Camas City Councilwoman Melissa Smith has been on the rollercoaster that is local politics since 2004 — arms held high during the nauseating down times, breaths of relief when the city swung back uphill — and now she’s hoping for at least one more chance to ride.
“I was on Council during our financially hard times and I am here today during our prosperous/challenging growth period,” Smith says. “The city organization is very complicated and it takes time to learn how to be effective.”
Now that she knows the twists and turns of running a city, Smith, a native Camasian and 1978 graduate of Camas High, is ready to buckle in for another go-around.
If elected to the city council in the November 7 General Election, Smith will be heading into her fourth full term as a Camas City Council member. She was appointed to the council in 2004 and elected by the public to her first term in 2005.
Since then, Smith says, she has been trying her best to remain a common-sense politician who is true to her “fiscally conservative, open-minded, committed, stable” core beliefs.
If elected to the council in November, Smith would continue to work with her fellow and sister councilmembers to plan Camas’ long-range future, balancing state-controlled growth with the city’s beloved small-town appeal.
But, first, the three-term councilwoman has to do something she hasn’t actually had to do before: Win a primary election.
Smith has two challengers for her Ward 1, Position 2 council seat, and says she hopes voters in the Aug. 1 Primary Election will give her another chance to see Camas through its post-recession “prosperous” period.
“I have always tried to do right by the people,” Smith says. “And I’d like another chance to serve again.”
Looking back on her accomplishments over the past 13 years, Smith says so many of the big-ticket wins are not something she alone can take credit for but, rather, the result of a joint effort of city councilors, the mayor, the city administrator and city staff.
There are a few things that were close to Smith’s heart, however. For instance, she has long advocated for reducing the number of fireworks shooting off in Camas neighborhoods before and after the July Fourth holiday. Her own dog suffers from extreme fireworks-triggered anxiety, Smith says, but she also worried about other pets and especially for military veterans living inside Camas’ boundaries who might suffer traumatic memories of warfare after hearing the loud explosions.
Thanks in large part to Smith’s persistence, the council voted to limit the number of days Camas residents can shoot off fireworks. This year was the first year for the new regulation, which limits shooting off personal fireworks to the actual July Fourth holiday, and Smith says she noticed a difference.
“It was better than it has been,” Smith said. “It was definitely better than 2014, when it sounded like I was in a war zone.”
Smith is proud of the work the city council has done steering the city through a recession and a structural deficit — caused in part by a state rule limiting the amount of property taxes the city can collect to pay for fixed costs like police, fire, streets, parks and other city-run services — and of the efforts the council is taking on right now to plan for Camas’ inevitable growth.
Still, Smith says there are many heavy issues facing city leaders today. Maintaining a balance between what community members want to see inside Camas and what the city can actually afford is something that weighs on Smith. She points to the city’s growth north of Lacamas Lake: “Will we have to have fire services, an auxiliary library, out there?” she wonders. “How many resources do we put out there? How do we pay for those resources?”
The councilwoman has served as the city’s representative to several committees and commissions during her three terms in office, including the finance committee, the Parks and Recreation Commission, the Planning Commission, the Camas-Washougal Chamber of Commerce, and the committees that pulled together the region’s Critical Areas Ordinance and the East County Fire Authority Consolidation plan. She served as Mayor Pro Tem in 2009, and was vice-chair and chairwoman of the Regional Transportation Council from 2013 to 2015.
If re-elected to the council, Smith says she intends to keep working on those long-term projects that, she hopes, will make Camas a safe, thriving, desirable place to live for future generations.
“I am passionate about making Camas the best city it can be,” Smith says in her candidate statement. “I am grateful to be able to give back and help lead the community I was born and raised in.”