City council race pits ‘new voice’ against experience

timestamp icon
category icon News

Voters will decide Nov. 7 if they prefer experience or a fresh voice to fill the Camas City Council’s ward 1, position 2 seat. Vying for the position are incumbent Melissa Smith and newcomer Emilia Brasier.

Both women are concerned about keeping that “Camas feel” in a city facing rapid growth and expansion.

Smith, 57, a native Camasonian and 1978 graduate of Camas High, has served on the Camas City Council since 2004 and tends to focus having a fiscally sound city budget that won’t put today’s wants over tomorrow’s needs.

“I look at 10, 20 years from now,” Smith says. “We’re prosperous right now and hopefully will remain prosperous, but what if we go back to where we were in 2007? If we can’t maintain what we have now, how can we provide for (new development in the city’s northern boundaries)?”

In her campaign literature, Smith says the city needs “smart growth, good infrastructure and a stable budget” to support Camas’ current goals and future vision.

“I remain true to my core values of being fiscally conservative, open-minded, committed, stable and applying common sense,” Smith states. “I am passionate about making Camas the best city it can be, while being supportive to staff and sensitive to our citizens’ needs.”

The city’s budget is one of Smith’s primary concerns, and she says she recently voted against salary increases that, in some cases, set substantially higher salary scales for the city’s non-union employees because she worried that the increases were not sustainable and could, if the city hit hard economic times again, lead to difficult staffing decisions.

“People don’t understand that we are limited by the property tax (cap),” Smith said. “After (the recession), it took us 10 years to get back to where we are today. I’m concerned about sustaining that in the long-term.”

Of course, Smith isn’t all budget talk, all the time. She also wants to see the city work to get more affordable housing for working class families, as well as housing options for an aging population with mobility concerns and fixed-incomes.

She has always been a proponent of severely limiting personal fireworks within Camas, and says the recent fires in the Columbia River Gorge, which started after a Vancouver teen set off fireworks on a dry day, may have swayed community members to her side of the argument.

“We’ve done surveys and people want to have fireworks on just one day, on the Fourth of July … and I’d be OK with that if people could do it,” Smith said. “I’d like to see us ban them. Not do another survey. We’ve discussed this. If we do another survey, we’re looking at 2020 or 2021 before the ban would go into effect. If we do it now, we still have to wait another year, so it would start in 2019.”

When voters are trying to decide between Smith and her challenger, the incumbent councilor says she hopes people will vote for continuity and experience.

“The city organization is very complicated and it takes time to learn how to be effective,” Smith states. “I have learned how to build relationships (and) understand state and federal rules that guide and impact our city … I am grateful to be able to give back and help lead the community I was born and raised in.”

Smith’s challenger, Emilia Brasier, 36, says she first thought about jumping into local politics after witnessing development near one of her favorite Round Lake area walks.

“It was jarring. There was no buffer,” Brasier says of the development occurring near the Camas Lily loop trail by Round Lake. “We knew the development was coming, but there are better ways to do this. Especially in that area, where we’re inviting people from outside of Camas to come and visit and walk on these trails.”

Upset by the development near a beloved natural area, Brasier began to do some research and discovered that the city’s long-range planning documents ask developers to utilize natural spaces as much as possible.

“It’s not a clear law, but it is guiding the developers,” Brasier says. “So why wasn’t that the case here?”

When Brasier and other neighbors approached city leaders with questions about the development, she says they came away with more questions than answers.

“We felt ignored, like we weren’t being taken seriously,” Brasier explains. “It was like, ‘OK, we’re giving you this time, but we’re not going to do anything about it.'”

If elected to the council on Nov. 7, Brasier says she would try to listen to people who approach city leaders with concerns and questions.

Her career experience and educational background could help her achieve that goal — Brasier worked on her master’s degree in clinical psychology at Alliant International University from 2004 to 2006, and worked as a residential treatment counselor, and as a student therapist at Head Start and at a Salvation Army treatment center before becoming a professional photographer, working as the online development and outreach point person for her husband’s law firm, Brasier Law, and devoting much of her time to her three young children and volunteer work.

Brasier and her husband, Tom, an attorney, moved to Camas in 2009. They live in the Lacamas Summit neighborhood with their children, who range in age from 9 months to 11 years old. Brasier was elected secretary of the neighborhood homeowners’ association and frequently volunteers her photography skills at local events and nonprofits, including PDX Parent, Girlfriends Run for a Cure and the Camas Downtown Association’s Girls Night Out. She also volunteers at Lacamas Elementary School.

If elected to the Camas City Council, Brasier says she would provide a voice for newcomers, who have been flocking to Camas over the past decade thanks to a thriving school district and the city’s reputation for offering small-town living in a rapidly expanding metropolitan area.

“The population is changing. We’ll hit 30,000 soon, compared to the 8,000 who were here when (her competition, Melissa Smith) was in school,” Brasier says. “Those extra 20,000 or so people are not from here. Because I’m an ‘outsider,’ in some ways I think that gives me an advantage. I chose this town after experiencing other places because I loved it here. I think the council needs someone like me, someone who can be the voice of those people who have lived other places, who have lived in bigger towns, and who chose to live here because they love what Camas had to offer.”