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Dec. 11, 2019

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Camas voters reject city bond for community center

Nearly 90% against proposal in early returns

By , Columbian Staff Writer
Published: November 5, 2019, 10:16pm

Camas residents overwhelmingly voted against the city’s controversial $78 million bond to build a new community center.

As of Tuesday’s results, the bond is failing with 89.59 percent of the ballots coming against the bond measure. There were 5,114 votes against to 594 in support. The 10.41 percent in favor is a far cry from 60 percent plus one vote needed to pass a bond.

“I was not thinking it would be that decisive,” Mayor Shannon Turk said. “We had put together the bond measure based upon years of input. Obviously, there was something there the citizens didn’t like.”

Councilor Melissa Smith, who was running as a write-in candidate for mayor Tuesday night, said she didn’t think it would be so one-sided.

“I’m in shock with all of it,” Smith said. “The voters let us know. That’s OK. That was their choice.”

Turk said the next steps will be to figure out why the bond was so heavily opposed, and looking at whether residents were upset most at cost, location or something else about the project.

The money would’ve been used to build a new 78,000-square-foot community center with a leisure pool, competitive pool, gym and community rooms. About $6 million of the bond money would’ve been used for sports field renovations at Forest Home Park, Prune Hill Sports Park and Dorothy Fox Park.

Anger around the bond measure may also bring a new mayor to Camas. After the filing period, it looked like Turk was running for re-election unopposed. Partly due to how the bond measure was handled, three residents launched last-minute write-in campaigns for office.

Smith and Barry McDonnell both ran write-in campaigns to unseat Turk, and Margaret Tweet ran as a write-in against Greg Anderson for Ward 3 Position 1. As of Tuesday’s results, the write-ins outnumbered Turk, with 2,753 votes coming in for write-in candidates and 1,898 votes coming in for Turk. It wasn’t known as of Tuesday night if Turk was unseated, however.

“A lot of it reflects the bond proposal,” Turk said. “I understand they made that connection. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens in the next few days. If I’m lucky enough to carry on in the mayor’s position, I will take all of the input into account.”

While write-in campaigns are often a long shot, new state laws make it so write-in candidates aren’t counted individually on election night. The high number of write-in votes will trigger elections staffers to go in and count them individually.

“It fundamentally shows the issue around communication,” McDonnell said. “There is a disconnect between the city elected officials and the citizens. That’s what I’m looking to fix.”

Smith said she’s interested to see how the write-ins are counted once that process starts.

“I knew it would split some of the votes,” Smith said. “Hopefully, I have the majority of them.”

McDonnell said “the message was clear” from residents that they weren’t happy with the proposed bond measure.

The lead-up to Tuesday night created a tense atmosphere around the city in recent months, an anger that had been building for the last few years. In 2018, councilors decided to leave the historic Crown Park pool closed for the summer after learning that bringing the pool into compliance with health and safety codes would cost between $481,000 and $710,000. Estimates for a complete renovation were in the range of $1.69 million to $2.19 million, almost enough to build an entirely new pool.

Crown Park pool was the county’s only public outdoor swimming pool. It opened on May 22, 1954, was last used in the summer of 2017 and demolished earlier this year.

Residents were upset about the community center’s proposed location — about 6 1/2 acres of city-owned property off Lake Road across the street from the entrance to Heritage Park — and how adding a new community center would affect that already jam-packed section of Camas.

Many were also upset with how the city dispensed information about the bond project in the lead-up to the election. It caused one resident to yell out against Turk during her State of the Community address.

Turk said residents need to move on and focus on what they have in common now that the bond vote is behind everyone. She said one issue that has come up a lot is how to fix up Crown Park. One thing many agree the park needs is a restroom.

“Let’s build that restroom,” she said. “Let’s start small. Let’s start making progress so we can build upon the things we all agree are needed in our community.”

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