Camas councilors seek mayor’s seat

Melissa Smith, Shannon Turk set sights on interim term, possible run in 2019

Camas Mayor Shannon Turk pictured in 2018 has lost her election to write-in candidate Barry McDonnell, who garnered 53 percent of the votes.

Camas City Councilor Melissa Smith at Forest Home Park on Oct. 15. Smith has announced her intention to apply for Camas mayor.

Applications for Camas mayor are due Oct. 26, and two city councilors have already said they intend to throw their hats in the ring.

Melissa Smith and Shannon Turk, both multi-term members of Camas City Council, have said they will apply to fill the one-year vacancy left by former Mayor Scott Higgins’ resignation in June.

City councilors will vote on an interim mayor Nov. 14, and that person will have a swearing-in ceremony Nov. 19. Voters will select a new Camas mayor in the November 2019 general election.

Higgins left office Sept. 30, and Mayor Pro Tem Don Chaney has been fulfilling Higgins’ mayoral duties in the interim. Chaney has not yet decided if he will run for the mayor’s position.

Smith: A ‘vote for stability’

Smith, now in her fourth term on the Camas City Council, said she decided to run after a methodical thought process. She said it was her deep roots in the community that eventually swayed her.

“(Being) born and raised here, I’m vested in this community. I’ve always had people, friends family, ask me if I’d run,” Smith told The Post-Record. “I have a lot of knowledge, experience, good relationships — locally and regionally.”

Smith said it is this sense of consistency and commitment to the town that will make for a smooth transition, despite the new mayor having to come in during a busy budget season ripe with tough decisions.

“We need a mayor who can commit to being in the office 80 to 100 percent of the time,” Smith said. “They have to be accessible and available and, for me, that’s in the office. I live five minutes away.”

One of the tough decisions facing the next Camas mayor concerns the ongoing firefighter staffing level debate — a contentious point in the biennial budget that will determine whether the city hires new firefighters in 2019 or 2020. Although that choice ultimately rests on the shoulders of the council, in Camas’ “strong mayor” system, the mayor reserves the right to veto any decision made by the council.

Smith suggested the firefighter hires are the biggest issue facing the city right now.

“Getting the fire issue resolved, one way or the other — that’s going to take a lot of work, a lot of discussion and a lot of community outreach. We have to look at all the options, not just feel-good stuff,” she said.

Smith also advocated for improved communication between government and the community. For the most part, however, Smith said this interim mayoral term should be an opportunity to maintain direction, rather than make any sudden turns.

“You have to go in and just kind of steady the ship,” she said.

If she is appointed mayor, Smith said it is likely she’ll run for the four-year term in November 2019. If not, she said she isn’t sure about making a 2019 bid. Regardless of how the coming month unfolds, Smith expressed trust in the council and the town.

“We’re just going to keep getting stronger and better, whichever way it goes,” she said.

Turk: ‘I couldn’t wait to jump in’

Turk, now in her third term on council, said she knew she was going to apply the moment Higgins told council he was resigning.

“I knew as soon as Scott announced. I knew I wanted to. It wasn’t something that I thought about for a long time,” she told The Post-Record. “I want to continue on the work he’s done. There’s so much opportunity. There are so many things we can do. I couldn’t wait to jump in, actually.”

Turk, a resident of Camas since 2002, grew up in Portland and Tacoma, Washington, and now works in Vancouver Public Works as a management analyst. She said her work in public administration, including a stint in former Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber’s office, has convinced her she can tackle the role of mayor.

“I think, subconsciously, I’ve been preparing for it my whole career,” she said. “I truly believe in government. I know how government works.”

Moving into the big office from her council position, Turk said her goals would largely remain the same. Chief among them is building stronger ties between policymakers and citizens.

“Getting the word out, so people can talk, is so important,” she said. “It would be great to open up those lines of communication.”

As far as looming challenges beyond that, Turk said the issue hanging most heavily on Camas leaders is the city’s burgeoning population and development projects.

“It seems like managing growth is such a cliche thing to say, but it’s something that affects everyone in the community,” she said, pointing out that finding creative ways to deal with this change is going to be a leadership responsibility for many years to come.

If Turk isn’t appointed to the mayoral position, she said she isn’t sure that she will run in 2019. But said she is certain she would continue to serve Camas.

“Could I continue to be an effective policy maker with council? Absolutely,” she said.