Council questions choice for economic development director

Councilors await legal interpretation of Camas’ ethics policy

The Port of Camas-Washougal’s recent selection of Cascade Planning Group and its principal, Camas Mayor Paul Dennis, to be awarded a contract for economic development professional services, resulted in discussions by several Washougal City Council members last night.

Dennis will serve in the newly created role of economic development director, as Cascade Planning Group would be the primary service provider. E.D. Hovee and company would serve in a supporting role.

During the Washougal council workshop, City Administrator David Scott mentioned there would be “possible changes or tweaks” after attorney and staff review of an interlocal agreement between Camas, Washougal and the port, to form a joint economic development association.

Councilwoman Jennifer McDaniel said she supports the inter-local agreement and Paul Dennis is “an excellent choice,” but she wondered if he could be hired.

She, along with Molly Coston and Michael Delavar, were recently chosen by fellow council members to serve on a committee that will review an ethics policy for the Washougal mayor and City Council members.

McDaniel referred to an ethics policy in Camas that requires a one-year hiatus for former city employees before they can pursue contracts with the city.

“I want to make sure we are beyond reproach,” she said.

Scott said he has not reviewed the Camas ethics policy, but mentioned the professional services agreement is with the port, not the city. He further stated it is his understanding the Camas ethics policy is not applicable to the mayor or council members.

Scott said he would ask Camas City Administrator Lloyd Halverson for an opinion from their city attorney.

Delavar said the issue is murky, and the challenge can be in the “court of public opinion.”

“We have to be above reproach,” he said. “The mayor was part of the original formation [of the economic development committee.]

“The intent is not to create something that creates a demand for your services,” Delavar added.

Dave Shoemaker said he was “torn” over the issue.

“Paul Dennis was the best candidate,” he said, before thanking Delavar for asking questions about the process and McDaniel for doing research.

“We should avoid the appearance of conflict of interest,” Shoemaker said. “This process has not met that standard.”

Paul Greenlee said he attended the economic development planning meetings for more than a year.

“I was surprised when Paul Dennis applied,” he said. “I thought it was odd, but I cannot think of anyone who is alive and active who has done more for economic development in east Clark County.

“No one has a better record than Paul,” Greenlee added. “Camas, Washougal and the port should be thrilled Paul Dennis wants to play in our game.

“He had an opportunity to work for the Columbia River Economic Development Council,” he said. “It’s a tremendous opportunity for us.”

During public comments, Larry Keister talked about establishing the inter-local agreement.

“It should be goal-oriented, not nickle and dime the details,” he said. “Dennis would represent our community the best.

“It should be a team effort,” Keister added.

Martha Martin, president of Concerned Citizens in Action, said it’s the public’s job to be skeptical.

“Paul is an excellent choice,” she said. “Information about the other candidates and their qualifications should have been on the port website. There should have been better communication.

“Information about the process should have been put on the city website,” Martin added.

Mike Briggs referred to the Camas ethics policy when he said the issue regarding the hiring of Dennis could be clarified with “a quick e-mail to the Camas attorney, rather than get people worked up.”

Toward the end of the meeting, Delavar talked about interpreting legalities and defending perspectives.

“I’m sure Dennis is very capable,” he said. “I hope the Camas-Washougal Economic Development Association — if it is established — will be wildly successful.”

After the meeting, Delavar said spending public money to subsidize private industry could be under scrutiny.

“We have to be careful,” he added.

The Washougal City Council is expected to vote on the inter-local agreement during its next meeting Monday, June 6, at 6 p.m., in the council chambers at City Hall, 1701 “C” St.

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