Camas approves formation of CWEDA

Citizen questions whether there was a violation of city’s code of ethics

Last night the Camas City Council approved 5 to 0 an inter-local agreement that will help form the Camas-Washougal Economic Development Association.

The agreement sets in motion the formation of the CWEDA, which will have a mission of expanding existing businesses and bringing new businesses and jobs to the east Clark County area.

It will exist independently, have a board of directors, and be governed by three entities — the cities of Camas and Washougal, and the Port of Camas-Washougal.

Cascade Planning Group and its principal Paul Dennis, who resigned from his position as Camas mayor as of May 31, have been tapped to lead the new organization.

Camas resident Margaret Tweet said Dennis’ selection violates the trust the public has in the city’s government officials and processes.

She pointed out the city’s “code of ethics,” which states that for one year after leaving city office or employment a person shall not “participate as a competitor in any competitive selection process for a city contract in which he or she assisted the city in determining the project or work to be done or the process to be used.”

“I think it’s clear he was very involved in the process in forming [the CWEDA], which he then stepped up [to apply for] and was awarded the contract for,” Tweet said.

She urged the City Council to wait on approving the inter-local agreement.

“Do not push for an action tonight while there are still significant questions in the public’s mind on who is being served,” she said. “Another year will not harm economic development in Camas-Washougal, but it could significantly damage public trust.”

Dennis has said that he stepped away from the CWEDA formation process and discussions months ago. No current City of Camas employees or elected officials were part of the committees that selected and interviewed candidates for the economic development director position.

Camas Mayor Pro-tem Scott Higgins said he felt comfortable with the process.

“I realize it is a bit of an unusual situation,” he said. “But I am confident that all of it was done ethically. I say that based on our legal expertise.”

That legal opinion was provided by City Attorney Roger Knapp, who concluded that the city’s ethics policy “arguably does not apply to officers, and is limited to employees. It clearly does not apply to Cascade Planning Group, which was never an employee of the city.”

Knapp also states “If the city’s code of ethics does apply, there has been no violation because there is no evidence that the mayor used his mayoral position primarily for his personal benefit rather than the benefit of the city, and the contract in question is not a contract with the city or with a former employee of the city.”

The inter-local agreement was also approved last night by the Washougal City Council, and tonight it will be in front of the Port of Camas-Washougal Commission.