvement and respect that fosters innovation and ideas.
Please visit the links below for more information and guidance to local governments on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.
A Commission is a form of community-based advisory committee. Community-based advisory committees engage the public to help advise and hold their parent organization (and its DEI office if it has one) accountable to those that they serve. It provides a direct avenue for community members and stakeholders to get involved and be heard.
Those entities which have established DEI programs have indicated that they believe a diverse pool of talent and individuals brings with them unique experiences, opinions, and thoughts on critical local issues that serve to enhance a government’s ability to serve the needs of its entire population. Their philosophy is that implementing a DEI program in local government and including a commission can help cultivate an environment of inclusion, acceptance, and appreciation for individuals of all backgrounds, beliefs, and experiences.
In proposing this Charter amendment, the Charter Review Commission believes that as its own department, a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion office is able to focus on metrics and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) across a whole organization in order to ensure accountability and sustain a successful and prosperous diversity, equity and inclusion program, both internally with staff and externally with the programs the county supports.
Establishing this as a new department under the county manager, DEI work would be measured, tracked and reported on the same level as other departments and functions.
There are many examples of this in practice in our state and local government and institutions. The City of Vancouver now has a Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion who works with Human Resources as well as internal and external functions of the city. Several major institutions including Clark College and Washington State University Vancouver have DEI program managers or directors.
Below are some links to information about active local offices, advisory councils, and commissions in Washington state.
Multnomah County Office of Diversity and Equity (also a home rule county)
Snohomish County Human Rights Commission (established under a Snohomish County charter amendment in 2016)
ADVISORY COUNCILS OR COMMISSIONS
- Advises the city on diversity and equity strategies and strengthens connections among diverse groups and with the city. Formed under Chapter 2.60 of the municipal code.
- Advises the council on policy matters involving the community's cultural and ethnic differences, ensuring that these differences are considered in the decision-making process. Ch. 2.65 FWMC addresses the commission’s formation.
- Assists the council in promoting inclusion in Pasco by conducting public hearings, identifying means to promote and embrace diversity and inclusion and making recommendations. See also: Resolution 3820
- Tasked with carrying out annual public events, ongoing community meetings, and training opportunities; Established in Chapter 1.50 WMC.
The Municipal Research & Services Center (MRSC) page is a good place to start, with extensive resources, tools, and sample documents related to DEI initiatives taking place in Washington State local governments.
It is anticipated that the county manager would work with the county council to budget this office out of existing general fund resources. The county manager has discretion to establish this office using existing staffing resources as well. Some Charter Review Commissioners believe that establishing this office may reduce the risk of future claims or litigation against the county on equal rights and discrimination cases. It is believed that ultimately, improved employee satisfaction, engagement and preventing loss of valuable employees due to non-inclusive environment/working conditions could save the county considerable money and resources.
Minor Corrections and Technical Clarifications Amendment Proposal: Charter Amendment Measure 7
The proposal’s objectives are to improve the clarity and readability in parts of the Clark County Home Rule Charter by incorporating non-substantive changes including fixing grammatical wording and clerical errors in the current charter. Also included are adjustments to reflect revised state and/or federal law, and to incorporate contemporary references to people and positions, and to provide direction to the county’s redistricting process and committee to use existing precinct boundaries, and to not split precincts between districts.
If approved, this amendment, if adopted, would clarify certain provisions and make technical corrections to sections of the charter. This amendment also explains duties of elected officials and the county manager, defines county administrative processes, and removes Article 10, which is no longer needed. It would also provide direction to the county’s redistricting process and committee to use existing precinct boundaries, and to not split precincts between districts.
After having been in effect for more than five years, there are certain aspects of the charter that could use updating to contemporary terminology, and there have been changes to or new state laws passed which are referred to by the charter. This amendment would provide minor non-substantive, clarifying changes and technical corrections to sections of the charter. This amendment also includes a change to the redistrict plan to follow precinct boundaries, explaining more fully duties and define administrative processes, and removes in its entirety Article 10, which provided the transitional provisions of the initial charter and is no longer needed. It should be noted that Amendment Proposal 3, the five-district county council measure, includes its own transitional article should that measure be approved.
The full set of amendments in this measure can be found here.