Campaign accusations against Camas leaders were inaccurate
It’s an old trope: the government is making deals secretly behind the citizens’ back! People who are campaigning continue to repeat the need for more transparency in government. This past 2019 mayoral and city council elections saw an unprecedented amount of last-minute write-in candidates, specifically Barry McDonnell, whose unorthodox and vague campaign website lists “honesty” as one of his platforms.
With the news media putting an emphasis on national issues and politics, people are exposed less to Washington state politics, and pay even less attention to the bi-monthly Camas City Council workshops and meetings. The accusations that our local city of Camas electeds aren’t abiding by the code of ethics or aren’t listening to the voices of citizens is inaccurate. I’m dumbfounded that this negativity and assumption resonated with voters without basis in any facts.
In 2018, as a 17-year-old senior at Camas High School, I began my senior project shadowing the city attorney’s office and attending over 20 hours of Camas City Council workshops and meetings. The details of these meetings aren’t hidden; the exact agenda of discussion items and the powerpoints presented by city employees is accessible on the city’s website to view before, during and after the meetings.
And the argument that the newly elected mayor makes that, “one of the biggest issues we have in this town right now is that people don’t feel heard” is completely disbanded at these meetings and workshops. Before and after the meeting agenda starts and after the planned agenda is concluded, the council gives two minutes to any person to voice their opinion, even if they aren’t citizens of Camas. For example, when members of Patriot Prayer showed up to a city council meeting in March, the council respectfully listened to those who aired their controversial grievances about new Washington state legislation surrounding gun control. Even in the face of angry people, Mayor Shannon Turk and city councilors listened and were civil.
If attendance in person isn’t feasible, the city live streams meetings on their website. And if citizens are so inclined to be more active and involved, there are numerous committee opportunities. After attending several meetings I was asked to join the City Council’s task force for the Lake Road-Everett Street intersection. As an 18-year-old, I listened and learned from the city employees and engineers and my views as a student driver were welcomed. I was respectfully heard and was able to contribute to a new intersection solution I feel strongly will benefit the community.
The incredibly important lesson to learn after this election cycle is to not rely on campaign rhetoric as truth, but to participate and ask questions. More often than not, I was the only person at city council meetings and workshops who didn’t work for the city. City staff and electeds were accessible and welcoming on Monday nights. Not once did I witness Barry McDonnell attend or testify in front of the city council. You want an honest conversation? It starts with showing up to the discussion.
And now, the opportunity for our newly electeds to be honest and transparent is theirs. My hope for Camas is that leadership is as open and welcoming as our council has traditionally been and to continue the culture of open dialogue between the city and its citizens.
Our town is better than what we saw during the election. We’re better than the anger and the blaming and the rhetoric. I trust that we can come together as a community to seek out the answers to our questions and start to understand future city decisions by engaging in civil dialogue and conversation.
Time for citizens to take ownership of city government again
Now that the election is over, we have to move forward together as a community. We have to come to grips, first of all, with the fact that we are in transition and have been for a decade or two. We are no longer an outlying little mill town. We are a growing population from all over the United States and the world. We are supported by high tech and sophisticated service industries while the mill gradually goes away.
One lesson I learned from this election is it’s time we all stepped up and went out of our way to take ownership of our city government: keep an eye on it, communicate with it and participate in it. Our city council may not be made up of people we’ve known personally, but they’re all right here in Camas. We elected them to serve us and we can all be part of that process.
City government these days is a specialized line of work with its own exigencies, vocabulary and culture. They know how to talk to each other and they’ll learn how to communicate well with us once they know we’re paying attention. That way they won’t be able to wander off in a direction we will later repudiate.
This is a time of beginning again. Those town hall meetings were a good start. I intend to be part of the process of building on them.
JH (Joyce) Batten,