ELECTION 2019: Newcomer challenges incumbent councilwoman in Camas

Nov. 5 general election pits appointed Councilwoman Deanna Rusch against first-time candidate Shannon Roberts

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Voters will soon decide if Camas City Councilwoman Deanna Rusch will remain in the Ward 1, Position 1 seat she’s held since January 2018 or if her challenger, political newcomer Shannon Roberts, will secure a place at the council table.

The Post-Record recently spoke with both council candidates about their decision to run for local office and about their hopes for the city of Camas if elected to represent the residents of Ward 1 in the Nov. 5 general election.

Deanna Rusch

When she made her bid for city council appointment in December 2017 and again in the lead up to this year’s general election, Rusch has established herself as a candidate who will fight for the area’s first responders.

“I was the only person out of the eight (hoping to be appointed to Hazen’s council seat) who mentioned public safety,” Rusch recently told the Post-Record. “Staffing (at the fire department) has been stagnant for years and police are in the same boat. I was proud that Council did add four new firefighters to the (2019-20 budget). Supporting the first responders has been — and will continue to be — my priority.”

Rusch’s unwavering support for first responders earned the 38-year-old family law attorney the support of the East Clark Professional Fire Fighters union this election season.

Speaking about the city council’s decision to send a $78 million community-aquatics center bond to voters, Rusch said she supported putting the question into the voters’ hands.

“This type of facility has been studied and planned and looked at for many years,” Rusch said.

Rusch attended meetings with Washougal and Port of Camas-Washougal officials throughout early 2018 in the hopes of finding a way forward with a joint Camas-Washougal community center.

“I don’t know if it was one single issue, but it became pretty clear that (a joint community center) wasn’t going to work in a way that would serve both cities,” Rusch said.

The decision to place the community-aquatics center on the Nov. 5 ballot was something all Camas councilors supported, Rusch said, so she doesn’t want to go back and “second guess it.”

“We did try hard to support something that was good for Camas, and we wanted people to have the chance to vote on it,” she said. “Our goal as a council was to provide the best possible services at the lowest possible cost.”

During her time on the Council, Rusch said she has learned a lot about how local government works, and about how important it is for government officials to be transparent in their work for constituents.

“I am an open book. I give out my personal cell phone number and I push for more transparency within our government,” Rusch said. “I know there is a high level of distrust for government right now … and we have worked very hard to try and communicate with people on a variety of platforms.”

The lead attorney for McKean Smith LLC, a downtown Vancouver law firm, Rusch moved from her Oregon hometown to Camas in 2015.

“I love how much we take care of one another in Camas,” Rusch said. “And I love how much we support our youth and our schools. Livability in Camas is high, and everything I do on council is to help further that.”

Shannon Roberts

Rusch’s competitor in the general election, real estate professional and United States Navy veteran Shannon Roberts, said she entered the city council race after noticing substantial increases in her own property taxes.

“We had a 30 percent increase two years ago that was forced upon us,” Roberts said. “For the small guy trying to hang on, or for seniors on fixed incomes, that was too much.”

“I didn’t want to be one of those people who complain all the time and never do anything about it,” Roberts, 65, added.

The bid for city council isn’t Roberts’ first time leaping into the unknown, however.

“My mom told me, ‘Do what you want to do now, while you’re still young,'” Roberts said. “I felt called to the Navy, but I was 34 years old, so it was a risk.”

It turned out to be a rewarding risk. Roberts served as a U.S. Navy aviation electronics technician during the Gulf War, and later went on to work for NASA’s Ames Research Center and then worked for the U.S. government in England for 10 years.

When she returned to the U.S. in 2007, Roberts moved to White Salmon, Washington, in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, to be closer to family. She worked for seven years doing data analysis for Insitu Inc., a subsidiary of Boeing, and later went into the real estate business. Roberts moved to Camas in 2015, and said the small city reminded her of her hometown in Tennessee.

Roberts sees things she thinks the city is doing right, including the many community events in downtown Camas and the recent traffic improvements — her years in Europe made her appreciate traffic roundabouts. But there are a few things she would change if elected.

“I’m fiscally conservative, so I would be cautious with residents’ checkbooks,” Roberts said.

Take the proposed $78 million community-aquatics center bond, which voters also will decide on Nov. 5: Roberts questions why city leaders didn’t implement the center in phases that might have been more digestible for property owners who are already trying to make ends meet.

“To me, asking for this much money up front seems like a bad idea. Doing it in phases would have been better,” Roberts said.

Roberts said she is not opposed to building a community center, but wonders why Camas leaders gave up on a joint Camas-Washougal center.

“Citizens have voiced a need for a community center,” Roberts stated in her candidate literature in the local voters guide. “Its location should be thoughtfully placed perhaps to benefit both Camas and Washougal residents.”

If elected on Nov. 5, Roberts said her history as a project manager and member of Clark County Veterans Advisory Board, which provides emergency relief to veterans in need, would help her stay level-headed during the decision-making process.

“I would ask, ‘Is this a need or a want?'” Roberts said.