Washougal approves CWEDA agreement

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The Washougal City Council approved an inter-local agreement to form a joint economic development effort with the city of Camas and the Port of Camas-Washougal last night — but not without some opposition.

The vote was 5 to 2, with “no” votes placed by Dave Shoemaker and Michael Delavar.

Shoemaker said he had concerns before the creation of the Camas-Washougal Economic Development Association. They included a need to resolve the appearance of a conflict of interest in hiring former Camas Mayor Paul Dennis as director of the association. Shoemaker also said there needs to be a good mission statement.

The Port recently selected Cascade Planning Group and its principal, Dennis, to be awarded a contract for economic development professional services. Cascade would be the primary service provider, and E.D. Hovee and company would serve in a supporting role.

Delavar referred to the legal opinion of Roger Knapp, city attorney for Camas, regarding whether the personal services contract between the port and Cascade Planning Group violates the city’s code of ethics. The opinion assumes the contract is with Cascade and not with the mayor personally.

Knapp wrote that Cascade Planning Group is not a former employee of the city.

“Not a former employee? You must be kidding,” Delavar said.

Knapp also wrote that if the city’s code of ethics does apply, there has been no violation because there is no evidence the mayor used his mayoral position primarily for his personal benefit rather than the benefit of the city.

Shoemaker said it is the city council members’ fiduciary responsibility to be vigilant.

“No laws have been broken,” he said. “That is a low standard. Asking the Camas city attorney is not the best place to shop for an opinion.”

Washougal Council member Rod Morris said he previously had concerns but was told Dennis “backed away” to distance himself from the CWEDA process.

“Why would you turn down this qualified individual?” Morris asked. “I support this all the way.”

Molly Coston said she has shared some of the same concerns that were expressed last night, but she was “solidly in favor” of signing the inter-local agreement.

“This establishes a framework,” she said. “We can proceed and be vigilant each step of the way. This is step one.”

Jennifer McDaniel said she wanted to move forward and voted in favor of the inter-local agreement based on Knapp addressing the city of Camas ethics policy concerns.

After the vote, Washougal Planning Commissioner Mike Briggs said Shoemaker should not have questioned Knapp’s opinion.

“I do not know Mr. Knapp,” Shoemaker replied. “I think the city made a mistake in asking an in-house attorney for an opinion. That was not a good call on their part.”

During earlier public comments, Margaret Tweet, of Camas, encouraged the council to not sign the agreement. She said Dennis was very involved in the formation of the C-W Economic Development Association and should not achieve a private gain from it.

Tweet also spoke against the expenditure of $200,000 while the city of Camas is facing cuts. The port is contributing $100,000 to the CWEDA, while Camas and Washougal are each paying $50,000.

Larry Keister, of Washougal, encouraged city councilors to sign the inter-local economic development agreement in order to provide professional direction and retain businesses.

“It’s a great opportunity,” he said.

The Port Commission is expected to vote on the agreement today, at 5 p.m., in the port office meeting room, 24 S. “A” St., Washougal.

In other City Council action:

o City Council approved the rezone of a parcel totalling almost 15 acres, previously occupied by the Hambleton lumber mill at 335 “A” St. The decision changes the zoning from heavy industrial to highway commercial.

According to council documents, commercially zoned property creates an average of 12 jobs per acre, while industrially zoned property creates nine. The rezone is expected to increase the job potential for the proposed site from an average of 135 employees to 180. The lumber mill employed approximately 40.

The mill, which closed in the summer of 2010, was operated by Hambleton Lumber Sales LLC.