Mentoring the mayor

Former Camas leader Nan Henriksen guides Washougal Mayor Molly Coston

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Washougal Mayor Molly Coston (left) listens to former Camas Mayor Nan Henriksen (right), at Hidden River Roasters in downtown Camas. Henriksen has provided encouragement and perspective for Coston on a weekly basis since January 2018.

A mentorship between two Camas-Washougal female leaders seems to be proving, as fashion designer Gloria Vanderbilt once famously said, that “one woman’s success can only help another woman’s success.”

Former Camas Mayor Nan Henriksen and current Washougal Mayor Molly Coston have been meeting for coffee at cafes in downtown Camas and Washougal since the start of 2018. The mentorship started just a few weeks after Coston’s swearing-in ceremony in December 2017.

Henriksen, who attended that swearing-in event, said she reached out to Coston right away and offered to be a sounding board, and somewhat of a mentor, if the Washougal mayor was interested.

“It’s always good to have someone to talk with that has walked the same path, and somewhat knows the landmines and the opportunities,” Henriksen said. “I don’t have any answers, but (do have) a lot of informed questions and things to consider.”

“I’m never going to tell her what she must do,” Henriksen added. “That is none of my business. But, I can give her alternatives and things to think about, and support her when she has made a good move.”

Coston, 70, said she has known Henriksen, 76, for a decade, but knew of the somewhat famous Camas leader — who helped the former “one-mill town” diversify and grow in the 1980s — long before the two ever met in person.

Henriksen was one of the core people on Coston’s mayoral campaign in 2017.

“After I was elected, there were a lot of elements to my job that I did not really understand and needed some guidance,” Coston said. “I asked Nan if she could provide some input for me, knowing she had been such a pivotal figure in Camas and Clark County developing a new charter (for the county).”

Coston said Henriksen has a way of cutting through cloudy issues to get to a great outcome that is fair, transparent and equitable.

“Now, it’s a highlight of both of our weeks, to have a conversation for an hour,” Coston said. “I usually walk in with two or three items to discuss, then walk out with five or six items — suggestions that I really need to do.”

During their weekly coffee chats, Henriksen encourages Coston to be kind to herself.

“Any mayor gets a lot of negative feedback from citizens about things that are not right,” Henriksen said. “I want to make sure she keeps a good attitude about what is happening. There will always be folks who are not happy, but we can’t allow that to drag us down.”

“It’s easy to get discouraged, and I think she is doing really well,” Henriksen added. “Sometimes people don’t realize a mayor still has feelings. It can be very hard and lonely. The positive feedback I can provide for her, I think is helpful. We have a good time. I feel good that I can do something positive and be useful for Molly.”

Washougal voters recently approved Proposition 8, a measure to change the form of government from mayor-council, or “strong mayor,” to council-manager or “strong council.” After the election results are certified Nov. 27, Coston will become an eighth council member, and the Washougal City Council will continue with eight members until the expiration of Coston’s current mayoral term in December 2021.

The council will appoint a mayor during their next regular meeting, at 7 p.m., Monday, Dec. 3. The mayor will be a ceremonial figurehead, and City Manager David Scott will oversee the city’s day-to-day business.

Henriksen hopes the council will appoint Coston to continue serving as mayor.

“I think she is perfect for the public relations and other aspects of the role of mayor,” Henriksen said. “Just because she will not be in charge of the day-to-day operations at city hall, she will still be the face of Washougal.”

Henriksen, a lifelong resident of Camas, served in early 2018 as the chairperson of a committee that looked at the possibility of converting the Camas mayor-council form of government to the council-manager system. The Camas City Council tabled the issue, but indicated they would like to discuss it at the city’s annual planning conference in January 2019.

A Washougal Citizens Government Advisory Committee, made up of several involved Washougal city, community and school district volunteers, recommended earlier this year that city councilors let voters decide if the city should change its form of government. Three members of that committee — Chuck Carpenter, Donna Sinclair and Wayne Pattison — wrote a statement in favor of Prop 8 that appeared in the Clark County Voters’ Pamphlet. No statements against Prop 8 were submitted for the voters pamphlet.

Coston said she was initially a little disappointed that voters approved the form of government change in Washougal, but she had not heard any negative comments about it.

“I think voters took a look at the ballot measure and what the committee had to say and voted accordingly,” she said.

Coston, a Washougal resident for 18 years and one of the first Washougal mayors who was not born or raised in Clark County, hopes to continue serving as the city’s mayor.

During their most recent coffee talk on Nov. 14, Henriksen suggested Coston send thank-you cards to the Washougal Citizens Government Advisory Committee.

“That group was very diligent,” Coston said. “I love getting the community engaged. That was a really good example of letting a group of citizens kind of take off on their own.”

In addition to providing encouragement for Coston, Henriksen said she has reached out to former Camas City Councilwoman Shannon Turk, who was appointed mayor on Nov. 14.

Turk said she would definitely be interested in meeting with Henriksen.

“She is a wealth of information on the community as well as someone that would be instrumental in helping me navigate my new position,” Turk said.