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May 20, 2022

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Battle Ground council candidates make their case

Four positions on city council are up for vote in election

By , Columbian staff writer

Despite being a nonpartisan race, Battle Ground’s candidates for city council have seen the same kind of political divide and polarization found across the country.

There is one thing those vying for one of four open council seats can agree on —the city’s quaint, hometown charm and reputation for being a great place to raise a family is worth preserving.

But their strategies differ on how to best hold on to that small-town charm.

Position 1

Incumbent Brian Munson is facing challenger Troy McCoy. Munson recently found himself in the spotlight after proposing a “medical freedom” ordinance that would have kept the city from requiring city employees, contractors and volunteers to be vaccinated, wear masks or practice social distancing. The ordinance, which was defeated by the council in a 4-2 vote, would have been a first in the state.

Both candidates have experience working on behalf of city residents. Munson, a 23-year employee of BNSF Railway, was appointed to the council in 2016 and was elected to a full term in 2017. He previously served as chair of the city planning commission.

McCoy, a business owner, has been on the Battle Ground school board since 2017. After serving for two years as president, then vice president, he said he stepped aside to give other board members an opportunity to take a leadership role.

McCoy told The Columbian he has seen the political divide in Battle Ground firsthand. The city, he says, needs “somebody who can bridge that gap and listen to all sides, serve the whole community, as well as actually get something done.” McCoy said he’s just that person.

Munson, who was unavailable for an interview, said at a League of Women Voters forum there should be no room at the table for partisanship.

“Our one and only focus should be for the free and safe, prosperous existence of the citizens,” he said.

However, he said, council members should still be “independent thinkers” unafraid to disagree.

Both candidates agree the council must address growth management and infrastructure needs but have different approaches to those issues.

Munson said during the forum the city needs to lean less on the state for grant dollars and instead entice businesses that generate tax revenue.

McCoy agreed the city hasn’t done a good job of bringing in business but must also do “a better job of prioritizing everyday things that impact citizens.” One example, he said, is the lack of sidewalks along busier roadways.

The city’s lack of affordable housing was also noted by both candidates. Munson again noted the need for more businesses, and the corresponding jobs they create, as the key to families being able to afford living in Battle Ground.

McCoy said the state’s Growth Management Act takes many decisions out of the city’s control.

“Everybody wants the city to stop growing as soon as they move in,” he added.

Both candidates agreed that annexing the city into Fire District 3 has been a good move and has allowed the city to dedicate more resources to the police department.

Position 4

Mayor Adrian Cortes, who is seeking his third term on the council, faces challenger Josh VanGelder.

While it’s VanGelder’s first time squaring off against Cortes, it’s not his first time on the ballot. He ran for Battle Ground city council in 2019, losing to Phillip Johnson, who is now deputy mayor.

Cortes said the council has achieved much during his time in office.

That is “everything from enacting the biggest tax cut in the history of Battle Ground to enacting a tax ban in the city to putting more resources into our police and our roads,” he said.

Cortes also previously served on the city’s planning commission.

VanGelder says what makes him a good choice for city council is that he hasn’t held a government position.

“I’m a citizen of the city with a vested interest in how the city does and that allows me to represent the people rather than my own interests or those of outside entities,” he said.

VanGelder said the current council isn’t standing up for the rights of its constituents.

“I believe the main responsibility of all public servants is to protect citizens’ rights from any who would attempt to take them away,” he said, adding that Battle Ground is, unfortunately, becoming more like big cities with big city policies. 

The two candidates differ greatly on how well the council is managing the city’s growth. Cortes said the council is doing a good job but there’s always room for improvement.

“We asked the citizens what they wanted going forward and then embedded that into planning,” Cortes said. “We’re doing the best we can to make sure citizens’ voices are heard.”

VanGelder said the council is doing a poor job managing growth, adding the city has an “abundance” of agreements with developers but failed to improve infrastructure like water service and roads.

Cortes said the city recently spent a large amount of money to upgrade roads and improve water resources, and also created new alliances with Fire District 3 that improved funding for the police and municipal court.

“We have implemented and are still implementing those promises,” Cortes said. “That includes things like more street patrols, more detective work, another school resource officer, more money put toward our roads and beautification.”

As for Battle Ground’s future, VanGelder said the city needs to bring more companies to the industrial area on the east side of town, to support the growth both in infrastructure development as well as living-wage jobs.

“When you start bringing in things like Walmart and other big box stores, and spreading out in high-density housing, you start to lose that small-town feel,” he said.

While still looking to the city’s future, Cortes said there are issues closer to hand to focus on.

“The pandemic is still ongoing. Our community requires steady leadership — for our growth, public safety, roads and quality of life.”

Position 5

Candidates Neil Butler and Tricia Davis are vying for Position 5 and are both relative political newcomers. Butler, an operations manager at Opdahl Chiropractic, lost his 2019 bid for city council to Shauna Walters. Davis, a stay-at-home mom who previously worked in sales and marketing, was recently appointed by the Clark County Council to temporarily fill the same city council seat she’s running for. She took office on Oct. 12.

Butler said he served for a number of years as a parks and recreation commissioner and planning commissioner, and has been involved with many nonprofits in the community.

“I’m deeply invested in city governance,” he said.

What the city needs, Davis said during the League forum, is good leadership. Davis was unavailable for an interview.

“We need strong leaders to continue to keep the town the way we have experienced and enjoyed it,” she said at the forum. “I want to ensure city council is held accountable for all its decisions.”

Butler said he chose to run for the council seat to address the city’s zoning and infrastructure needs.

“Right now we’re out of compliance with the Growth Management Act in that we have too much housing and not enough businesses,” he said.

Those needs affect how the city will grow, he added, noting that addressing infrastructure needs, like increasing capacity for sewers or improving the Chelatchie Prairie rail line, will make it possible for more businesses to come to Battle Ground.

During the League forum, Davis said her priorities are also growth and infrastructure. She also wants to see businesses brought to the area to pay for those needs.

“We need to put a hold on the housing developments. I would like to see light industrial corporations brought in to help with the tax burden and infrastructure and roads that will help our community,” she said.

To bring in those businesses, Butler said the city needs to work with partner agencies like the Columbia River Economic Development Council. However, he said the city needs to improve infrastructure now to help lure those businesses.

Davis would like to see more support from the state in attracting new businesses.

Butler also noted the annexation into Fire District 3 has been a “boon to the city” that provided resources for police while lowering homeowners’ city property taxes.   

Position 6

Incumbent Cherish DesRochers is facing Josie Calderon for Position 6. 

DesRochers, who works in customer service at C-Tran, has served on the council since late 2016 when she was appointed to fill a seat left open by the death of Bill Ganley. She ran unopposed in 2017.

Calderon works for the Battle Ground Public Schools and is a business owner. She currently serves as chair on the Parks and Community Engagement advisory board and was previously a planning commissioner.

As a longtime resident, DesRochers has seen the changes in Battle Ground and she wants to ensure the city remains a great place to call home.

Calderon said growth is inevitable, but she wants to keep the city from changing too much.

“I see the potential for our beautiful city. It’s amazing place to raise a family and I want to make sure things stay that way,” Calderon said.

As for how well that growth is being managed, Calderon said Battle Ground is struggling.

“The state dictates how we grow, so we need to work closely with the state to revise the Growth Management Act to better suit our demographics. Our needs are very different than other cities,” Calderon said.

The council is already doing that work, DesRochers said, adding the city is managing growth within requirements of the GMA.

“As a council, we decided to take a closer look at growth in its entirety. We wanted to have a better understanding of Battle Ground’s community vision, through a ‘community vision/strategic plan.’ It’s a multiphased plan that will lay the groundwork for future development and preservation of Battle Ground,” DesRochers said.

The plan will include a new and updated land use and transportation plan, a housing action plan, a parks plan update, and an economic development plan, she added. 

Neither candidate supported Munson’s “medical freedom” ordinance, primarily because of the financial risk it would have created for the city and the council members and the potential loss of state and federal funds.

And both DesRochers and Calderon agree the city’s annexation for fire services has worked well.

“In addition to fully funding the police, we have also been able start playing catch up on our streets by allocating over a million dollars in funding for street repairs,” DesRochers said, adding that the repairs had been left unfunded since cuts were made during the recession.

Calderon, who moved to Battle Ground from California, hopes voters won’t hold her newcomer status against her.

“It’s not about where I come from, it’s what I stand for,” she said, “I’m trying to prevent Battle Ground from turning into what I left.”

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