The Clackamas Board of County Commissioners decided Tuesday, March 30, to heed the recommendation of County Administrator Gary Schmidt not to disband the Veterans Advisory Council.
Schmidt asked the board to allow him to review the Feb. 25 meeting of the Veterans Advisory Council (VAC) which had caused some board members to express concern over the group's direction and mission. At that Feb. 25 meeting of the VAC, council members took time to address bigoted statements made by Commissioner Mark Shull on social media.
Following that meeting, Shull suggested to his board colleagues that the VAC be disbanded and re-established with new members.
"My recommendation is not to disband the Veterans Advisory Council, but rather have several action items I propose that we do ask them to undertake," Schmidt said. "I will say that after my review of the Feb. 25 meeting, I felt from my perspective it actually was a quite respectful meeting. There were some strong opinions shared, but the meeting itself appeared to be professional."
Schmidt suggested to commissioners that they review the VAC's work plan and goals in order to refocus its purpose in advising the county's Health, Housing and Human Services Division, and set priorities for what each of the council members would like to achieve while they serve and advise the county. Schmidt said it would be poignant for the VAC to align its priorities with that of the Board of County Commissioners. He also suggested the board review the council's bylaws to see what updates or revisions can be made to improve efficiency and outcomes, as well as determining a better way for the VAC to engage the board of commissioners.
"My opinion, there is room for improvement," Schmidt said.
Chair Tootie Smith asked whether or not the VAC has an overarching mission statement, to which Schmidt said the group does.
"Seems to me if they would abide by their original mission statement, that would really be something," Smith said. "I haven't heard anything out of the veterans committee in a long time."
Smith took issue with the fact that Shull and a mediator were invited to the Feb. 25.
"To me that's a red flag right there," she said. "That a mediator was needed at this particular meeting, somebody obviously knew it was going to be controversial. Somebody knew ahead of time, and somebody else was blindsided. I find that behavior not acceptable, Gary, and I hope it's addressed."
Commissioner Paul Savas said that he hopes any changes made to the VAC's priorities, goals, mission statement or bylaws will be done in the spirit of helping the group feel empowered to deliver meaningful productivity on behalf of veterans in Clackamas County.
"Some of these citizen committees don't do very much because they don't really have that opportunity," Savas said.
Commissioner Martha Schrader suggested that the committee be more about outreach and building relationships in the community with other organizations that aim to support Clackamas County veterans.
The board voted unanimously to approve Schmidt's recommendation not to disband the group, but to look at its goals, direction and to implement some of the suggestions provided by the board in a review of the council's work at a later date.
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