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Friday, December 8, 2023
Dec. 8, 2023

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Camas mayor-elect emphasizes importance of working together as a community

By , Columbian Staff Writer
4 Photos
Camas Mayor-elect Barry McDonnell at Camas City Hall, where he was in a day of meetings with department heads and city officials on Friday. McDonnell will be sworn in Tuesday after winning an improbable write-in campaign he launched a month before the November election.
Camas Mayor-elect Barry McDonnell at Camas City Hall, where he was in a day of meetings with department heads and city officials on Friday. McDonnell will be sworn in Tuesday after winning an improbable write-in campaign he launched a month before the November election. (Alisha Jucevic/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

CAMAS — Anastasia and Barry McDonnell have bounced around the country in their 15-plus years of marriage, but the two feel like they finally found a home in Camas.

They met while living in Atlanta, moved to Florida and then to Colorado, where they were living when Anastasia McDonnell visited the Portland-Vancouver metro area to look at places to live. When Barry McDonnell heard her describe Camas, he knew they found a place to raise their — at the time — three kids. They’ve added one more since moving to the city.

“She said it was this place 20 minutes from the airport on this green forest-lined highway overlooking the water,” Barry McDonnell said. “Then, you got to this picturesque small town.”

The family moved to Camas in summer 2016. On Tuesday, Barry McDonnell, 41, is set to be sworn in as mayor after winning an improbable write-in campaign, which was led by Anastasia McDonnell.

“We’ve taken lots of big leaps together and this is just another one,” she said. “We’re not afraid to leap. Our relationship makes those big decisions possible.”

While there is plenty of excitement around Camas for Barry McDonnell to take over, there are also some who wonder how the political newcomer — who has never held elected office — will do when asked to jump right in and lead a city. Others, including plenty of city officials, are looking forward to getting to know McDonnell a bit more.

So who exactly is the future mayor of Camas? McDonnell was born in Dublin, Ireland, and moved to Atlanta with his family when he was about 11. He works in loss prevention for a retail chain, and described himself as a people person, something he said will help him once he’s officially sworn in as the mayor.

“I’ve tried to be as transparent as possible so far,” he said. “I was elected to give people a voice. I represent their vision. Now I’m going to work with the city and individuals who can make that happen.”

Pool-itically active family

If McDonnell’s path to the mayoral seat can be traced to any one decision, it’s probably when the Camas City Council opted not to open the historic Crown Park pool for the summer of 2018 due to the high cost of bringing the pool up to code. The McDonnell family and others were upset, and they organized a pool party without the pool.

He attended some city council meetings to see what was going on and see whether the city was going to build another pool. It took more than a year from that point for the city’s next move, but it was one that angered many. City councilors put a bond measure for up to $78 million on the November ballot. The money would’ve gone toward a new 78,000-square-foot community center with a leisure pool, competitive pool, gym and community rooms.

Many in the community, McDonnell included, were upset with how they felt the city was providing information on the bond measure. About a month before the election, McDonnell decided to launch a last-minute write-in campaign to unseat Mayor Shannon Turk.

Nearly 90 percent of people who voted earlier this month came out against the bond measure. It was the largest disapproval rating of any bond or levy run in Clark County since at least 2000, according to numbers presented by the Clark County Elections office.

“That just reflected the disconnect between the city and the people,” McDonnell said. “Now it’s time to move forward with the people’s vision and make sure we’re represented.”

McDonnell spoke out against the bond measure, and he used that to garner enough support to win as a write-in. The last time there was a successful write-in campaign in Clark County was when Linda Smith advanced in the primary for the 3rd Congressional District in 1994.

Playing catch up

McDonnell has spent much of his last week-plus watching old council meetings and workshops, and meeting with different department heads at the city. He’s going to start meeting with his fellow councilors this week.

“He knows he has a lot to learn,” City Administrator Pete Capell said. “We’re trying to help him be successful. We’re sure he’ll learn the ropes and develop the relationships he needs to do well.”

Capell said that while McDonnell might not have all the political connections of people who typically win seats in office, he’s well connected in the community because of his write-in campaign. Already, the city has seen a noticeable increase in people applying to fill positions on volunteer committees, something he credits partly to McDonnell urging others to get involved. Capell also said he thinks residents are becoming more engaged in the community since the controversial bond campaign.

That’s what McDonnell and city officials are hoping for. One thing that popped up frequently around the city leading up to the bond vote was displeasure from residents over an Oct. 2 open house, where residents weren’t allowed to ask questions in a large group setting. Instead, city officials answered predetermined questions, then split attendees into smaller groups, where they could question city officials. Many felt like the city was trying to “divide and conquer” residents.

On Thursday, the city hosted an open house for the first phase of planning for the North Shore subarea. There were brief presentations by Sarah Fox, senior planner for the city, and Robert Maul, planning manager for the city. The two of them, along with Phil Bourquin, community development director for Camas, then hosted a question and answer session with the 100-plus in attendance. They said they’d stay until every question was answered, which they followed through on. The meeting lasted nearly three hours.

McDonnell also got up and spoke in front of the crowd for one of the first times since he was elected. If McDonnell has his way, there will be plenty more meetings with similar public turnout and engagement.

“This has got to be our vision,” he told the crowd. “In order to do that, we’ve got to come together and ask a lot of good questions. We want to put together a plan everyone is excited about.”

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Columbian Staff Writer