2 of 3 Washougal mayoral hopefuls speak at forum

Paul Greenlee and Rochelle Ramos discuss future of fire department, population growth, city budget at July 10 event

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Paul Greenlee is a longtime Washougal City Council member who is trying to “turn a bunch of garage doors into a community” and “bring people together.” Rochelle Ramos is a longtime community volunteer who is hoping to bring a “fresh perspective” to the city’s pressing issues. Both of them believe they can succeed as Washougal’s next mayor.

Greenlee and Ramos discussed their views about a variety of subjects, including racial and social justice, homelessness, the city’s financial situation, police officer recruiting and retention, and city growth, during the League of Women Voters of Clark County’s candidate forum, held online on Saturday, July 10. Derik Ford, who is also running for mayor, did not respond to an invitation to participate, according to the League’s moderator, Jane Van Dyke.

Greenlee and Ramos discussed their views on the future of the joint Camas-Washougal Fire Department, which has had issues over funding new firefighter-paramedic positions, with the city of Washougal struggling to afford its roughly 40-percent share of the positions’ costs.

The cities recently hired Tualatin, Oregon-based consultants Merina+Co to review the partnership and look at alternative funding schemes. Ramos and Greenlee both indicated during the July 10 forum that they want to review the consultants’ conclusions before making any definitive declarations about the fire department partnership.

“I know that Washougal has a lot of emergency service calls, probably more than Camas and more than the fire department calls, so I’d like to see if there’s an opportunity to increase support for that portion of our contract versus the entire gamut of it,” Ramos said. “That said, I think Washougal needs to determine a way to be able to support our portion of the bill. I don’t think we’ve been successful with that, unfortunately, in the past, (through) no fault of anyone. But as our costs increase and our needs increase because our population is becoming older, we need to figure out how we’re going to address that, not just now but five, 10 years down the road so that we’re not continually looking at solving this problem or being reactive versus proactive for our future.”

Greenlee said the city’s fire and emergency medical services “is a bit worrisome in terms of financing” and “can be a black hole,” noting Camas “has had trouble with this in the past before we joined fire departments.”

“Going forward, I do not foresee that we would separate the department. Camas and Washougal will stay together,” Greenlee predicted. “The only thing that might happen that would actually be better would be (the creation) of a much, much larger fire district that covers most, if not all, of Clark County. Tualatin Valley Fire and Rescue over on the Oregon side is a national model for what works and what works well. … We have to figure out a way to cap the costs.”

During discussions about other topics, Ramos said she “worries a little bit” about how population growth is going to affect Washougal’s road quality and traffic issues.

“‘E’ Street cannot handle more traffic,” she said. “As it is, when you (drive) down Highway 14, there are numerous times in the commuting hour that you get stuck on the roundabout. That’s not safe. I’ve seen accidents, and I’ve almost been hit. I don’t know if our roadways can support the additional growth. As we look at increasing housing and residential areas and looking at the waterfront to be developed, I hope we’d have a heavy hand in determining what roads need to be increased to support that traffic.”

While talking about Washougal’s financial situation, Greenlee said the city has been “extremely fortunate” during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“At the very first COVID (outbreak), staff said, ‘We need to pull in our budget here.’ We stopped doing our capital repair and replacement (program), we didn’t do any new hires and we cut back on some other maintenance,” he said. “And as it turns out, both property tax and sales tax are ahead of what we had planned before COVID. And when you add to that the grants that we managed to get, we’re actually in better shape than we expected. We’ve resumed new hires. We’ve resumed capital repair and replacement. We even have some small projects that we’re going to do at the police station that we wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise.”

Ramos, 45, has served on the Washougal Parks Board of Commissioners since 2018. She is a human resources director with PLEXSYS Interface Products, a Camas-based software company, and co-owner of the Washougal-based Lunchmoney Indoor Skatepark nonprofit organization.

“I want to be mayor of Washougal to be able to continue my efforts that I’ve made to improve our community,” she said. “I’ve contributed by starting a nonprofit and (putting in) a lot of volunteer work and organizing volunteer groups to clean up our community. The issues that are more important to me are community aesthetics, supporting our police department, and bringing back small businesses in any way we can by cleaning up our community. … I’m a very well-rounded candidate that stands out a little bit in a sense that I have that experience and I (have) a fresh perspective on how things can operate and how things can change from a citizen point of view.”

Greenlee, 75, has been a member of the city council for more than 14 years and previously served on the Washougal Planning Commission.

“City council is different from any other job that I’ve had. You think in very different ways. Your timelines are decades, not a quarter or fiscal year,” Greenlee said. “My fascination is with ‘community.’ How do you build a community? How do you transform a bunch of garage doors into a community? The mayor’s job is, under the present system, largely ceremonial, but we can bring people together, and that’s really what I hope to be able to do.”

Greenlee, Ramos and Ford will appear on the Aug. 3 primary election ballot, with the top two finishers moving on to the Nov. 2 general election. For more on the candidates, read the Post-Record’s coverage online at camaspostrecord.com.