Women of the Washougal City Council share common experiences

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Four members of the Washougal City Council recently got together for a social breakfast, to talk about educational options for children, vacations to Hawaii and Florida, the difference between raising boys and girls, and the brew pub that is expected to open on Main Street this summer.

They also talked about the experiences they had while campaigning and door-belling last fall, their motivations for running for office, the places where they grew up and the reasons they chose to live in Washougal.

Connie Jo Freeman, Caryn Plinski and Joyce Lindsay took their first oaths of office as council members in January, while Jennifer McDaniel has been serving since 2008.

The breakfast was organized by Lindsay.

“I think that we are four very diverse women, with different backgrounds, ages and philosophical beliefs,” she said. “I also think this is good. We cover a good cross section of Washougal. We all wanted to be on the City Council, because we care about the future of our city.

“I met councilwoman McDaniel when I was on the Storm Water Advisory Council with her, and I traveled to a workshop in Tacoma with Councilwoman Freeman,” Lindsay added. “I didn’t know councilwoman Plinski at all, and I wanted to spend some time becoming better acquainted.”

Connie Jo Freeman

Freeman, 60, said she has become more aware of local issues since taking office.

“I’m enjoying learning up close and personal how decisions that are made affect people,” she said. “I want to be a solution. I want to be of help and serve my neighbors. I’ve enjoyed the input from the community.

“I’m learning so much more because I’m more involved now,” Freeman added. “I’m seeing the needs of the people so much more closely. With the water bill issue — in the past — I just paid it. I did not think of the ramifications of it for others. Now I’m thinking of others, [including] those on fixed incomes.”

She said the challenges of being a new council member include feeling not well informed on issues.

According to Freeman, Mayor Sean Guard and city staff members have been helpful during her transition from audience member to councilor.

“It’s amazing how willing they are to help us come up to speed,” she said. “It has been very helpful and appreciated. You want to just know everything.

“When I won the election, people would ask questions and I would feel like a deer in headlights,” Freeman added. “They say it takes two years to get up to speed on the issues. I knew going in, it would be a massive challenge.”

The train trip that she and Lindsay took in February was to attend an Association of Washington Cities session for new council members and mayors. Topics for the “new kid on the block” event included parliamentary procedure, legal matters, the Open Public Meetings Act, ethics and the Appearance of Fairness Doctrine.

In addition to serving as a member of the Washougal public safety committee, Freeman is part of the regional fire authority committee and she represents Washougal and Camas on the C-TRAN board of directors.

Freeman is a bus driver for the Camas School District and a mother of two sons. When she campaigned to serve on the City Council, she said some people complained about the speeds that people drive in residential areas and they wondered if speed bumps or flashing lights could be installed.

Other constituents asked about signs and fees.

“I would like to address the [signage]fees and talk about how they set the fees,” Freeman said. “How can we help the business owners advertise without being overpriced?

“Our goal is to support the business persons and help them succeed,” she added. “They have to be able to advertise and be seen from the street. Signage fees are pretty high.”

Freeman said the learning curve as a new council member has been difficult and massive.

“You have to learn how to properly behave in parliamentary procedure, follow the rules, know the issues of the city and understand the budget,” she said. “These are all big issue learning curves. I remember those first few weeks, I sat there and listened a lot. A couple of weeks into it, I asked questions and stated opinions.

“It’s a sobering experience to have to make a decision that will affect people’s finances,” Freeman added. “Usually we are dealing with finances, whether it’s a water bill or an easement. It affects builders’ livelihoods. It just makes you feel that you need the wisdom of Solomon.”

Caryn Plinski

Plinski, 36, said she has enjoyed the educational component of serving as a council member.

“I just feel like a little sponge at each meeting — trying to soak in how complex city business is and how much there is to learn,” she said. “I really love the financial piece of it. It has always been an area I’ve been interested in my whole life.

“I’m just so moved by the whole thing,” Plinski said. “I’m at the stage where I feel privileged to be in the room. I’m grateful to be there, but I’m still figuring out how to be an asset and help people in the community.”

She serves on the city’s finance, community development and lodging tax advisory committees.

“My biggest challenge has been the concept of how much information there is,” Plinski said. “There is endless reading and catching up on years of history on issues.”

She said she would like to help families that are struggling with their water bills.

Plinski, a Mary Kay beauty consultant, is a stay-at-home mother with three sons.

Joyce Lindsay

In addition to serving on the public works and community development committees, Lindsay is the City Council liaison to the Park Board and Cemetery Board.

“The challenge for me is all the reading and getting up to speed on the issues and vocabulary,” she said. “I did expect this, but there is still a lot to catch up on.

“My calendar coordination has been a challenge,” Lindsay added. “There are many interesting events that I have been invited to, and it just isn’t possible to attend them all.”

She said she enjoys when Washougal residents share their concerns at City Council meetings.

Lindsay, 72, said she wants to learn to be an effective representative of the community.

“I didn’t know how strict the guidelines are for running a city,” she said. “Many of our rules and governing parameters are handed to us by the state.

“I am hoping that my time on the council will be well spent for me and the community,” Lindsay added. “I want Washougal to be a satisfactory city for everyone, regardless of their age or needs.”

She and her daughter Jocelyn owned Lindsay’s Flowers for five years. Lindsay is also a former fundraising consultant and owner of a wine and beer making supply shop.

“When I moved to Washougal, I had no idea that I would fall in love with it,” she said. “It is a very special small city, and living by the Columbia River is a wonderful experience.”

Jennifer McDaniel

When asked if there is anything extraordinary about being a female and representing the city, McDaniel, 45, said there are no stigmas — one way or the other — in regard to being a woman on the City Council.

She said she gets stopped by people at the grocery store all the time.

“They are mostly supportive but if they have a problem or a complaint, I listen and do everything I can to help them if it is possible,” McDaniel said. “Road construction projects, and the water rates are frequent issues.”

She said staying organized with all of the information City Council members must comprehend and time management with many commitments are two of her biggest challenges.

McDaniel, the office administrator at St. Anne’s Episcopal Church, in Washougal, serves on the city’s finance committee.

She is also a liaison to the Washougal School Board and an alternate board member on the Regional Transportation Commission.

“I have two children in the Washougal public school system, so my liaison position to the school board is very important to me,” McDaniel said. “We have an excellent team of staff and teachers, a board of directors who care deeply about our children’s future and a new administration focused on putting our district on a path to success.”

She said she is always learning, but 2012 will also be a year of action “because Washougal is on the move with economic development.”