Big issues come into play in small city’s mayoral contest

By Stephanie Rice, Columbian Vancouver city government reporter



La Center Mayor

Jim Irish

Age: 64

Background: Chemical engineer for Bonneville Power Administration

Major endorsements: Clark County Commissioner Steve Stuart, former Clark County Commissioner Betty Sue Morris, Washougal Mayor Sean Guard, La Center School Superintendent Mark Mansell and Southwest Washington Central Labor Council.


Troy Van Dinter

Age: 44

Background: Controller for Skyward Construction

Major endorsements: State Rep. Ann Rivers, State Sen. Craig Pridemore, Clark County Commissioner Marc Boldt, Clark County Commissioner Tom Mielke and Building Industry Association of Clark County.


Former La Center City Councilor Troy Van Dinter decided to run for mayor during filing week, when it looked as if Mayor Jim Irish might run unopposed.

Voters should always have a choice, Van Dinter said, and he has concerns about the city’s future.

Irish said he wants a third term to see projects he’s been working on come to fruition, be it extending sewer lines or the Holley Park master plan.

Big issues facing the small city — population 2,800, according to the 2010 Census — include a September annexation that added 471 acres of commercial and residential land, expanding the city to the Interstate 5 junction. Then there are ongoing talks with the Cowlitz Indian Tribe, which has 152 acres of land west of I-5 and federal authority (currently on appeal in U.S. District Court) to build a casino there. The City Council voted to open talks with the tribe this year, which was a breakthrough. City leaders don’t want to alienate owners of the four La Center cardrooms, which have been a major source of revenue for the city, as the owners all oppose the casino.

Cardroom operators support Van Dinter, who has raised $9,602. Other top donors for Van Dinter include Vancouver residents David and Donna Madore and Ed Lynch, leader of Citizens Against Reservation Shopping.

Irish does not accept campaign contributions.

While the question of whether there will ever be a casino on the Cowlitz land — Clark County and other groups appealed the federal decision to allow the tribe to establish a reservation — the tribe has been in talks with the city to pay a portion of the tab for sewer lines.

Van Dinter said he supports continuing to negotiate with the tribe.

The candidates named the same three top issues: fiscal responsibility, economic development and citizen involvement.

Fiscal responsibility

Van Dinter: “We need to review the expenditures of the city and ensure that they are in line with other communities and the values of our citizens. We can’t sustain our current spending patterns. Our growth has slowed substantially, and our budget has yet to reflect our reduced income.”

Irish: “I have worked to build a strong and financially stable city. … I am committed to working with the council to assure that we make fiscally sound decisions to preserve services and our quality of life.”

He said budget reductions can be accomplished by not filling vacancies. As an example of a smart investment, Irish cited the $246,166 incentive check he accepted Oct. 12 on behalf of the city from the Energy Smart Industrial Program. Through the program, sponsored by the Bonneville Power Administration and Clark Public Utilities, the city received the check for installing energy efficient industrial equipment at its wastewater treatment plant.

As for the Holley Park master plan, which outlines different possibilities including a community pool, Van Dinter said it’s too big of a risk in this economy and there hasn’t been sufficient citizen input. Irish said the project would be accomplished in “baby steps.”

Economic development

Van Dinter: La Center needs to be working with the Port of Ridgefield and the Columbia River Economic Development Council on economic development and exploring opportunities as the northern portion of the Discovery Corridor.

Irish: Growth in north Clark County is inevitable, and “thoughtful planned development in the annexation area is the key to La Center’s economic future.” He agrees with Van Dinter that the city needs to reach out to partners, but said it’s not as though the city has been ignoring the annexed land.

“We’ve only had it annexed into the city for a month,” he said.

Citizen involvement

Van Dinter: “We need to improve our communication network with the local residents.” He suggests creating citizen committees.

Irish: “La Center’s sense of community is an important part of the city.” He said he will “continue to support a strong role for the city in community events, programs and projects.”

Stephanie Rice:;;