Divorce attorney Deanna Rusch is the newest member of the Camas City Council.
On Monday, Dec. 18, Camas City Council members appointed Rusch to fill the Ward 1 council seat left vacant after former city councilor Tim Hazen resigned his position on Oct. 16, halfway through his second four-year council term, to pursue a business deal involving public city open space.
Rusch was one of eight candidates interviewed by the city council during a Dec. 18 work session before the regular council meeting.
The council announced Rusch would replace Hazen after two rounds of voting by council members. Four of the six council members voted for Rusch. Councilmembers Shannon Turk and Steve Hogan voted for different council candidates.
Rusch moved to Camas about two years ago from her hometown of Happy Valley, Oregon, to be closer to her downtown Vancouver law office.
The new city councilwoman said she applied for the position because it fell within her ward and that, since she had recently switched law firms and had more flexibility and support at her new workplace, the timing was right for her to pursue other interests.
“I think Camas is wonderful, and I’m so proud to live here,” Rusch said Monday. “Anytime I have someone from out of town visit, I’m like, ‘We’re not going to Portland, we’re not going to Vancouver, we’re going to Camas.'”
Rusch said helping Camas stay true to its small, quaint town roots while dealing with growth is one of her main goals as a city councilmember. Part of this includes making sure the city has enough multi-family dwellings — such as apartment buildings and condos — keeping an eye on school enrollment numbers and ensuring that the city is adequately funding public safety and keeping up with the public’s needs as Camas continues to expand and add to its population.
Rusch said she also would like to help Camas capitalize on the area’s many recreation and tourism opportunities, and help promote local businesses.
When asked by Camas Mayor Scott Higgins how she would handle talking to an upset constituant, Rusch replied: “My trade is that I’m a divorce attorney, so that makes me uniquely qualified. I deliver unpopular news to people on a daily basis, but I have learned to do it with tact, compassion and with a sense of humor. … I think with communities and citizens coming in, I think that giving them their voice is important and treating everybody the same.”
Higgins said that Rusch was a very strong candidate.
“She had some knowledge of the community, she had a good background in conflict-resolution and working through difficult issues,” Higgins said. “I think those will be strengths that we will be able to use and that she’ll be able to contribute.”
Higgins said he did not participate in the council’s discussion about the eight council candidates, but he did offer some words of wisdom.
“My guidance to (the city councilmembers) was: ‘Don’t let other factors determine how you fill this void. The one factor should be who will best help the citizens of Camas, and who will work well with this team in helping the citizens of Camas,'” Higgins said.
Other Camas residents who applied for the open council position included: Roman Battan, a former county council candidate and 1999 Camas High graduate; Stephen Baranowski, assistant principal at Liberty Middle School; Shawn High, vice-chairman of the Camas Public Library board of trustees; Doreen McKercher, communications director for the Camas School District; Catherine Nelson, a lifelong Camas resident and Washington State employee; Dareena Stepanyuk, an 18-year-old Camas resident and recent Camas High graduate; and Jessie Wimer, a middle school social studies teacher.
At Monday night’s regular council meeting, the city councilors went into a closed executive session to discuss the candidates — who they had interviewed earlier in the evening. After about 25 minutes, the councilors returned from executive session and cast their first vote for the new councilmember.
In the first vote, the councilors were split, with Turk voting for High, Hogan voting for Battan, Melissa Smith voting for Rusch, Don Chaney and Greg Anderson voting for Baranowski, and Bonnie Carter voting for McKercher.
Candidates Nelson, Stepanyuk and Wimer were then eliminated from the running and, after another executive session, the council came back into public session to vote a second time. This time, Turk voted for McKercher, Chaney voted for Baranowski and the remainder of the council voted for Rusch.
Higgins said choosing a new councilor was difficult because there were many strong candidates and the council was “replacing a very good councilmember.”
The mayor said he was thankful there were so many citizens interested in the position and added that he would like to appoint many of them to serve on other city boards and commissions.
A few of the city committees, boards and commissions with current openings include the library board of trustees, mosquito control board (city representative to county board), parking advisory committee, planning commission and parks and recreation commission. The applications and deadlines to apply for these positions are listed on the city of Camas website, at www.cityofcamas.us/81-city-news/1034-help-guide-the-city-of-camas.