Power Rankings Commentary: A Guide to Recognizing Your Committees


In a meeting last Monday, Lewis County commissioner Sean Swope again called for more accountability as to how the funding for homeless services is spent — going so far as to suggest the formation of a citizen advisory committee to oversee such expenditures.

The basis for this suggestion was that the county has allocated more than $22 million in Department of Commerce grants toward homeless services in the last few years and wasn’t seeing enough return on investment, essentially.

There’s plenty of tangents to run off with based on that story:

• Should we establish committees for all the biggest line items in the county budget? By this metric, the sheriff’s office is due for an oversight committee. (“I see your budget was around $10 million last year, and yet crime persists. Maybe a COMMITTEE can straighten you out!”)

• Swope lamented spending the $22 million (in grant money, which comes with strings) when the county couldn’t “find” $300,000 for a peer-to-peer mental health counseling program at the Veterans Memorial Museum. It’s a curious comparison, especially coming from one of the three people in the county who knows how to “find” that funding — and a week later, the county did “find” $75,000 for the project. However …

• This same county just last year paid for a survey to help determine how to spend $15 million in CARES Act funding. That survey said that one of local business owners’ top priorities was — and you may want to sit down for this — addressing behavioral health care needs like mental health treatment and substance abuse services. This seems like an easy budget win for the county, which just spent nearly $1 million to buy a soon-to-be-abandoned bank where people can drop off lost dogs.

The gag point in the story, though, was the suggestion of yet another committee, which should go down as smoothly as milk and castor oil. Committees are only as good as the power they wield, and they almost never have any significant power. Here’s a comprehensive guide to all the committees we’ve read about in the pages of this fine paper in the last few months.


Utilizing Grants for Homelessness, Assigned by Sean Swope: This is mostly hypothetical at this point. This committee would include the bureaucratic “usual suspects” — city council members, service providers, law enforcement, community members, mental health counselors and county office representatives. Interestingly enough no one mentioned adding a person who has experienced homelessness to this committee, which seems like only asking folks who live on hills to weigh in on flooding.


Centralia Housing Sub-Committee: I’ll be honest, I didn’t know this one existed until it penned an op-ed supporting a re-examination of how funding for homelessness is directed. It’s a collection of members of existing councils and municipalities, like a Facebook “People You May Know” for local government. They’ve got sound ideas, but the general plan — add metrics and stipulations for service providers, add more housing solutions, reduce investment in emergency shelter capacity — relies pretty heavily on making the people they hired to fix the problem work more efficiently. You can’t get more out of your existing budget by adding more strings to the contracts; you’re just going to get a shorter list when the RFP goes out. I think this sub-committee can go a little bigger.


Lewis County Salary Commission: This group of concerned citizens “advises” the county commissioners on annual pay for elected officials, though the fact that their recommendations constituted mere “advice” was an after-the-fact revelation to this committee. The Salary Commission recommended no raises for elected officials, but the county commissioners went ahead and did it anyway (in the midst of a pandemic, no less). In response, the Salary Commission responded in kind and ignored its own metric for when and how to give the county commissioners raises and issued a blanket “No.” If you’re going to ignore a committee, make sure it doesn’t come back and bite you in the wallet.


Lewis County Public Health & Social Services Advisory Board: Back when the county commissioners voted to fire the public health officers, this county was asked to review the new candidates for the position and make a recommendation. There were essentially two candidates for the job, which is what happens when you fire someone for giving you the recommendations you need and not the recommendations you want. The Advisory Board recommended the county re-hire the old health officers, who met the qualifications and had done the job; the commissioners, however, opted for a local doctor who promised to become qualified whilst on the job, because medicine operates differently in Lewis County. At least the commissioners didn’t give them a warning before ignoring their advice publicly.


Lewis County Board of Health: Every so often a public health crisis pops up and the county blows the conch to summon THE BOARD OF HEALTH. The lights in the Commissioners Hearing Room go dark, fog blows in from the halls, “Sirius” by the Alan Parsons Project starts playing, and … it’s just the county commissioners again. The whole thing’s a farce so the commissioners can refer anyone with doctor-related issues to the Board of Health, and then when they show up for the BOH meeting it’s the same three people in glasses or a wig.

Take away the theatricality, and this is actually a step in the right direction for all committees: If you’re just going to waste a bunch of civic-minded volunteers’ time by ignoring their recommendations, put on a hat and do it yourself.


Aaron VanTuyl is the host of The Chronicle’s News Dump podcast and is The Chronicle’s former sports editor and current associate editor. He would not like to be contacted by anyone about anything. Listen to the podcast at https://www.chronline.com/podcasts/.