Clark County Manager Shawn Henessee has removed the Proebstel Neighborhood Association from a county program over “hostile behavior toward county staff,” attempting to use taxpayer funds for lobbying purposes and having improper bylaws.
While the neighborhood association can continue to operate, its removal from the Clark County Neighborhood Association program means it will no longer have access to county resources or serve as an official means of outreach with residents on livability issues.
The exact circumstances of why the association was removed from the program are unclear. Public records show that the Proebstel Neighborhood Association, which represents residents in a rural area east of Vancouver, had raised concerns with Clark County about mining operations at the nearby Livingston Mountain and potential fire hazards at Camp Bonneville.
Henessee notified the Proebstel Neighborhood Association’s co-presidents, Kirk VanGelder and Erin Allee, of his decision in an Aug. 2 letter, obtained by The Columbian. When asked for further comment, Henessee responded with a brief email.
“I believe the reasons outlined in the letter are self-explanatory and we will require all neighborhood associations to meet these standards,” Henessee wrote.
Both VanGelder and Allee declined a request for an interview. But VanGelder responded to The Columbian’s request for comment with an email stating that the “allegations are without merit” and that they were working with members of the county council on a resolution.
“As you know, we have been an active voice for our community to Clark County over the past year and a half,” he said in the email. “So it is concerning that the county staff would attempt to limit community participation in this way.”
The county now recognizes 28 neighborhood associations in unincorporated Clark County that serve as a collective voice for residents on county issues. Associations recognized by Clark County receive support from the county, printing their newsletters and hosting their websites. The county uses neighborhood associations for communications purposes, notifying them of local developments and helping secure speakers for meetings.
Marilee McCall, the county’s neighborhood program coordinator, said in an email that she is not aware of the county removing any other neighborhood associations from the program.
But the situation is not unprecedented. In 2004, Vancouver City Council voted to disown the Rosemere Neighborhood Association after bitter infighting in the group.
Both County Council Chair Eileen Quiring and Councilor Gary Medvigy, whose district includes Proebstel, said they are working with the association to resolve the issues. But both say that they are limited in what they can do because the county’s home rule charter assigns the council a policy-making and not an administrative role.
Medvigy said that he doesn’t have the details of what transpired with the neighborhood association but has requested information from county staff.
“This really got out of control,” said Medvigy. “I am very unhappy about this situation.”
He said that neighborhood associations serve an important function of providing residents’ perspectives to county government. He said that he’s been in touch with Henessee as well as members of the newly disowned neighborhood association and has offered to mediate.
Medvigy did say that he’s heard allegations that members of the Proebstel Neighborhood Association traveled to Olympia for lobbying activities regarding mining on Livingston Mountain.
“The bottom line is you can’t use public money to lobby; it’s against the law,” he said.
The Proebstel Neighborhood Association posted to its Facebook page in January about its board members speaking to Washington State Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz on the Livingston Quarry and potential fire dangers at Camp Bonneville.
Medvigy also said that the neighborhood association’s bylaws are not in compliance with the county’s requirements. It’s not clear what issue the county has with the association’s bylaws. A copy of the Proebstel Neighborhood Association’s bylaws doesn’t appear on the county’s website. But a copy of the association’s newsletter states that a vote on the bylaws was held in May.
Quiring described the association as a “great group” that she and other county officials have met. She agreed that the issues with bylaws and lobbying are a problem. She said she’d be pleased if the neighborhood association would meet with staff and abide by county rules.
“There are always two sides to a story,” she said.