By the time Barry McDonnell felt called to local politics, it was far too late to enter the Camas mayoral race as anything other than a write-in candidate.
“It was really in September of this year that I decided (to run),” McDonnell, 41, said.
The Camas City Council’s mid-July decision to put a community-aquatics center bond proposition on the Nov. 5 general election ballot was the issue that made McDonnell first take note of his new city’s locally elected officials.
“I was really frustrated that there weren’t other candidates other than the appointed mayor, McDonnell said. “Towards the end of September, I decided, ‘Maybe it’s me.’ And, on Oct. 2, I made the decision (to run as a write-in mayoral candidate).”
Over the past month, McDonnell has been actively trying to get his name out to Camas voters, sending mailers, putting out yard signs, answering questions on social media sites like NextDoor, establishing a website — write inbarryforcamas.com — and starting a podcast to talk about himself and his family, which includes wife, Anastasia, and the couple’s four children, ages 2 to 13.
McDonnell, who moved with his young family to Camas in 2016, was born in Ireland and moved to the United States when he was 12 years old. He lived in Georgia, Florida and Colorado before finding Camas three years ago.
“My wife and I decided we really wanted to have a place where our kids could be from,” McDonnell said. “We knew we didn’t want to be in Florida, so we went West and stopped in Colorado before we found Camas.”
Since landing in Camas, the family has tried to become a part of their new community.
“It’s the best place in the world,” McDonnell said of Camas. “I could not be more proud to live here. Camas has the best people, an absolutely amazing school system and fire and police departments, and I think the library is fabulous.”
Over the past month, McDonnell said he has heard from other Camas residents seeking change in the city’s leadership.
“There are certain things that I’ve been seeing that don’t reflect well on the city of Camas, really on the city administration and the elected officials representing us,” McDonnell said.
Aside from the community-aquatic center ballot proposition, which McDonnell said he saw as city leaders “putting the cart in front of the horse before really understanding what the needs of the citizens were,” McDonnell said he was concerned by the costs surrounding the city’s recent renovations at the former Bank of America building in downtown Camas, which is slated to become an annex to Camas City Hall.
“There seemed to be a conflict of interest in how we approached things there,” McDonnell said of the renovations, which are going to cost the city nearly $1 million, hundreds of thousands more than originally budgeted, due to some unexpected construction and HVAC costs.
“When I look at how we operate (as a city) it feels like there is a disconnect between the mayor and citizens,” McDonnell said.
The retail loss prevention manager, who said he has held leadership positions in his career for more than 17 years, said he would, if elected mayor, try to formulate a vision for Camas “that people can get excited about.”
“People love Camas the way that it is,” McDonnell said. “From my standpoint, it doesn’t feel like a citizen-driven future. I would like to change that so we can have more dialogue when putting future plans together.”
Asked about his plans for adapting to Camas state-mandated growth and plans for the city’s North Shore mix of residential, commercial and industrial land, McDonnell said he was still learning about these issues.
“I don’t have all the answers but I can facilitate getting the answers for the city,” he said.
The write-in candidate said he feels citizens in Camas believe they aren’t being heard by city administrators and elected officials.
“It’s very important that we have participation from citizens to make this work,” McDonnell said.
In discussing efforts by Camas City Council members and Mayor Shannon Turk to bolster city communications and engage residents in various ways, including ward meetings and open houses that aren’t always well-attended, McDonnell said he believes he would have better turnouts for his meetings if he were mayor.
“I don’t think people are going (to ward meetings) because they don’t feel heard,” he said. “That’s how I feel going to meetings. Citizens should feel heard and have something happen. From my experience, people feel like (the city’s meetings) are a waste of time. I want to make sure people don’t feel like it’s a waste of time. I think if we can maintain some excitement and tap into that, people will be more engaged.”
When he’s not working on his write-in campaign, McDonnell said he and his family enjoy the many athletic and recreational opportunities around Camas.
“We do jiu jitsu at (Universal Martial Arts on Northeast Fourth Avenue in downtown Camas). My wife volunteers at the schools. Our kids are in soccer and baseball and we spend a lot of time in the parks and downtown,” McDonnell said. “We just absolutely love Camas. It’s just an awesome place.”