Two city councilors, a pastor and a former mayor walk into Camas City Hall — sounds like the set-up for a punchline, but it will be reality on Nov. 14, when the four interview for a one-year vacancy in Camas’ mayoral office.
Applications closed Oct. 26 for the opening left by former Camas Mayor Scott Higgins’ early resignation. This interim period is an appointment, not an election, which means city councilors will make the decision via vote.
Options include two sitting city councilors, Shannon Turk and Melissa Smith, and two citizens who currently hold no public office — former Camas mayor Dean Dossett and pastor Geoerl Niles, founder of The Calling Church in Vancouver.
“Tell you what, I think we’ve got a great pool,” Camas City Administrator Pete Capell said. “I think council will be able to get a good mayor moving forward.”
Don’t call it a comeback
The word “comeback” hadn’t really crossed Dossett’s mind during the application process. The former Camas mayor just saw the opening and decided he had something to offer.
“I took a fairly long sojourn, obviously, but my interest level has come back to the point that I think it would be interesting to do again. There were a lot of exciting times,” he told The Post-Record. “I want to serve the city. I don’t feel like I’m through with that phase of my life.”
Dossett, 75, has resided in Camas for 55 years. He served as the mayor of Camas from 1992 to 2002, and as a city councilor for six years prior to that.
Overlapping with that stint, and before holding public office, Dossett worked at the Camas paper mill in a variety of positions, culminating in a salaried management role responsible for 235 employees.
“The two environments are totally different. But what I was able to transfer from the mill environment to the city environment was the managerial experience,” he said.
On that note, Dossett expressed an interest in promoting the business aspect of the city.
“I think we need to keep that healthy,” he said. “Businesses are gonna bring in more taxes than residential. Not that you would shrug either off.”
Dossett hit on this in his application, stating that he supports “our corporate citizens and partnering with them whenever possible to aid them in expansion or, in the case of new companies, relocating or constructing.”
Beyond that, Dossett said he was coming into the interview with an open mind and no particular axes to grind.
“I’m kinda coming into it with the idea of seeing what we have in place,” he said. “I’ve always been a person who tries to make things better, so if there are opportunities to do that I’ll put energy and effort into that.”
The ‘Average Joe’
Niles, 49, knew his application might be a bit baffling to city officials, considering he’s never held a political office and has been to only a few city council meetings.
“Probably they’re looking at it like ‘Who’s this guy?'” he told The Post-Record. “I’m by no means an active politician. I’ve not gone after any office before. I just want to be of service to our town.”
Niles, who submitted his name soon after applications opened in October, has been living in Camas since 2000. He is a father of seven, including two nephews he helped raise, and has been married for 20 years. He also is a member of the Downtown Camas Association and chair of the city’s parking committee. Despite those groups giving him some experience with wide-scale organization, he said the biggest thing he can bring to the role of mayor is the perspective of a common citizen.
“I can bring the perspective of just an ‘Average Joe,'” he said. “A perspective that’s fresh from someone (who is not) a career politician may be what they’re looking for. I’m not looking to make this a lifelong goal, I just want to be of help to the community. If that works, great. If one of the city councilors is a better fit for the position, then I am all about supporting whoever is found to be the most qualified.”
For an “Average Joe,” Niles keeps a fairly busy schedule. He works full-time in the human resources department at Portland Spirit, and also serves as the pastor at The Calling Church in east Vancouver, which he and his wife founded in 2010.
Niles said that, despite these commitments, he would be able to juggle the schedule of the mayor’s office, noting that some of his Portland Spirit coworkers also are active in local city government.
“We’re all of the same kind of mind,” he said. “We like to benefit our communities.”
Like Turk and Smith, Niles said he acknowledges the role of a fill-in mayor is not to make sweeping changes, but to steady the ship.
“I have faith in our leaders. I’m not coming into this going, ‘We need a major change,'” he said. “My thought process is, ‘How can I come in and be like a fine wine? How can I accompany the good dinner that’s going on right now?'”