Candidates for the second election in two years for Clark County Council District 4 stated their cases to represent the eastern half of the county, with questions on land use and permitting among topics covered in a candidate forum ahead of the November election.
During the Oct. 14 virtual event hosted by the League of Women Voters of Clark County, incumbent Republican Gary Medvigy faced off against challenger Independent candidate Matt Little. It was the second time Medvigy has had to run to retain his seat since he was appointed in early 2019, a result of current Clark County Council Chair Eileen Quiring O’Brien taking her current place and vacating the District 4 position she once occupied.
As the most rural district in Clark County, candidates were asked about land use as well as preservation of agricultural land. Little said land use was one of the main reasons he decided to run for office, explaining he had a plan that involved compensation for rural landowners without using taxpayer money, protected property rights, and created a credit to incentivize types of urban development that he said would create walkable, affordable communities.
Medvigy was more supportive of plans already in place, namely the state Growth Management Act which he mentioned the county had been working on getting into full compliance in recent years.
“We’re not going to force cities to build high-rises or build tall apartment buildings in urban areas, or pay rural landowners to put a restrictive covenant on their property,” Medvigy said.
Medvigy said that some of the county’s issues with land use dated back to the original implementation of the Growth Management Act decades ago, which he felt wasn’t as good as it could have been in identifying the best farmlands to protect.
“We do need to do a better job at identifying those rich farmlands, which were mainly paved over by Vancouver about 20 years ago,” Medvigy remarked. In supporting current and future farmers, he said he’s been trying to start an initiative to start an incubator farm program at the 78th Street Heritage Farm to provide assistance.
While Medvigy said that the county’s current zoning was supportive of agricultural land, Little said that zoning wasn’t permanent and could change in subsequent political cycles.
Public Health challenges
Little said the COVID-19 pandemic was the most important issue the county had to address, showing support for Clark County Public Health in handling the situation with the resources it has. He noted that councilors also serve as the Clark County Board of Health, pointing to Medvigy’s attendance of a political rally without wearing a mask as setting an example of leadership that went counter to the county’s own guidelines.
Medvigy called Little’s callout a “cheap shot,” saying that there was no evidence that any event he had attended had been a “superspreader” event. He said that council had approved every request made by Public Health Director Alan Melnick for funding during the pandemic.
Medvigy shifted focus to what the department would be post-COVID, looking into the need to support the long-term duties of the department including immunizations, other infectious diseases and programs such as one that helps new mothers, he gave as an example.
When asked about potential changes to Clark County’s criminal justice system, Medvigy started by pointing out what the county had already done, He mentioned the county was doing “cutting-edge” work in juvenile justice, which he said was reaping benefits in stopping recidivism in youth.
Medvigy said he hoped the county could be a model in using Trueblood Settlement funding for jail alternatives, adding the county was working on a “decision tree” with the Vancouver Police Department to allow contacts to receive treatment, rather than be brought to jail.
Medvigy did mention he would like to see greater transparency in policing with body cameras, also mentioning improvements in indigent defense as another issue he wished to see addressed.
Little agreed with much of what Medvigy said, adding he supported the establishment of a public defender’s office to handle indigent defense. He also spoke about replacement or expansion of the Clark County Jail, adding he had sat down with Clark County Sheriff Chuck Atkins to hear from what issues the jail currently faces.
“It’s a long-term problem that we have to address,” Little said about jail issues. He noted fixing those problems would be expensive, though he said the county budget could be worked to implement some of the improvements to the facility.
Little said whether or not to change the position of Clark County Manager from one appointed by council to an elected one was more up to the county Charter Review Commission, which will see 15 members elected in November, and ultimately to county voters who will approve or deny the commission’s proposals.
Little did prefer the county manager be appointed as he felt it was a professional position, not a political one. He said the need for experience in overseeing the county departments made it important to have the position filled by the best individual for the job.
Medvigy said the county manager “absolutely needs to be a hired position,” stressing the need for a “broad breadth of experience” for the role.
“Anybody can run for office. We don’t want that in the county manager position,” Medvigy said. “We want an expert in municipal governance.”
Candidates were asked about any improvements they would like to see in the county permitting process, randing from building to food establishments. Medvigy said the county charter made permitting primarily an executive branch issue under the purview of the county manager, though he said council could change code policies. Where in instances like septic systems he would like to see 100-percent compliance, he added a desire to cut down on costs for inspections, which in some cases involved elimination of “irrelevant and invasive” inspections.
As to the actual permitting process, Medvigy said council was working “day (in) and day out” with interim county manager Kathleen Otto to address issues there.
Little said he’s heard permitting as an issue more than any other, from homeowners to developers to the equestrian community. He noted that horse owners had been particularly vocal with their issues this year, bringing attention to what they feel are onerous and unclear regulations that currently exist in county code.
“Because of the requirements and the costs, we are actually running our equestrian community out of Clark County,” Little said.