There was a wealth of talent and community activism on display inside Camas City Hall Tuesday evening as applicants interested in sitting on the Camas City Council made their case before the city council members and Mayor Shannon Turk.
Many applicants, instead of highlighting their ties to the Camas paper mill or love of the Camas Papermakers — something that would have been more common just a few years ago — focused on their ability to understand Camas’ increasing diversity and influx of new residents.
David Porter, the guest experience manager at the Cowlitz Indian Tribe’s new Ilani casino and resort near La Center, touted his ability to work with “people from all walks of life and with diverse backgrounds” thanks to his hotel management background.
“I’ve worked with individuals from all socioeconomic levels and countries of origin,” Porter said. “I am effective at building rapport and connecting with people at all levels.”
Mahsa Eshghi, a civil engineer and transportation manager for Mackay Sposito in Vancouver, said she is a first-generation immigrant who came to Camas in 2007 because she had heard it was a great place to raise a family. Having grown up in a city of 17 million, Eshghi said she knows how difficult it can be when city services don’t keep up with population growth.
Arguably, the most impressive applicant was the council’s ultimate pick — Ellen Burton, a longtime Camas resident with extensive international business experience who served on the Camas Educational Foundation for 16 years and came with letters of recommendation from well-known Camas leaders such as former Camas mayor Nan Henriksen and Camas School District Superintendent Jeff Snell.
In her exactly-15-minutes-long bid for the council seat (she set a timer and ended her speech a millisecond before the bell rang) Burton explained why her global experiences would be good for Camas’ future.
Like other applicants, Burton said she appreciated what Camas leaders had already done and wanted to build on what the city had. Unlike many others, however, Burton seemed ready to break Camas out of its small town past and pull it into a more global future.
After years of hearing right-wing political leaders use “globalization” like its a dirty word and incite fears over immigrants hoping to make a life in this country, attending Tuesday night’s council meeting was refreshing.
From Eshghi’s success story: “As a female engineer of color and first-generation immigrant, I’ve faced many challenges. The challenges could not stop me from believing in myself; instead they made me stronger and enhanced my enthusiasm to achieve my goals and values in life,” to Burton’s 15 minutes of “thinking globally, acting locally,” the evening served as a stark reminder of how far Camas has come — and how far it can go when it opens its arms to the rest of the world.
Speaking about the local issues that inspire her, Burton said she was particularly interested in the city’s growth management and how city leaders, constrained by the 1-percent property tax cap, would be able to keep up. Partnering with other jurisdictions and lobbying the state legislature to change the funding levels would be important, Burton said, if leaders want to give residents the services they expect.
“We’re at a pivotal point,” Burton said. “And I want to be a part of that conversation.”
Having lived and worked all over the world, Burton understands “that conversation” cannot be about Camas alone.
“We are part of the Vancouver-Portland metro area, and we need to partner with other jurisdictions if we are to bring industry here,” Burton said. “I’ve met our competition in Bangkok, Budapest, Bangladesh and they are hungry to bring that industry there.”
To compete on a global scale and attract the type of living-wage industry Camas wants, Burton said local leaders must find regional partners and promote the area’s highly educated workforce.
As we’ve written in this space many times, although clutching to the past and building walls against outsiders may be comforting to a select few, Camas is no longer a small town isolated from “the big city” across the river, or even from the rest of the world.
If Burton is able to stay on the council longer than her 10-month appointment — she will serve through Nov. 26, and will need to be elected by voters in 2019 to serve the remaining two years of the position’s original four-year term — we predict her ability to view the city as part of a global tapestry will serve Camas well as it moves into the 2020s and beyond.