CAMAS — Scott Higgins is so entwined with the city of Camas it’s hard to imagine him living elsewhere, but his road to becoming mayor of the city might have started during the only point in his life he resided somewhere else.
Higgins lived in Florida a few years for college and while he started working. He knew he wanted to end up back in Camas to raise a family, but he had no plans of how or when that might happen. He came back around Christmas one year and was set up on a blind date. He and his date hit it off, started dating — and Higgins had his reason for moving back.
“I moved back for her,” Higgins said. “She facilitated that.”
He and Allison Higgins have been married 22 years, the last seven of which Higgins has spent as mayor. His tenure is coming to end on Sunday, when Higgins steps down. He announced back in June he would step down at the end of this month to spend more time with his family. Prior to his seven years as mayor, he served on the city council from 2002 to 2011.
Dr. Allison Higgins, an OBGYN, and their two daughters have dealt with Higgins working odd hours, including many nights, and having people come up to them while out in public.
“Everyone has something they need to tell you,” Higgins said.
After he steps down as mayor, Higgins will continue his part-time work as a real estate broker with Eric Fuller & Associates. He has a flexible schedule, and is looking forward to matching up his days off with his wife’s so they can spend time together. He’s especially looking forward to more cribbage games.
While Higgins said Allison Higgins shies away from the limelight — she declined to speak for this article — she has been the major reason Higgins feels like he was able to give the mayoral position so much attention.
“I ran a part-time job in a full-time way,” Higgins said. “I could do that because my wife made income for our family. This job can consume you if you let it. I let it.”
The mayor of Camas receives a $2,300 monthly stipend, along with monthly stipends totaling $375 for car, phone and technology, as decided by the city’s salary commission.
Higgins threw himself into the position of mayor, becoming not just a leader for the city but also its unofficial mascot. He could be seen at activities throughout the city, from Downtown Camas Association events to school concerts to working on the chain gang at Camas High School football games.
“It became so much more than a figurehead showing up,” Camas School District Superintendent Jeff Snell said. “Scott would show up as mayor and he’d develop relationships with people.”
Snell said that when Higgins showed up at school events, it created a buzz, but students quickly realized he was someone they could talk to.
“The title of mayor is a big deal in a small town,” Snell said. “It raised the excitement level. When you meet Scott, he’s a very generous person.”
Higgins felt it was important to get to those community events, as they help anchor the city’s culture and keep the history of Camas alive even as the city grows and changes. It was partially that growth and change that burned Higgins out a bit.
“I put all of myself into it, telling the same story regularly,” he said. “It was more and more work.”
Two of Higgins’ major disappointments from his time as mayor are due to the changing landscape of Camas: the closing of the Crown Park pool and the Georgia-Pacific paper mill closing down a majority of its remaining operations.
“Not having a solution to replace our pool before it lost its life was really hard,” he said. “We’ve had two or three potential plans through the years, but nothing came of them. I regret that. I’m sad about that. I grew up swimming in that pool. My kids grew up swimming in that pool.”
Higgins said it was hard to watch the mill, the foundation of Camas, lay off close to 300 employees earlier this year, leaving somewhere around 120 employees left at the site.
‘Cheerleaders don’t last forever’
As for his biggest accomplishments, Higgins said he’s proud of what downtown Camas has become, the city’s completion of the Lacamas Lake project and the promotion of a close-knit feeling in the community.
“Relationships are important,” City Administrator Pete Capell said. “Scott is open, gregarious and friendly. He knows everybody. People trust him. It pays dividends for the city.”
Higgins said he aimed to be a collaborative leader and to listen to others.
“It’s important that people know what they say mattered,” Higgins said. “I never think I have all the answers. We’re better with other people helping.”
Snell felt that the eight years he’s been with the school district. He said Higgins and his staff always work hand-in-hand with the school district. While Camas officials were looking at creating a project-based learning program, they created a few committees, and Higgins was on one. He joined school district officials while touring other programs.
“It was this community roadshow of people who cared about our schools,” Snell said. “It would blow away other communities. They’d say, ‘your mayor is here?’ Of course he is. He loves our schools.”
He especially loves the city’s football team. His office, which once served as a shrine to Papermaker history, has now been cleared out. His favorite piece is a poster from the team’s 2016 state championship season with a picture of a ring with his name on it. Snell remembers being on the field right after the game ended and seeing Higgins.
“He was beaming,” Snell said. “He was so excited. I remember giving him a big hug. He was so excited for our community. He loves being a Papermaker.”
Talk to anyone about Higgins, and they’re bound to say something similar.
“He’s a champion for Camas more than anyone else,” Capell said. “He represents the city in an incredibly positive way.”
After seven years as the face of the city, Higgins is looking for some down time.
“Cheerleaders don’t last forever,” he said.
He’ll still be around, especially working the first down chains at football games. Higgins wants to spend some time relaxing with his family and decompressing from his years of service. He wants to join Rotary, which his schedule as mayor didn’t allow. Once he’s had some time off, he expects people will start seeing him out and about again, maybe even at a council meeting.
“I think people will remember how much I cared,” he said. “They might’ve disagreed with what I cared about or thought I should care about something else, but I hope people always knew my full heart was in it.”