Eileen Quiring O’Brien will continue to serve as the chair of the Clark County Council, though the five-member board’s minority raised concerns about the appointment.
During the council’s first meeting of 2022 on Jan. 4, the council voted 3-2 to keep Quiring O’Brien for another term as the chair. Following the November general election, Clark County residents voted with about 71% approval to change the council’s makeup from four districts and an at-large chair to five districts, with a chair and vice chair appointed by the councilors.
Prior to Quiring O’Brien’s approval, councilor Temple Lentz nominated fellow councilor Julie Olson for the role of chair. That measure was defeated by the majority, which included Quiring O’Brien and councilors Karen Bowerman and Gary Medvigy.
Following the defeat of Lentz’s measure, Bowerman nominated current chair Quiring O’Brien. Quiring O’Brien, Bowerman and Medvigy have been at odds with Lentz and Olson on a number of issues that range from acknowledging systemic racism in the county to fireworks.
In a discussion following the nomination, Medvigy took time to address animosity between members of the council, something he said was generally seen at the national, not local level, until recently. Lentz is the sole Democrat on the Republican-dominated council, though oftentimes Olson votes alongside Lentz.
“I think it’s really important, especially in this new year, that we do all aspire to work as collegiality as we can with one singular purpose to benefit the people of Clark County,” Medvigy said.
Medvigy critiqued a “false narrative” that the council is divided by partisanship, something he said voters rejected as the status quo when they voted to make council positions nonpartisan. That change was another amendment to the Clark County Charter, the county’s governing document, approved by voters in November.
“Whether you’re in the minority or majority on any particular vote, professionalism should mark how we interact with one another,” Medvigy said.
Medvigy said Quiring O’Brien was the right choice for the position as chair and noted she has “such a depth of experience” through her time in politics both on the Washington and Oregon sides of the Columbia River.
Lentz agreed with Medvigy’s sentiments about professionalism.
“Professionalism and decorum are something we are supposed to do,” Lentz said.
She said there were a number of times the decorum wasn’t evident in Quiring O’Brien’s conduct as chair in the past, but she looked forward to seeing it be more of a focus in 2022.
Lentz said she believed the voters in the November election made it clear they wanted to head in a different direction in regards to Quiring O’Brien’s reappointment.
“It’s gotten pretty heated over the last year, for sure, but I think at the leadership level, it starts there, and I don’t believe that’s the leadership we’ve had,” Olson said. “I think we do need a change of tone on the council.”
Although Olson expressed reservations about Quiring O’Brien remaining as chair, she said the current climate of council “was not as bad as it used to be” in past iterations of its makeup before relative newcomers like Quiring O’Brien and Medvigy were elected.
Following Quiring O’Brien’s nomination, Bowerman was appointed with a 4-1 vote as vice chair. Lentz was the sole dissenting vote.
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