A man who has served on the Washougal City Council since 2006 has informed city officials and council members he plans to resign, effective July 1.
Jon Russell has accepted a job promotion on the East Coast. Since January, he has served as the northwest regional coordinator of Students for Life of America.
In July, Russell will start his new position as national coordinator of Medical Students for Life, in Virginia.
“We are teaming medical students up with pro-life doctors to mentor them in how to be doctors and protect their rights of conscience and successfully counsel their patients on issues of life and death,” he said. “It will be nice to be a part of the pro-life movement on the national level.”
Russell’s last council workshop as mayor pro tem will be held June 25.
“Please thank the city employees for their tireless dedication and their assistance to me as a city councilman,” Russell wrote in a May 22 email to City Administrator David Scott. “Washougal is a great city and will only get better in the years to come.”
Russell has served on the City Council since September 2006. During a phone interview Thursday, he said his accomplishments include the establishment of railroad quiet zones, reducing property tax capacity and organizing a recent forum for faith-based and community organizations.
Russell mentioned the council’s approval of the E-Verify program — which requires all companies entering into contracts with the city of Washougal to prove all of their employees have the legal right to work in the U.S. — as another accomplishment.
He also included the recruiting and training of fiscally conservative candidates for City Council. Caryn Plinski and Connie Jo Freeman were elected in November 2011.
Dave Shoemaker, Michael Delavar and Jennifer McDaniel were elected in previous years. McDaniel was re-elected in 2011.
“I’m proud to help good people with their campaigns,” Russell said. “Being able to be a part of their campaigns has been an honor.”
He mentioned the Stacee Sellers “episode” as a real turning point for him. In November 2009, then-Mayor Sellers resigned several hours before the City Council was scheduled to meet and discuss the possibility of having her resign or be impeached.
That year, findings by the Washington State Auditor’s Office included the city not being able to account for approximately $100,000 in revenue generated from city-sponsored festivals — including Washougalfest in 2008 and Riverfest in 2009. Another audit finding mentioned a lack of compliance with established policies. Of $8,609 in meals paid for by the city, Sellers charged approximately $4,019.
“Up until that point, we could work as a team and trust each other,” Russell said. “It was one thing after another. That left me changing my approach to being a city councilman. The legislative branch of government needs to be distinct and very different from the executive branch.
“You had the council doing whatever the mayor wanted,” he added. “A level of trust went out the window. We had to get back to what we need to do — represent the citizens. We hold the mayor accountable, and the mayor holds us accountable.”
Russell said the city’s government is working well now.
“One of the greatest things we’ve seen with Washougal is that we’re finally to the point where both branches of government are functioning properly with checks and balances,” he said. “Two branches are working for what is best for the city. It won’t always look pretty, but it’s how the system is designed.
“Like iron sharpening iron, you’re going to have great friction but it’s a healthy thing at the end of the day,” Russell added. “We’ve been able to keep our taxes low and our fees low and still not layoff any workers. We’ve had to trim millions of dollars from our budget. That is a testimony to what I’m talking about.”
He announced his run for Congress in June 2009. In February 2010, Russell exited the Third District congressional race and sought election for the state’s 18th legislative district seat Position 1.
He does not plan to become a political candidate in Virginia anytime in the near future.
“I’ve had my stint,” Russell said. “I need to focus on this job and this mission at hand. I think that will come later in life, I’m sure. I will be content with being a husband and a father and working for the national organization.”
He and his wife Sarah are the former owners of Grass Valley Medical Clinic, in Camas, and Columbia Gorge Medical Center, in Washougal. They have three children.
“The people in Washougal have been great to me and Sarah and our family,” Russell said. “It’s going to be difficult to leave with the friendships we’ve made here.”
It has not been announced yet when letters of interest will be accepted for the City Council seat. For more information, contact City Hall at 835-8501.