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News / Politics / Clark County Politics

Camas City Council candidates address leadership turnover

8 to appear on Aug. 3 primary ballot to fill seats in Wards 1 and 3

By Jack Heffernan, Columbian county government and small cities reporter
Published: July 2, 2021, 5:21pm

The eight candidates running in Camas City Council primary races have offered several ideas to prevent continued turnover of city leadership.

The candidates are vying to replace Councilors Melissa Smith in Ward 1 and Ellen Burton — the city’s acting mayor — in Ward 3. The race for Ward 2 — in which Tim Hein and Martin Elzingre seek to replace councilor and mayoral candidate Steve Hogan — will appear on the Nov. 2 general election ballot.

The Ward 1 race in the Aug. 3 primary features:

  • Shawn High, a 46-year-old flight attendant.
  • Gary Perman, a 60-year-old executive and technology recruiter in the commercial vehicle alternative vehicles market.
  • Georl Niles, a 51-year-old pastor at The Calling Church in Vancouver.
  • Marilyn Dale-Boerke, a 62-year-old director of talent development for the Camas School District.

Ward 3 will be represented next year by either:

  • Jennifer McDaniel, a 54-year-old former Washougal city councilor.
  • Alicia King, a flight attendant and jazzercise instructor.
  • Leslie Lewallen, a 46-year-old retired attorney and mother of four children.
  • John Svilarich, a 63-year-old who works in e-commerce training and consulting for the automotive industry.

The shift on the council will not be the only changes to city leadership next year. An election to replace Barry McDonnell, the former mayor who resigned on May 11, will take place in November. City Manager Jamal Fox’s resignation is effective July 9, and a search to fill his position is underway.

High, King and Svilarich each indicated an interest in making the mayoral position a full-time job. McDonnell, a retail manager and father of four, said he resigned to spend more time with his family.

“I feel like the job of mayor of our town right now is more than part-time,” King said. “It is very hard for individuals to give the position all it needs while trying to be successful at a full-time job and possibly have a family at home.”

High differed with his opponent Perman on compensation for the city administrator.

“We are a growing town,” High said. “Are we meeting the top levels of total compensation for the area?”

Perman said, rather, that compensation is typically not a factor in retaining employees.

“In business, turnover is generally caused by mismanagement and/or poor hiring methods,” Perman said. “As a Camas city council member, I’ll ensure that candidates for top positions are completely vetted, assessed and interviewed by the full city council.”

Niles said he wants the new leadership to retain Camas’ small-town feel.

“I would love to see an administrator that either is promoted from within or, at the very least, knows the ins and outs of leading in a small town, hometown feel,” Niles said. “We need leaders who are just as in love with our city as we are, not seeing this as a stepping stone to something else.”

Others referenced educational and professional prerequisites. McDaniel, in addition to wanting to hire someone who already lives in the area, said she would want city administrator candidates to have a master’s degree and at least 10 years of experience as a director of a department in municipal government.

Dale-Boerke mentioned experience with negotiations and collaboration with civic organizations.

“We have very strong community groups that strive to serve alongside the city government,” Dale-Boerke said, listing the Downtown Camas Association, Rotary Club of Camas-Washougal and Camas-Washougal Community Chest as some examples. “Strengthening those partnerships should be a priority.”

Other issues raised by candidates that could become talking points this summer include waterfront development, tweaking the city code to remove errors, maintaining open spaces, rezoning areas of the city to create more housing, tax relief, council term limits and diversity in government.

Several candidates stressed the need for more transparency and open communication.

“If our city operates as it should, in an open and transparent fashion with the needs of the citizens first, I believe we will retain effective leadership,” Lewallen said.

Columbian county government and small cities reporter