CAMAS — Leslie Lewallen and Jennifer McDaniel are running for Ellen Burton’s Ward 3, Position 2 seat on the Camas City Council after Burton, the city’s temporary mayor, announced she would not be running for reelection.
Lewallen, a former deputy prosecuting attorney from King County, described herself at a recent candidate forum as “an attorney and mother of four children, ages 18 to 5.” She joined the race alongside Jennifer McDaniel, a former Washougal City Council member who moved to Camas in 2017 after living in Washougal for more than a decade and now calls Camas her family’s “forever home.”
Asked why she chose to run for city council, McDaniel said she had a desire to “protect and preserve our wonderful way of life,” plan for “thoughtful and intentional growth” in Camas and listen to and engage the city’s citizens.
“I have a history of community service, of rebuilding partnerships and improving communication and transparency (between city council members and their constituents),” McDaniel added.
Lewallen said she has been “working very hard to become (Camas’) next city councilor.”
“I’ve canvassed 4,000 homes and talked to thousands of people,” Lewallen said of her campaigning. “I’ve actually listened and heard (what) Camasonians want,” she added. “I intend to deliver for the citizens.”
Addressing the political polarization of Camas’ residents, Lewallen said she believed there is “no room for politics in municipal government.”
“I do not run on ‘left or right.’ I run on ‘right versus wrong,’” Lewallen said, adding many local issues transcended politics. “We all want a clean lake. That’s not a political issue. That’s a Camas issue.”
McDaniel acknowledged polarization is “a growing problem” in Camas, and said it makes compromising on local issues “almost impossible.”
“Party politics has no place in small, city government,” McDaniel said. “Sometimes a decision isn’t popular with everyone, but it is a mistake trying to place political labels on these everyday services.”
McDaniel served on the Washougal City Council for nine years and has experience working on community boards and committees for Meals on Wheels, the local Chamber of Commerce, UNITE Washougal, and the Clark College Business Advisory Board.
Regarding the city’s rapid population growth and lack of affordable housing, McDaniel noted that, in Washington, all cities are required to plan for 20 years of growth and that Camas is unique because it has limited possibilities for where it can accommodate this growth.
“Camas is bordered on three sides, by two cities and a river, so the only land available for annexation is north,” McDaniel said, adding that city leaders had already annexed approximately 800 acres into the city’s northern area to allow for future growth.
McDaniel said she believed the North Shore Subarea Plan vision statement the city council adopted this year is “an important planning tool” and said she believes the city’s downtown could include some creative rezoning of the current Georgia-Pacific paper mill property to include mixed-use with family-residential zones if the company ever decides to close the mill completely and sell its property, which is currently zoned for heavy industrial uses.
Georgia-Pacific downsized the Camas paper mill in 2018 and closed its pulp mill operations, but the company still has more than 100 employees working at the downtown Camas site on its remaining paper line. Company representatives have repeatedly said Georgia-Pacific has no intention of leaving Camas anytime soon.
Lewallen has brought the Georgia-Pacific property up throughout her campaign as a possible solution to Camas’ affordable housing woes.
“The mill district, or what I like to call the mill district, is uniquely positioned to provide a variety of opportunity for growth,” Lewallen said during the Oct. 1 forum. “We want smart, effective growth. (Camas residents) don’t necessarily want it to become Vancouver or Portland. They like Camas because it is special.”
Most of the city council candidates, including Lewallen, said they did not support changing the Camas city government from its current, “strong mayor” form of government to one in which the mayor acts more as a figurehead, with a professional city manager running the day-to-day business of the city and the elected city council members having control over the hiring of the city manager.
McDaniel broke from the pack and said she might consider a change in the city’s form of government.
“Sometimes we elect a good mayor, and sometimes we don’t,” McDaniel said, adding she thought former Mayor Barry McDonnell fit the latter description. “McDonnell was way in over his head and resigned fairly early in his term.”
The other option, the “council-manager” form of government that is found in Vancouver and Washougal, “would offer more stability, especially on the operations side of the city (because) an experienced city manager would actually be responsible for running the day-to-day business of the city,” McDaniel said. “I think I would like to consider that, and send that to the voters.”