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Thursday, February 29, 2024
Feb. 29, 2024

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Woodland mayoral race is heated

Incumbent Finn defends record; challenger Dinehart critical

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LONGVIEW — Two-term Woodland Mayor Will Finn is in a competitive race against newcomer Todd Dinehart, after Dinehart received the majority of primary votes for the seat.

Finn, 45, moved to Woodland in 2005, and ran unopposed in 2015 and 2019. He gave The Daily News a glimpse into what a potential third Finn term would look like as he seeks to continue what he describes as the town’s “positive forward trajectory.”

In his day job, Finn serves as the public information officer and trooper for District Five of the Washington State Patrol. He said under his leadership, the town will focus on “pitfalls” like transportation and Woodland’s overall growth.

“My goal is to get us in place for the next 15 to 20 years when it comes to planning and growing, and everyone knows the direction we’re going and what to expect,” Finn said.

One of the transportation projects Finn wants to finish is to connect Woodland’s east and west sidewalks, which Interstate 5 separates.

Dinehart, a 28-year Woodland resident, said he plans to prioritize reducing water rates, resolving traffic congestion on I-5’s Exit 21, and maintaining open communication with residents.

Dinehart is vice president of employee experience at the power company PacifiCorp. He touts his 31 years of finance and accounting experience as one of the many assets he would bring to City Hall.

Growth

Besides a freeway dividing Woodland, the town crosses jurisdiction as it’s split between Cowlitz and Clark counties. According to Finn, that is affecting the town’s growth — or Woodland’s lack of it.

Finn places the blame on Cowlitz County officials, after the county sued Woodland in 2022 over the city’s plan to develop in a rural area in unincorporated Cowlitz County called the Woodland Bottoms.

The case was later dismissed, and the parties agreed to create a plan together, but Finn sees more roadblocks ahead.

“When you have one legislative body pushing back and saying no, (or) we’re going to take you to court because we don’t think that you have the authority to do that … and we’re finally getting everyone back to the table again, but I’m starting to hear the same message again, which is no, we don’t want you to grow,” said Finn.

Dinehart said Finn is the reason Woodland has growth issues due to his “poor relationships” with other elected officials.

Dinehart had a surprising first-place finish in the primary, beating Finn by nearly 300 votes. He said he will use that momentum to “be transparent, open and honest with the citizens of Woodland through candid conversations.”

Dinehart contended that Woodland had been denied previous funding for Exit 21 due to Finn’s unwillingness to collaborate with the state, as the state prefers roundabouts, the city plans to use traffic signals.

The city, which expects to continue growing, is looking to ease traffic at the interchange at the south end of town which handles vehicles entering and exiting I-5 at state Highway 503.

Finn told The Daily News he absolutely expects the Exit 21 project to be completed on time and within budget. However, he said Woodland is awaiting the Washington Department of Transportation to sign off on the intersection concept the council voted on.

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Finn previously told The Daily News the Woodland mayor doesn’t vote at meetings unless there is a tie. The mayor also doesn’t vote on matters involving finances.

Water bills

One of the most controversial issues within Woodland for the past year has been the Texas-based utility management company Minol USA that Woodland hired to manage its utility bills.

Finn has praised Minol USA in the past and said the company “made us better.”

He asserted that previously many residents weren’t paying for garbage or water and that Minol USA “corrected” those issues. He said the city conducted an audit, that Minol USA was not aware of, and discovered a 97 percent accuracy rate. He said the remaining 3 percent of inaccuracies occurred internally.

Dinehart argues the Minol USA contract is another example of Finn’s poor leadership, and that the Minol contract costs the town too much taxpayer money; he would not “recommend outsourcing any local jobs.” Finn pushed back saying ditching Minol USA and creating an in-house program won’t bring down the rates.

Weed shop

Another controversial issue Woodlanders have been bringing up at council meetings is marijuana dispensaries, a topic Finn staunchly opposes.

“I do not support retail marijuana. I haven’t and I will not change my stance on that,” he said.

His opponent, however, would support Woodland residents deciding for themselves on a ballot measure to allow the sale of marijuana in their town.

“This is not something that should be decided by seven council members, three of whom have been appointed to the council and not elected by our citizens,” Dinehart said.

20 After 4 — a dispensary that closed down in August due to violating a 2015 city ordinance that bars the sale of marijuana — has publicly asked voters to support Dinehart so the shop can reopen.

In response to 20 After 4’s support, Dinehart stated he had not received any financial assistance from the business. Finn said members of Dinehart’s family filed complaints against 20 After 4 despite the company’s support of his candidacy.

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