Washougal may pick mayor while eliminating mayoralty

Prop. 1 is a complication for candidates to lead the city

By Tyler Graf, Columbian county government reporter



Washougal Candidates (Currently, city has a mayor and 7 councilors)

Position 6

David Shoemaker

Age: 72

Occupation: Retired from the “Little Hoover” Commission on California State Government Organization and Economy.

Money raised: Nothing reported to the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission.

Rodney Morris

Age: 58

Occupation: Retired.

Money raised: Nothing reported to the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission.

Website: None.

Position 3

Paul Greenlee

Age: 67

Occupation: Retired

Money raised: $5,025.


Lisa D. Voeltz

Age: 36

Occupation: Business owner.

Money raised: Nothing reported to the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission.


Position 1

Brent Boger

Age: 56

Occupation: Assistant city attorney for Vancouver.

Money raised: Nothing reported to the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission.

Website: None.


Earl Scott

Age: 54

Occupation: Captain for the Washougal Fire Department.

Money raised: Nothing reported to the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission.

Website: None.

Sean Guard

Age: 51

Occupation: Owns two event-management companies.

Money raised: $4,873.26.


As the Nov. 5 general election approaches, candidates for Washougal City Council are stepping up efforts to set themselves apart.

But for the two mayoral candidates, Mayor Sean Guard and fire Capt. Earl Scott, there's agreement on one issue: They want to be the city's top administrator despite a proposition that would prevent either from getting there. The position pays $24,000 a year.

This election will be marked by a curious wrinkle never before seen in the city of 14,340 residents. Passage of Proposition 1, which will also appear on Washougal's Nov. 5 ballot, would alter the city's government from a mayor-council to council-manager form, with a council-appointed "weak" mayor. The move would nullify the mayoral election.

Both Guard and Scott have criticized the proposition, which would hand the reins of administrative oversight to a city manager, as city councilors would appoint a symbolic mayor from within their ranks.

"If I was for (Prop. 1), I wouldn't be running for mayor," Scott said. "That being said, if the voters of Washougal choose to approve Proposition 1, I will support that choice."

That view is echoed, nearly verbatim, by Guard, who said he's seen "little support" for the proposition.

But that's where the similarities end. On issues pertaining to the future of the city, Guard and Scott have worked to mark their differences. While Guard points to his experience in city government, including city council stints in both Camas and Washougal, Scott says he'd bring a fresh managerial approach to the position.

He said he would restructure departments to make them more effective, and he'd work to protect the city's budget reserves.

"Just because you have a dollar doesn't mean you need to spend it," he said. "(City councilors) are sometimes quick to touch the reserves."

The 22-year fire department veteran said he would quit his city job if elected mayor. He said he was running to mitigate fee increases for citizens and to build a "cohesive working relationship with the community and advocate for businesses."

But Guard said the city already strives to spend within its means. By council policy, the city keeps 16 percent of its general fund expenditures locked in reserves. Over and above that, the city sets aside reserves for its utility fund and in unallocated money, which can be spent on things like new equipment.

When he was elected in 2010, the budget was $1.5 million in the red, Guard said. By the end of the year, Washougal was able to roll that money into reserves by cutting spending. "That's not a dip, that's a huge scoop," he said.

He called the criticism against the city's handling of reserves baseless. "There are a lot of different philosophies that make for good sound bites."

The city has worked this year to lower a phased set of increases to its water rates, another emphasis for both Scott and Guard.

While operating expenses for sewers have decreased by 6 percent in the past two years, the city is still beholden to state and federal regulators that say Washougal must upgrade its wastewater treatment facility.

The city has been in talks with the Washington State Department of Ecology since 2010. But there are lingering concerns that the city won't be able to tap into low-interest loans from the state's Public Works Trust Fund after legislators this year voted to tap into the account to backfill the budget by $277 million.

The two candidates will have an opportunity to address their differences face-to-face at a question-and-answer forum 7 p.m. Thursday at the Washougal Community Center, located at 1681 C St.

The mayoral election won't be the only contested race in the city. There are three other races on Washougal's general election ballot.

Council races

Paul Greenlee, a second-term councilor, will defend his seat against Lisa Voeltz, a small-business owner and single mom, for Position 3. That election will also boil down to water bills.

Voeltz has said she'd work to lower the rates so more people can afford them.

The city council has worked to find ways to keep utility costs low, Greenlee said, and is poised to implement a new billing system that more accurately reflects how much water people use.

"It looks like some rates will go down, and a few rates will go up," he said.

First-term Councilor David Shoemaker is running against Rodney Morris, a former councilor who lost a 2011 city council race to Caryn Plinski after a recount.

Although his name will be on the ballot, Morris said he's focused on personal health issues, not running an active campaign.

Shoemaker, meanwhile, said he'd advocate for fewer state-imposed restrictions on Washougal. A retired employee of the "Little Hoover" Commission on California State Government, Organization and Economy, an independent oversight committee tasked with investigating state government operations, Shoemaker said Washington's Growth Management Act unfairly shackles development.

"I want the state out of decisions that would be better made by Washougal," Shoemaker said.

Brent Boger, an assistant city attorney for Vancouver and 10-year resident of Washougal, is running unopposed.

He was appointed to his council seat in 2012.