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News / Politics / Clark County Politics

Paulsen ready to take seat on Vancouver City Council

He served as chairman of city's planning commission

By Katy Sword, Columbian politics reporter
Published: January 22, 2019, 6:03am
5 Photos
Incoming appointed Vancouver City Councilor Erik Paulsen will take office on Monday.
Incoming appointed Vancouver City Councilor Erik Paulsen will take office on Monday. (Nathan Howard/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Erik Paulsen describes himself as a deliberative decision-maker. Each facet of a decision needs time and attention before a conclusion can be drawn. Which is why it took him four years to move forward with a bid for Vancouver City Council.

Paulsen was starting his second term as chair of the Vancouver Planning Commission when he met with some councilors to discuss an open seat. He started asking exploratory questions and looking into the possibility. But he never filed for office.

“I just didn’t finish that deliberative process in time to join the race,” he said.

So Paulsen waited until his term with the planning commission was closer to its end, when a vacancy opened up in January 2018. Paulsen was one of six finalists selected to interview for the position from a pool of 56. Ultimately, Councilor Laurie Lebowsky was appointed to the seat.

Paulsen finished out his last year on the commission and decided now was the time to seek a seat at the dais — just as another seat became available when former Councilor Alishia Topper vacated her position to serve as Clark County treasurer.

Paulsen applied once again and was one of six finalists. He was the only finalist for both vacancies.

He was appointed unanimously Jan. 14 and will be sworn in Monday.

“Regardless of whether or not I had or had not been appointed to council, my service on the planning commission was at an end,” he said.

Moving forward

Once Paulsen is sworn in next week, he’ll need to hit the ground running. Vancouver is in the midst of difficult, ongoing issues including affordable housing, redevelopment and complicated transit constraints. While he’s catching up on everything the council is considering, he’s also mounting a campaign.

As an appointee, Paulsen needs to seek election in the next general election.

“I’m really on two parallel tracks,” he said.

The first: trying to get up to speed.

The second: planning a successful campaign.

“I’m seeking a lot of advice and guidance from fellow council members and city staff so that I can be as effective as possible, as quickly as possible,” Paulsen said.

And while he doesn’t have any specific campaign plans yet, Paulsen intends to develop a thoughtful strategy “that I feel good about and that’s well informed.”

Communication style

If there’s one thing Paulsen learned from his eight years on the Planning Commission, he said, it’s how to communicate effectively with the board and the community.

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He said he’s shifted his approach from a show-and-tell style to an emphasis on listening.

Paulsen said that for many community members, approaching the dais is daunting, and he’s found that a welcoming presence is better for fostering a conversation.

Moving forward in his new role, Paulsen is hoping to hear from people directly.

“Ideally in person,” he added. “I prefer that to, for example, written communication or digital communication. Things can be misconstrued or misunderstood. I think it’s well documented scientifically that interpersonal communication is most effective face to face. I’m a firm adherent to that.”

Paulsen said meeting people face to face is one of the ways he shows he cares.

“I care about our community, and I care about the people in our community,” he said. “I care about them all.”

Columbian politics reporter