Ray Kutch has resigned from the Washougal City Council.
Kutch notified city officials Friday, Sept. 11, of his decision, and said he and his wife, Judy Kutch, are moving to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, to be closer to their daughter, Carol.
“(Carol) encouraged us to buy a home up there. She said that she’d rather be five minutes away from us than five-and-a-half hours away,” the 80-year-old Kutch said. “My wife and I are in pretty good shape for as old as we are, but the problem is we’re old. We love Washougal and the people who live here. There’s nothing about Washougal that’s making us leave. It’s a family situation.”
The Kutches have purchased a home in Idaho and will move there after selling their Washougal residence.
“(Coeur d’Alene) is a beautiful area, and the cost of living is significantly lower up there,” Kutch said. “Our daughter was tired of everything going on in Seattle, and we were tired of everything going on in Portland. We weren’t going to move to Seattle (to be closer to Carol). That would’ve been going from bad to worse.”
Kutch joined the city council in February 2017, after being appointed to fill the No. 5 seat vacated by Jennifer McDaniel. Nine months later, voters elected him to serve the remainder of McDaniel’s term, which expired in December 2019. Kutch ran for re-election in 2019 and defeated challenger Denise Korhonen.
His current term expires at the end of December 2023.
“I’ve enjoyed (my time on the council),” Kutch said. “I’ll miss the camaraderie. There were situations that came up that not everybody agreed on, but we agreed to listen to each other, and that’s what’s most important.”
Kutch wanted to see Washougal grow at a healthy, sustainable rate while maintaining its “small-town feel.”
“We need to be most proud of the fact that we’ve maintained the livability of the community,” he said. “(The city prioritizes) the maintenance of facilities, roads, etcetera, and is working with the Port of Camas-Washougal with its trail projects. People want a place to be livable. They don’t want to have to go five or 10 miles miles to park or to take a walk. We have amenities close enough so that people don’t have to get into a car and go to Skamania County.”
Kutch represented the city as a member of the Columbia River Economic Development Council’s board of directors; served as the council’s representative to the city’s lodging tax funding board; and was part of the city’s public safety, community development and public works committees.
“Ray never let his political philosophies stand in the way of a good decision for the entire community,” said Washougal Mayor Molly Coston. “He was very collaborative and willing to compromise outside of his comfort zone, and that’s an extraordinary quality to have.”
Kutch grew up in western Pennsylvania and played football for one year at a small East Coast college before being recruited to the United States Naval Academy (USNA) in Annapolis, Maryland, graduating in 1963 with a bachelor’s degree in engineering.
He served in the U.S. Navy from 1963 to 1970, earning several medals for his performance as a pilot during the Vietnam War, then served as a Naval instructor for several years.
After earning a master’s degree in personnel management from George Washington University in Washington, D.C., Kutch moved to Vancouver in 1979, then to Washougal in 1990. He worked as a salesman at the Portland branch of Ingersoll Rand, an industrial manufacturing company, before becoming the owner and operator of Dodge City Bar & Grill, a western-themed tavern with locations in Vancouver and downtown Camas, from 1992 to 2013.
“He has more of a global, world perspective, and wasn’t just (focused on) Clark County. I appreciate that about him,” Coston said of Kutch. “He has an incredible understanding of business’ needs after being a business owner for many years, and he always supported capital projects, even if we had to pull money from reserves, because he’d be thinking five, 10 years down the line. And he’s a mentor as well, which is an important quality to have. He served as mentor to (Councilwoman) Michelle Wagner, who also has a military background.”
Kutch said he hopes more young people get involved in local politics, and that he is optimistic about Washougal’s future.
“Washougal is in great hands,” he said. “The community is headed in the right direction. I would’ve liked to have stuck around to help develop more business opportunities and bring more small businesses to the community, but others will step up and do that. (The mayor) is very collaborative and very accommodating, and David Scott has done a great job as city manager. He’s got the city going as well as it could be going considering all the things we went through in the last few months.”
During the city’s Sept. 14 virtual workshop session, Scott told city councilors that they could either replace Kutch in their usual manner by accepting applications, holding interviews and appointing their chosen candidate; or simply shift Coston into the vacant No. 5 position and move ahead with seven council members.
“When an incumbent executive mayor is in office and a change of government occurs, going to council-manager, the sitting executive mayor becomes an eighth council member and is so seated until the expiration of the mayoral term to which they were elected, which in (Coston’s) case is through the end of 2021,” Scott told the councilors. “That position will go away at the expiration of that term. The statutory construct for councils for communities of our size is seven members, and we’re kind of in this short-term anomaly with eight members right now. (Kutch’s resignation) does present an opportunity to move back to the standard seven members sooner.”
The council members declined to make a decision, preferring instead to gather more information and discuss the matter at their next meeting.
The city will host a virtual conversation at 6 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 24, to allow citizens to ask questions and learn about the council’s options for the vacancy. The conversation will be held on Zoom, moderated by Coston. To join the meeting, people can visit us02web.zoom.us/j/84604986198 or call 360-833-7999. Comments can be submitted before, during or after the meeting to email@example.com.