CAMAS — Mayor Shannon Turk stays away from social media, but she knows if there’s a cheerful sign on her door when she gets home, it was a rough day for her online.
“I’ve been coming home to a lot of signs lately,” Turk said. “My daughter makes them. She sees a lot of that stuff. She leaves them to let me know I’m loved and appreciated.”
Turk is coming up on the one-year anniversary of her appointment as mayor, and things have gotten increasingly testy around this city of 24,000. On Nov. 5, residents will vote on a bond for up to $78 million to build a community center. The city council’s decision to ask residents to foot such a large bill, and how they’ve relayed information to the public, has some people angry.
Residents say they haven’t seen this level of citizen engagement on previous issues, nor this level of vitriol directed toward city leaders. In the last few weeks, three residents have launched write-in campaigns for the November election, including two candidates for mayor, based on how the city has handled the lead-up to the bond vote. Others have taken to social media, council meetings and other public forums to express their distrust toward those in charge.
“I don’t understand the anger,” Turk said. “There is so much anger, like we’ve already imposed the taxes. We’re just asking people if they would support this.”
To pass the facilities bond, the first the city has run in nearly 20 years, will require a supermajority of 60 percent plus one vote. The last time Camas ran a bond levy was in March 2000, when voters approved $7.9 million to upgrade the library. That came after the same measure failed in November 1999.
The mood was tense at the Camas State of the Community address on Sept. 19. Turk was standing in front of a crowd packed into the Lacamas Lake Lodge, fielding questions, when a man started shouting at her about the price of the community center. He was immediately shut down by moderator Doug Quinn, president of the Camas school board.
Someone then asked Turk what she would say to opponents of the bond. She asked that they trust her. The same man shouted “No!” and left shortly thereafter. However, Turk’s answer has become sort of a rallying call for those opposed to the bond. Now the mere use of the word “trust” can elicit snickers in certain circles around Camas.
The anger has been building for a long time. In 2018, councilors decided not to open the historic Crown Park pool 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.
The county’s only public outdoor swimming pool — which opened on May 22, 1954, and was last used in the summer of 2017 — was demolished earlier this year. Councilors have spent the last few years working through various ideas on how to bring a water feature back to the city. There was talk of replacing the pool with a splash pad, building a new pool and, ultimately, running a bond to build a new 78,000-square-foot community center with a leisure pool, competitive pool, gym and community rooms. Bond money would also go toward renovating five sports fields around the city.
Jim Perdew has lived near Crown Park for 30-plus years, and calls the park the “heart of Camas.” He labeled the city’s effort to look at replacing the pool a “bait and switch” designed to get a large community center built.
“Those people (should) be ashamed of themselves,” he said. “It’s political lies at its best.”
Jane Hansen of Camas agreed. She called the effort “more than garden variety greed” on the part of city officials.
“For that price, we should be getting an entire golf course and clubhouse or something like that,” she said.
Dave Lattanzi is a former Camas school board member who has sat on a number of committees looking at the future of the city. Lattanzi said he appreciates that city leaders are looking at how to enhance the city, but he doesn’t think the desires of residents are getting heard.
“They’re not listening,” he said. “They wouldn’t be pushing a $78 million bond if they were listening.”
Many who attended an Oct. 2 open house felt like city officials didn’t want to hear from them, as they 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.
“It was a forum to inform people,” City Administrator Pete Capell said. “The purpose was not to give people a chance to just get up and attack it.”
Turk said she wishes the city could have sought out more public input on the bond measure. If she could go back in time, she said she would have cut off talks with Washougal on a possible joint community center last winter, instead of waiting until this spring.
“That extra three or four months could’ve been used to talk to our citizens more,” Turk said. “I think everything has felt rushed, so people are reacting and trying to understand everything at once.”