During election season, The Columbian sends out to some candidates a questionnaire asking about some of the issues they’ll face in elected office. It’s sort of like a take-home test, and we do it to give candidates enough time and space to fully hash out and communicate their ideas.
In the race for Clark County Council District 1, Temple Lentz is the only candidate who bothered to fill it out. Former Democratic state Rep. Jim Moeller, who lost to Lentz in the primary, didn’t respond. Current Republican County Councilor Jeanne Stewart, who is Lentz’s opponent in the general election, still hasn’t responded, even after I’ve extended the deadline multiple times.
Ballots are in the mail so I’m not extending the deadline again. Stewart gets an “F” on the take-home test but can still turn it in for partial credit.
Lentz clearly spent a lot of time filling this out, so I’m posting the whole thing here unedited in hopes that it will help voters make their choice:
- District 1 encompasses a large portion of Vancouver, which is largely governed by the city of Vancouver. What are the role and responsibilities for the councilor representing this district?
In brief, to serve the entire county and its residents, and to act as an ambassador to the City of Vancouver while directly representing the residents of District 1 and ensuring those voices and perspectives are heard at the county level.
To expand on that: the county serves two primary functions: governing body for unincorporated areas, and local arm of state government. District 1 does include a small portion of the unincorporated area, and I will represent those residents as I will all of the others as a member of their municipal governing body. Since District 1 is largely within the City of Vancouver, it is incredibly important for the person serving in this role to have and build a strong relationship with the city. So much of what we do relies on partnerships and good relationships. This position needs to actively work to improve and sustain the county’s relationship with the city.
As for how we represent residents with regard to county services: the county delivers state-level services at a local level. This includes public health, jail services, and many other elements — but one of the key pieces is land use and planning. Residents within District 1 deserve representation on all of these issues, just as residents of other districts do. My role within District 1 will be to ensure that I know and understand what residents in the district want and need. The county council must work actively to find balance and compromise between our many and varied needs and interests.
- What is the single biggest challenge facing the county?
An unhealthy and unproductive organizational culture that has allowed moderate problems to become large crises: such as our structural budget deficit, homelessness crisis, and ongoing staffing problems and concerns. The county has many large challenges – having closely watched operations for the last number of years, I see much of the root of this as a leadership problem. If the council does not set the course for correcting problems, they will never be effectively addressed.
- Clark County is experiencing a structural deficit where revenues outpace expenditures. This is happening at a time when the county is experiencing rapid growth and an increased demand for services. What are your specific plans to address the situation?
We need to ensure that the county is collecting the full amount of revenue necessary to provide services, and we *also* need to closely review these services and how they are provided, to ensure that every taxpayer dollar is spent as effectively as possible.
On revenue collection: talking about more tax is never popular. But the county needs revenue to operate, and taxes are the lion’s share of that revenue. When county leadership made the poor and politically driven decision some years ago to NOT take the annual 1% increase available in its tax levy, severe long-term damage was done. The county is now taking that 1% increase annually, but they are not taking the “banked” capacity to make up for the lost time without it. I would like to have frank discussions with the council about how they expect to pay for service if they are not charging properly for that service. We are expected to provide law enforcement, roads, and public health, among many other things. These services cost money, and the county has been borrowing against itself, actively decreasing our residents’ quality of life in order to present the appearance of fiscal responsibility. TRUE fiscal responsibility is reviewing expenses, making sure that they are achieving the necessary goals as effectively as possible, and maximizing return on investment.
On effective management of resources: There are long-term and short-term issues. Short term: If the county is providing service, it needs to be effective, efficient, and deliver as much as possible at the best price possible. We need to continuously review departments and programs to ensure this is happening. Managers need to be empowered to run effective departments and held accountable for providing excellent service to our customers, the people of Clark County. And as the county continues to grow and change, we need to start having meaningful long-range conversations about what the role, function, and future for the county will be. What services can and should we provide? Where are there redundancies or possibilities for partnership with other jurisdictions? What does Clark County of 2050 look like, and what is our plan to get there?
- Please explain your party affiliation (or lack of affiliation) and what your political philosophy means for how you would approach local government.
I am running for this seat as a Democrat, and have always identified as such. For me, identifying as a Democrat means that I believe in individual freedom balanced by a need to work for the common good—which means supporting our most vulnerable and ensuring all voices are heard, not just those which have the most funding and access.
I was raised to see party affiliation as a worldview, not a battle line. Throughout my time working in this community, I have worked diligently to build relationships and alliances with those who see the world differently. Diversity, of all types, makes a community stronger. Compromise and collaboration are the only ways to make meaningful, effective change.
- When is it appropriate for the county government to increase taxes or fees on citizens?
I think this question is a little bit misleading, because it implies that there may be a single answer that says “Yes, this is the time.” Like most things in local government, there is a lot of grey area.
I do not believe that taxes and fees should be raised simply because someone needs more money for something. However I also disagree with the opposite notion, that nothing should be raised, ever. There is a balance. As I said earlier in this questionnaire, the county needs to continually evaluate and monitor the services it provides, to ensure we are receiving the most value possible. If the agency determines that taxes and fees do need to rise, the public needs to know what it is getting for this increase.
And in some cases, it makes sense to take fee and tax increases to the voters. For example, when the plan for the new jail is finished, that should go to voters to approve and determine if it matches their vision and is something they want to pay for.
- If you could make one change to the state’s Growth Management Act, which requires Clark County to plan for future growth, what would it be?
I support the Growth Management Act and feel it has been very beneficial, statewide, in helping us handle the state’s explosive growth over the last three decades. Like anything else, it should grow and adapt and change to continue to meet our needs more effectively.
Seeing the repeated conflicts with Clark County’s comprehensive plans over recent years, what I feel the GMA is missing most acutely is a clear sense of outcomes and metrics for what “success” means. The Act has, understandably, been quite inflexible – and it has accordingly helped protect critical areas, preserve agricultural areas, and use land more effectively. However, sprawl in some areas has continued, while growth in other areas has been unnecessarily restricted. I feel GMA needs to be continually reviewed and evaluated. In a nutshell, it exists to make dense areas more dense and maintain the character and quality of areas that are not urban. Is success defined solely by a density percentage? Or is it also housing cost, availability, access to family wage jobs, diversity of land uses and economic models, and adequate infrastructure to support new development?
- What changes would you make to the Clark County home rule charter, if any?
I am very interested to hear the Freeholders who will be elected next year have a good discussion about making county offices nonpartisan. We can all have our party affiliations, but the work of local government does not deal with much in the way of party issues — that is a change I’d be able to support.
Beyond that, I really feel that we have not had a lot of time with effective implementation of the charter as it stands. We have had county councilors who actively opposed the charter, and then we were without a county manager for some time. Many of the sitting councilors are not embracing the charter or working to ensure its effective implementation. I would be cautious at this point about making large, broad changes until we have actually seen faithful implementation to allow for reasonable evaluation.
All of THAT said, the charter was designed to be a living, breathing document that adapts to meet the needs of our community. I look forward to a public discussion about what is working well and what can be improved.
- The Clark County Jail has become overcrowded and outmoded for modern correctional practices. How should the county address the problem?
The jail has been overcrowded and outmoded for more than a decade, so I am happy to see efforts finally being seriously made to address this issue. I look forward to seeing the results of the workgroup developing a plan for a new jail, but I do not intend to rubber-stamp a fancy, expensive new jail that does not come hand-in-hand with efforts to keep people out of jail.
I would like to see more robust efforts to support drug court and mental health court as ways to divert those who need help. I would like to see efforts to work with local jurisdictions as well as the state to de-criminalize some activities which are symptoms of a larger problem and add to the drain on our law enforcement resources. The City of Portland recently released a study that the majority of their jail population is people who are homeless. We would do well to research this on our side of the river, too. Not having a home is not a crime, and we should be diverting individuals who have not committed a real crime to shelter, services, and support. Jail is a very expensive way to provide a homeless shelter. Our jail should be modern and humane, and sized appropriately—and we need to work on all of these other pieces, too, in order to have a correctional system that functions as effectively as possible.
- Clark County is experiencing a housing shortage and an increase with homelessness. What can the county do to address the situation?
Affordable housing and homelessness are two separate issues, but closely tied. The county has an important role to play in addressing these crises, and has not been fulfilling its responsibility.
On homelessness, the county seems to have stepped back as the City of Vancouver stepped up, indicating that homelessness is a “city” problem. But the truth is that we have people without homes throughout Clark County, and the county is a provider of many of the services they need. The county needs to be an active partner with Vancouver and the other cities, to address both the immediate and the long-term problems. We have an immediate need for temporary shelter. The county must be an active participant in working with the cities and private business and nonprofits to provide shelter for those who need it. At the same time, we must actively be working to address longer-term shelter needs. The county does participate in, and pass state funds through, to some local shelter and supportive housing ventures. This is good, but it is not enough. I do not support the county becoming a landlord and a shelter manager, but we must provide resources and support to help private entities and nonprofits make it happen.
On affordable housing, we must take an honest look at the buildable lands model and re-visit our understandings of density. For Clark County to manageably grow at the pace it is projected to grow, we need to look at increasing density in the urban areas, and planning that growth effectively and as minimally disruptively as possible. The county has a role to play in zoning and setting aside lands for different kinds of development, and also in the permitting process. Clark County needs a diverse mix of housing stock, for a diverse set of incomes. This will include single family homes, as well as apartments, condos, and townhomes.
The county also has a role to play in the other factors surrounding housing affordability. We need to be directly involved in creating the conditions to bring more good jobs to Clark County, and help those who already have businesses here to grow them. Even at “affordable” levels, many of the jobs here in Clark County do not pay well enough for a family to afford to rent or buy. We need more family wage jobs, with transportation access and services nearby, and good schools and parks and amenities to maximize quality of life.
- Should the county lift its ban on recreational marijuana? If so, what should be done with the tax revenue?
If we develop a strong plan for how sales will be regulated, and dedicate a large portion of the funds generated to support for addiction and behavioral health, I support lifting the ban.
Voters made recreational marijuana sales legal. And although the state has upheld the notion that jurisdictions may issue moratoria, I encourage Clark County and other jurisdictions to be proactive about this issue, in order to play an active role in deciding the future of the community. Ignoring it and hoping it will go away is not leadership, but appears to be the current council’s majority approach.
By lifting the ban and regulating sales, Clark County can follow through on its stated, if not always demonstrated, desire to support the local economy and local businesses. At present, the shops in Southwest Washington are small businesses, owned by local residents and employing local people at decent retail wages. Clark County has the opportunity to prioritize and defend our local businesses, before large out-of-state operations arrive and de-humanize the industry.
Further, we have already referenced Clark County’s structural budget deficit. While the revenue generated from these sales is not a panacea and is in fact just a drop in the bucket, we do have a bucket to fill. Some of this tax revenue can help offset our budget deficit, and can also help fund diversion and recovery programs.
On funds — I would like to see a meaningful share of the revenue go toward addiction treatment and recovery support. While many people are able to use substances like marijuana, and alcohol, relatively responsibly, some aren’t. And those who want to stop using need to have access to resources to help them. If the county is going to increase access to controlled substances, they must accordingly increase access to help and support. I would also like to hear from the Sheriff’s Office about what kind of support they need related to marijuana legalization, and look at ways to use some of the revenue to support their needs. And further, yes — I would like to see some of the funds used to offset the structural budget deficit while we work through solving that problem too.