WASHOUGAL — The Washougal City Council approved a new ethics policy for elected officials and agreed to temporarily consolidate the city’s fire department with Camas’ during Monday night’s meeting.
The 90-minute meeting came and went without the council addressing Mayor Sean Guard’s recent legal woes.
Cowlitz County prosecutors charged Guard last week in connection with a December incident where he allegedly used emergency lights on a city-owned vehicle to pass slower-moving traffic on Interstate 5 near Kelso.
Guard has a July 6 court date for criminal impersonation in the second-degree of a law enforcement officer. The gross misdemeanor carries a maximum penalty of one year in jail and a $5,000 fine.
Washougal Planning Commissioner Mike Briggs emailed council members last Wednesday warning them against criticizing Guard at Monday night’s meeting. Council members said they elected not to speak about Guard’s charge because the matter was addressed in December when Guard rescinded his privileges to the city’s retired police car.
Briggs left midway through Monday’s meeting. Guard later announced that the planning commissioner had resigned earlier in the day. Briggs submitted a resignation letter to city officials stating his voluntary position interfered with his ability to speak freely in a new journalistic endeavor he planned to launch.
Guard issued a written apology Thursday for the Kelso incident. He did not address the topic Monday night.
Absent talk about Guard’s legal predicament, the council focused its attention on items on Monday night’s agenda.
Council members voted 5-2 to approve an interlocal agreement with Camas to continue using the latter city’s EMS services and merge the two cities’ fire departments on a trial six-month basis.
Councilmen Dave Shoemaker and Michael Delavar voted against the use of Washougal dollars to reduce the Camas EMS deficit.
As part of a decades-old agreement, the Camas Fire Department provides paramedic services to residents in Camas and Washougal, plus those living in the East County Fire & Rescue district in parts of unincorporated Clark County. Residents pay a property tax for these services.
Camas’ EMS Fund faces a $310,000 deficit due to declining tax revenues. Washougal voted to provide $150,000 from its reserves to help lessen the gap.
Washougal will provide one firefighter/IV technician at a cost of $55,000 annually for one of three ambulance shifts; the ambulance is stationed at Station 171 in downtown Washougal. Washougal will also transfer $95,000 to the EMS fund.
The decision to use money from the city’s reserves drew a spirited back-and-forth debate between Shoemaker and fellow councilman Paul Greenlee.
“Unfortunately this $150,000 doesn’t buy us a solution,” Shoemaker said. “It buys us time to find a solution but I don’t see one on the horizon.”
Shoemaker added the city’s financial resources are dwindling because officials are not doing a good job managing finances. Greenlee countered that it was because of officials’ wise approach to finances that money was available to use toward the EMS deficit.
“The reason we have the resources is because when times were good, we banked the money so we would have money available during difficult times.”
Shoemaker was the only member who opposed the city’s new ethics policy, which passed 6-1. The policy will be used in conjunction with the Revised Code of Washington (RCW) to provide council members ideals and guidelines on how to conduct themselves while handling city business, Councilwoman Molly Coston said.
“I look at the ethics policy as an opportunity for partisan mischief, which I’d like to avoid,” Shoemaker said.