BATTLE GROUND — With new leadership in place, Battle Ground faces a question: Can a revamped city council salve the wounds of an acrimonious campaign season?
The answer, city council members say, hinges on whether they can step toward the future and forget the politically turbulent past.
"The citizens of Battle Ground are disenfranchised with government right now," Mayor Shane Bowman said. "In the past, it's been an us-versus-them type of thing (between councilors)."
But with a new-look council in place, the mayor is optimistic the future will include a bit more unity.
Bowman, a two-year council veteran, was appointed mayor in January. He replaced Lisa Walters, who lost her seat in November to Mike Dalesandro, one of the newly elected council members.
The two new faces on council — Dalesandro and Lyle Lamb — defeated incumbents Walters and Mike Ciraulo.
A third, Chris Regan, defeated Alex Reinhold. Regan isn't entirely new to the council, however. He previously served two terms until he was defeated in 2011.
With new council members behind the dais, the city can make a fresh start, Bowman said.
He said the top issue will be getting the new council up to speed on the city's budget-writing process. Battle Ground operates on a biennialbudget, which must be completed by the end of this year.
Finding money for transportation projects, including work on Main Street and South Parkway, is another goal for the year, and a cornerstone in the city's legislative agenda.
Shoring up money for South Parkway could be a challenge, council members say, because it doesn't meet many of the Regional Transportation Commission's criteria for grants.
The objective this year, Bowman said, will be to prioritize policies over politics.
"What we're trying to bring back is the idea we have seven council members who all have the same power," Bowman said. "What we're trying to get away from is a weak mayor, where the title becomes the power."
The city's summer campaign season was punctuated by infighting among elected officials. Bowman called it the most contentious he'd encountered.
First, Walters briefly dropped out of her race in August, citing personal reasons. Later the same week, without explanation, she reversed course and said she would resume campaigning.
In September, council members Adrian Cortes and Ciraulo wrote an op-ed lambasting their colleagues for lacking transparency. The piece, published in two weekly papers, drew a stark rebuke from Councilman Philip Johnson, who told Ciraulo and Cortes they should "put up or shut up" with examples of their claim.
Neither Cortes nor Johnson was up for re-election in November.
Johnson stood by his words. Bowman and Johnson placed a sign with the phrase "put up or shut up" at the corner of state Highway 503 and West Main Street, in the heart of the city.
Then in October, the Washington State Gambling Commission scolded organizers of a pro-Ciraulo fundraiser for operating a poker night without a license. The commission found out about the event from an anonymous tip.
Bill Ganley, the city's longest-serving council member,said Battle Ground had a history of heated elections, which can interfere with city business. He won re-election in November against Steven Douglas Phelps.
"I'm looking forward to focusing on the issues now," Ganley said.
New council members say they're working to smooth over hard feelings. After the election, Dalesandro met with Bowman to discuss what his role on council would be.
He said it's time for the city to keep the squabbling to a minimum.
"I gave him my word I will work with everyone," Dalesandro said. "I don't want to see divisions on council because I don't think that's a good way to govern a city."