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News / Politics / Clark County Politics

Vancouver City Council picks Lebowsky for open seat

Planner with Clark County has also been Public Health Advisory Council chair

By Katy Sword, Columbian politics reporter
Published: February 5, 2018, 9:00pm
3 Photos
Laurie Lebowsky, center, was appointed to the Vancouver City Council on Monday night. She fills a vacancy for Position 1.
Laurie Lebowsky, center, was appointed to the Vancouver City Council on Monday night. She fills a vacancy for Position 1. (Katy Sword/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

The phase “third time’s a charm” was never more applicable than at Monday’s special meeting of the Vancouver City Council.

The council was tasked with appointing a new councilor to fulfill Position 1’s vacancy. Six finalists were selected and interviewed in a process that took about three hours — although the process really began at 8 a.m. Monday when finalists were announced.

By the end of Monday’s meeting, Laurie Lebowsky, 49, was appointed by a 4-2 vote. Her appointment came after two prior failed votes for other candidates.

First, Councilor Bart Hansen nominated Mary Elkin. Although the council noted her passion to serve the community, some felt they needed a different viewpoint than their own to fill the open seat. Elkin’s appointment failed by a 4-2 vote.

Then, Councilor Linda Glover nominated Erik Paulsen. Although Councilor Alishia Topper said she couldn’t find a reason not to support Paulsen as a candidate, she ultimately voted against Paulsen, which resulted in a 3-3 vote. A tie is equivalent to a failed vote in this scenario.

Finally, Lebowsky was nominated by Topper. Topper said she believes Lebowsky will make the community a priority and give back like Scott Campbell would have. The appointment process was necessitated by Campbell’s death before the election. He was elected in November.

“You can tell she has a good sense about what makes a city livable,” Glover said.

Ultimately, Topper, Glover and Councilors Ty Stober and Bill Turlay voted in favor of Lebowsky.

Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle voted against Lebowsky’s appointment because she felt Lebowsky didn’t have enough community volunteerism.

Lebowsky is a planner with Clark County and has worked as a planner for the last 24 years. She also served as chair of the Clark County Public Health Advisory Council and was a founding member of Bike Clark County.

From 56 to six to one

The council first narrowed a list of 56 applicants down to six before embarking on the appointment process.

To an extent, much of the process was not decided until Monday. The council previously sent their individual top 15 lists to be compiled and make the process a little smoother during Monday’s morning executive session.

When the time came to select finalists, each councilor nominated one interviewee.

Topper selected Lebowsky. Glover nominated Paulsen, the chair of the Vancouver Planning Commission.

Stober nominated Carmen McKibben, chair of the Southwest Washington League of United Latin American Citizens.

Turlay nominated Elizabeth Hovde, former Columbian columnist and current columnist for The Oregonian.

Hansen selected Elkin, chair of the Vancouver Neighborhoods Alliance.

Finally, McEnerny-Ogle nominated Sarah Fox, a city planner in Camas.

Because there were six finalists, each was allotted a 30-minute time slot, although none used the entire interview time. All night, the council was averaging 15 minutes ahead of schedule. Interviews were moving so quickly, the council was able to add a fourth candidate, McKibben, to the first session, making the second round much shorter. Deliberations were then able to begin at 7:30 p.m., instead of at the scheduled 8:15 p.m. start time. By 8:30 p.m., the council began the voting process. Lebowsky was confirmed at 9 p.m.

Interview responses

Each candidate was asked the same six questions to begin — one from each presiding councilor. Candidates were asked about how to increase job growth in Vancouver, strengths and weaknesses in a campaign, the most important issue facing the city, their self-perception and how to make their neighborhood more accessible. Not surprisingly, Hansen’s question was to explain the difference between an ordinance and a resolution. Earlier in the appointment process Hansen remarked that candidates should have attended meetings in the past and know the basics of city government. The most colorful answer came from Lebowsky. Her response to this question was one of the reasons Topper said she voted for Lebowsky.

An ordinance, for example, might determine the number of chickens a resident can own. If your neighbor has 11 more than the code allows, “You have the police empowerment to stop that person and get rid of their chickens,” she explained. A resolution is just something the council would like to express, like Blue Hat Day. The council may want to deem next Monday Blue Hat Day, “but you can’t require everyone to wear a blue hat.”

Topper asked the same of each councilor during the Q&A portion: Do you support light rail/mass transit or a user fee to replace the Interstate 5 Bridge. While most were hesitant to offer a firm answer, candidates acknowledged the need to not only replace the bridge but find a revenue source. If it comes down to tolling, the candidates were supportive.

“I think the community would be open to that,” McKibben said. “I know I’m open to that.”

Elkin added that while she’d rather not pay tolls, if it’s the cost of safety, she would be supportive.

What’s next

Lebowsky will be sworn in Monday, at the next council meeting. She will need to run for re-election in November to finish the four-year term.

“I understand if I’m appointed to this position, I have to turn around tomorrow, or tonight, and start running a campaign for city council,” Lebowsky said during her interview.

She already has a competitor. Elkin, who was not appointed, said she still plans to run for the seat come November.

“I was left with the desire to be part of something greater than myself,” Elkin said.

Columbian politics reporter