Newcomer looks to unseat longtime councilman

Rod Morris and Caryn Plinski are running for Washougal’s Position 2 seat

Washougal City Council Position 2

Rod Morris

Education: Associate’s degree from Clark College

Community involvement: Volunteer with the Washougal Fire Department for more than 30 years.

Phone: 835-9604

Email: thordog@comcast.n...

Caryn Plinski

Education: Bachelor’s degree in biology from Washington State University

Community involvement: Volunteer work with Bright Futures Christian School in Camas, where her children attend school.

Phone: 624-0499

Email: caryn.plinski@yah...

Caryn Plinski attended her first Washougal City Council meeting on Sept. 19, and afterwards described it as an “eye-opening” experience.

“I was concerned on Monday because the votes went three and three, and then the mayor broke the tie,” said the Position 2 candidate. “The votes were the same each time. I am sad that everything is so divided.”

While Plinski stated frankly that she is “slowly but surely trying to catch up on the issues,” she described herself as an independent thinker.

“I fully admit that I have catching up to do, and a lot of learning to do about the issues,” said Plinski, who grew up in Vancouver and has lived in Washougal since 2005. “But I feel like I’ve always been somebody who can stand on her own two feet, and make educated, responsible decisions for Washougal.”

The former veterinary pharmaceutical sales associate, now a stay-at-home mom and Mary Kay cosmetics saleswoman, said she is challenging incumbent Rod Morris because she believes she could bring fresh insight to the council. She said she would also represent the perspectives of “the younger families in Washougal who need a voice.”

“I am doing this because I think I am a good person, an honest person, and I think I can make good decisions for our city,” she said. “I am not doing it because of any sort of an agenda or because I know either side.”

This is the first time Plinski has run for an elected office, while Morris has served a total of 16 years on the City Council since being appointed in 1991.

Born in White Salmon, Morris graduated from Evergreen High School in Vancouver and is now retired after working as a journeyman machinist at Tidland Corp. for 35 years. He has been a volunteer with the Washougal Fire Department for more than 30 years.

Morris, who describes himself as a “team player” with “maturity” and “experience,” said he is running for re-election because he wants to make a difference.

“I like living in Washougal and that is why I give back to my community, whether it be the fire department or City Council,” he said. “I think it’s a great small town. If I can stay involved with it and make a difference, then that’s my goal — to stay there and be on the council.”

Morris said he would like to see the City Council focus on addressing issues that directly impact Washougal.

“I think I have a proven track record for voting on issues that affect, and only affect, Washougal,” he said. “I say that because there have been times on council when we get into national debates including medical marijuana or Arizona immigration.

“It’s not for us. It’s so much bigger,” he continued. “Washougal is not in a position to fight those battles, so why do we spend our time on it?”

Morris said an issue of importance that the city will be tackling in the near future is resolving the emergency medical services funding crisis in East County.

Currently, the Washougal Fire Department is involved in a six-month trial consolidation period with the Camas Fire Department.

To help offset a shortfall created primarily by decreased assessed property values, earlier this year Washougal provided $95,000 to Camas from its EMS restricted funds account. Washougal also agreed to hire a firefighter/IV technician at a cost of $55,000 annually.

The actions have been described by some as a “short-term fix.” Morris agrees, saying that identifying a long-term solution is critical.

“We are spending more money than we are taking in, and in three months we have to address that,” he said. “There’s no good answers.

“We’ve got the best system out here,” Morris continued. “It is going to be a real tough thing to do to make those decisions to continue that level of service that everybody in East County has come to expect.”

Morris said he is not in favor of using any additional reserve funds to support EMS services.

“I know that I am not going to vote to continue to spend our reserves, and I wouldn’t expect the Camas Council to vote to deplete its reserves,” he said. “So that becomes the challenge. Even if assessed valuation went up today, we wouldn’t collect them for a year. I don’t know what the answers are right now.”

Plinski did not offer any perspectives on tackle the EMS problem, but did say she is supportive of the trial consolidation efforts.

“I think it’s great,” Plinski said. “Any ways that Camas and Washougal can partner together is fantastic. I would hope that Washougal would look at other partnerships as well.”

Plinski’s top city issues include economic growth, which she said can be achieved through creating a strong infrastructure such as quality roads and sidewalks, and with projects like the Washington State Department of Transportation state Route 14 safety improvements currently underway. The city, she said, should also keep building fees low and continue to offer deferred impact fees, when possible.

“We need to create an environment that attracts business,” she said. “The city government isn’t going to make jobs. We need to set the foundation.”

The budget has been an ongoing topic of discussion for many municipalities, and Washougal is no exception. Morris said the city is using the money it has wisely, while Plinski said more could be done to reduce spending.

To cut costs, Plinksi said the city should review its paid positions, and determine what is and isn’t necessary. She cited the recent approval by City Council to fill the newly created assistant to the city administrator as questionable.

“The city is currently functioning without the position,” she said. “Do they really need it, even if it is a lower cost?”

Plinski then qualified her statement by saying that she might need more information about the issue, but then added: “If I was on council, I would really take a strong look at needs versus wants.”

Plinski did not identify examples of other areas where spending could be reduced, instead saying that if elected she would enter the annual budget development process with an open mind; any potential cuts would need to be considered individually.

“I think I would have to look at it on a case-by-case basis,” she said. “I would have to make an educated decision when the time comes to make that decision.”

Morris said the city has made good choices when it comes to spending.

“I think the money we have spent is right,” he said. “I think we are doing quite well, and I have to give the staff a lot of praise. I think our staff has gotten us to the point where we can survive this [economic downturn]. I don’t know where we have any room to make cuts.”

He added that there are appropriate uses for the city’s reserve funds.

“I want to look at the reserves, if it is an appropriate expenditure. Will it make Washougal more liveable?,” he said. “I think it’s up to all of us to do it correctly. I can’t live with a statement that says ‘we are not going to spend any reserves.’ It is a much bigger picture than that.”

This past year, some reserve funding was approved to build sidewalks on E Street, and for conceptual design work on a proposed interchange at Highway 14 and 27th Street.

Plinski said the city should look at its reserve funding the same way some households view their own savings accounts.

“I feel an emergency fund should only be used for emergencies,” she said.

Both Morris and Plinski said they support the city’s involvement in the Camas-Washougal Economic Development Association, as well as the $50,000 the city of Washougal contributed to it in 2011.

“I definitely think we should work together with Camas,” Plinski said. “Any way that we could collaborate and save money to make it better for both parties is a win-win.”

Morris said the partnership, which aims to attract new businesses and support existing businesses, is unique. No one entity could accomplish the same mission on its own.

“There is a reason all three of us are involved in it,” he said. “If it’s just the Port doing it, I would expect the Port to look out for the Port first and only. If Camas and Washougal are involved, it distributes that effort by [Economic Development Director Paul Dennis] to disburse it to the appropriate communities where that business would work best.”

“The Economic Development Association can do things, as in wining and dining or otherwise, that [municipalities] can’t do,” Morris added. “We have a limited staff. If we can have somebody who can travel and entice those other companies to come here, I think it’s going to be real beneficial.”

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