CAMAS — Shannon Turk isn’t sure if she won her re-election campaign for the Camas mayoral seat, but she knows the city needs to start the mending process after a tense three-month stretch leading up to Tuesday’s election.
The big-ticket item on the ballot in Camas was a bond measure for up to $78 million to build a new community center. It was voted down rather spectacularly, with nearly 90 percent of votes coming in against the measure. The bond campaign brought out a lot of negative feelings around Camas, some of which were directed at local officials and some directed at each other by residents.
Turk and a bulk of the city council went face-to-face with residents for the first time since the election at a Thursday night ward meeting. Camas has three wards, each represented by two councilors. Turk brought the ward meetings back this year as a way to get more face-to-face interaction between residents and their elected representatives.
“I was not sure what to expect tonight,” Turk said after the meeting. “It did feel like a good first step. People want to be heard.”
The crowd of 30-plus who came out to Camas-Washougal Fire Department Station 42 for the Ward 1 meeting was significantly larger than for the spring meeting, which drew about four people, according to Councilor Melissa Smith, one of the ward’s two representatives.
Smith is also one of two write-in candidates for Turk’s mayoral seat. The ward’s other representative is Councilor Deanna Rusch, who is trailing in her re-election bid against Shannon Roberts.
Partly due to the bond issue, Turk faced two write-in candidates for re-election: Smith and Barry McDonnell. As of Friday’s election results, the write-in candidates had a combined 4,226 votes to Turk’s 2,718. The elections office started tabulating the individual write-in ballots on Wednesday, but it’s expected the preliminary count from the write-ins won’t be released until around Tuesday.
Ward meeting highlights
While there was some lingering resentment for the bond campaign, the meeting remained respectful. Joining Turk, Smith and Rusch were fellow Councilors Don Chaney, Steve Hogan and Greg Anderson, along with City Administrator Pete Capell. Turk said she attends every ward meeting, along with Chaney, who is elected at-large and represents all wards.
There was no mention of the bond for the first 10 minutes of the meeting, as residents asked about how the wards work and where the best places to find information about the city. But once the bond was mentioned, it dominated the conversation for much of the remaining 90-minute meeting.
The bond talk opened with a resident bringing up an Oct. 2 open house at which many residents reportedly felt that city officials didn’t want to hear from them. At that meeting, residents weren’t allowed to ask questions in a large group setting. Instead, city officials had answered predetermined questions, then split attendees into smaller groups, where they could question city officials.
“The one thing that ticked off a lot of community members, young and old, was that people wanted to hear other with respect,” Joe Nounou said. “You lost the community there by splitting up the room. Don’t divide and conquer.”
Another person asked how much the city put into the project. Capell said the city paid about $48,700 for preliminary architecture designs, and another roughly $69,490 for public information on the project.
Keith Shaw said also he felt like city officials tried to “divide and conquer” while trying to talk about the bond. He said he has never been as proud of a group of people as he was of the people who spoke out against the bond and then voted against it.
“It should be obvious how against it people were, because 90 percent of people said so,” Shaw said. “That should speak loads to you.”
No other local measure in recent years has come close to receiving 90 percent disapproval. According to numbers presented by the Clark County Elections office, there have been nearly 300 bonds and levies voted on in Clark County since 2000, 97 of which of were voted down. Of those 97, only three reached disapproval levels of at least 70 percent. Next to this year’s Camas bond, the second-highest against total came in the November 2009 general election, when 72.4 of ballots came in against a proposal to have Woodland adopt a council-city manager form of government.
The meeting wasn’t only attended by people who voted against the bond. Sheila Schmid of Camas, who supported the bond measure, said she was “appalled” by vitriol around town the last few months.
The councilors in attendance didn’t get defensive when faced with critique from the crowd. Chaney said the council has to strike a balance between new taxes and the potential for residents to get upset about them.
“Now, you can say Proposition 2 goes against that, but you had a choice to say no to that, and you did,” Chaney said.
“Overwhelmingly,” someone in the crowd answered back.
Shaw told the councilors that there is going to be a lot more citizen engagement since so many residents were upset about the bond campaign.
The councilors said they’d welcome that. Chaney said they’re elected to represent residents, so they’d love to hear from them more. Rusch said she thinks everyone can agree the city could work on better communication practices going forward.
“This was a bad election vote,” Hogan said. “It really took a thumping. But, there’s something good that can come from this.”