Camas voters will decide the fate of four Camas City Council races in the Nov. 7 election. Of those four races, only three are considered competitive — with Councilwoman Jennifer Senescu running unopposed for her Ward 3, Position 1 seat.
The three competitive races include the council’s at-large position, which represents constituents citywide. Councilman Don Chaney said earlier this year that he planned to step down from his long-held council position, meaning there is no incumbent in the at-large race.
Instead, longtime Camas volunteer John Svilarich and Stephen Dabasinskas, a former law enforcement officer turned business executive, are vying for the at-large seat.
Chaney’s exit means Councilwoman Bonnie Carter will be the council’s senior-most member if voters re-elect Carter to her Ward 2, Position 1 seat. Her opponent, Camas newcomer Ry Luikens, is hoping voters will respond to his campaign promises focusing on addressing pollution in Lacamas Lake and building a new public swimming pool.
The race for the council’s Ward 1, Position 1 seat is between the incumbent, Clark-Cowlitz Fire Rescue Fire Chief John Nohr, appointed to the council in October 2022, and lifelong Camas resident and business owner Gary Perman.
Ward 1, Position 1
Perman, 62, who grew up in Camas when it was a mill town of around 5,000 people, has watched his hometown increase its size nearly six times over.
“I’m a firm believer that people in Ward 1 or Ward 2 shouldn’t be paying for the new developments (in the city’s newer areas),” Perman said. “Especially when the people in Ward 1 get no benefit whatsoever.”
If elected, Perman said his top priority for Camas would be “getting the budget under control.”
“That would probably mean some hard cuts,” Perman said, adding that he would want to prioritize transportation infrastructure, crack down on speeding on Camas’ streets and law enforcement’s needs over other city issues.
A Portland native who has lived in the Camas area since 1989, Nohr, 57, said his desire to serve the public prompted him to apply for the vacant city council seat after Councilwoman Shannon Roberts quit unexpectedly in July 2022.
“The city is very well run and has an excellent staff of directors and employees taking care of business and making it work well day to day,” Nohr recently told The Post-Record.
If Nohr has the chance to stay in his council seat, he plans to stay focused on the city’s looming infrastructure needs, particularly when it comes to repairing city streets, ensuring the city has safe drinking water and addressing the Camas-Washougal Fire Department’s station needs.
Ward 2, Position 1
Luikens, 38, is an Arizona native who had lived in major cities throughout the world, including New York City and Cairo, Egypt, while working as a photojournalist and, later, mentoring entrepreneurs in the technology industry.
“People were rejecting something. They had found a way to get catalyzed toward some common purpose,” he said.
Luikens liked the energy of Camas and wanted to “be a part of the conversation and decision-making,” so he and his wife began looking for a home to buy in Camas, where they would raise their young family, which now includes two children, ages 3 and 1.
In his candidate statement, Luikens says Camas is at a crossroads: “Activating my diverse experience in sustainable development, startup growth, and community engagement, I’m ready to meet our city’s challenges head-on,” he stated.
Over the past few years, Carter has been an advocate on the council for the types of projects various reports and seasoned staffers have said are critical to the future of Camas’ public services. This includes advocating for revenue streams that will help the city move forward with infrastructure projects that have been put on the back burner in past years.
Having sat on the council for nearly a decade, Carter knows the city is facing a few critical decisions in the next few years.
“There is going to be a lot of building and construction going on in the next five to 10 years,” she said, “and people need to be ready for that because change is hard, and they’re going to be concerned.”
Dabasinskas, a former law enforcement officer turned president of a business services company who moved to Camas from San Diego in 2018, said he has always tried to be involved in his community and felt his skill set would benefit the Camas City Council.
“I have a unique background,” Dabasinskas said. “I understand (human resources), financing and problem-solving.”
In his candidate statement, Dabasinskas added that he believes “rising interest rates and inflationary realities make fiscal stewardship the most important new metric of municipal leadership” and said his “financial expertise provides Camas a set of uniquely qualified tools that are desperately needed.”
Longtime Camas resident Svilarich is no stranger to issues impacting his neighbors and fellow Camasonians. He has spent the past 20 years volunteering for boards, commissions and associations that help tackle the issues most important to Camas residents.
In his professional life, Svilarich, 66, is a business leader, with a background in business development, distribution and e-commerce.
And if there is one thing Svilarich has learned through his professional and volunteer work, it is that no one person can change the direction of a community.
“I don’t have a magic wand to easily solve our problems. However, if elected, I will act,” Svilarich stated in the voters’ guide.
More detailed excerpts of conversations with the candidates are available on the website of The Columbian’s sister paper, the Camas-Washougal Post-Record.