City of Camas hires interim administrator

City council unanimously approves $200-an-hour contract with former Battle Ground city manager

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Battle Ground City Manager Jeff Swanson takes his oath of office in 2017. (Courtesy of The Columbian files)

On July 6, three days before Camas City Administrator Jamal Fox was set to leave his position, the Camas City Council voted unanimously to approve a contract with EXIGY, LLC Principal Jeff Swanson, to be the city’s interim city administrator for the next nine to 12 months.

Mayor Pro Tem Ellen Burton, who stepped in to replace former Mayor Barry McDonnell in May, after McDonnell quit unexpectedly in the middle of his first term, said her decision to recommend hiring an interim city administrator came after extensive conversations with former Camas mayors as well as city staff and department heads.

When Fox also announced his unexpected departure from the city in late May, Burton said she began working with city staff to determine what to do next.

“We looked at five or six options, including doing nothing and waiting until a new mayor and council(members) come in, which would mean hiring a new city administrator next summer, most likely, with the (city department heads) taking on the workload,” Burton said during the city council’s regular meeting on July 6.

Though Burton said she liked the idea of helping a current member of the city’s management perhaps develop their own city administrative skills, she and city staff eventually determined that Camas’ department heads were unable to take on additional work at this time.

The mayor pro tem, along with city staff, also explored the idea of hiring a replacement for Fox right away. In the end, however, “based on staff recommendations,” Burton opted for hiring an interim city administrator to help guide the city through its transition period, with elections that will determine a new mayor as well as three city council positions.

“After much conversation and much recommendation from current and former mayors,” Burton met with Swanson, a former Battle Ground city manager who currently works as a contract community development director for the city of La Center in north Clark County.

“(Swanson) comes extremely highly recommended and has a broad background at the state, regional and local levels,” Burton said. “He will provide the skillset the city needs … to ensure taxpayer dollars are invested wisely.”

La Center Mayor Greg Thornton spoke in favor of Swanson’s hire during the Camas City Council’s July 6 workshop, and said Swanson, who has worked for the city of La Center on a contract basis for more than two years, has done “an absolutely outstanding job for the city of La Center.”

“Myself and the council could not be more pleased with the contributions (Swanson) has made for our city,” Thornton said.

City Councilmember Bonnie Carter said she had been in touch with a Battle Ground city councilor that worked with Swanson during his time there — Swanson quit his city manager position in October 2018, saying he wanted to pursue other opportunities and now leads a consulting firm that has municipal clients throughout the country.

“This individual said Mr. Swanson would be a highly valued asset to any organization lucky enough to get him,” Carter said during the council’s regular meeting on July 6. “I’m confident in the background report (conducted by Burton).”

Camas City Councilmember Don Chaney said he also looked into Swanson’s background and “unequivocally supported” Burton’s recommendation to hire Swanson as the city’s interim city administrator.

Swanson, who works with other clients, said he can give the city of Camas 25 hours a week of his time. Though the city did not place a cap on the number of hours the interim city manager can work any given week, the contract does state that the city’s mayor — including Burton, then an interim mayor appointed by the city council and finally an elected mayor chosen during the November general election — would oversee Swanson’s schedule and approved hours.

The city will pay Swanson $200 per hour for his role as Camas’ interim city administrator, but will not pay any benefits or retirement.

“Not getting any benefits saves us a ton of money,” noted city councilmember Melissa Smith at the July 6 council meeting.

Burton said she believed the new, interim city administrator, with his years of experience working for cities in Clark County, would be able to hit the ground running and help the city of Camas remain stable throughout its leadership transition period.

“We needed someone to fill this role and come in and do the work now,” Burton said. “We are a growing city, and this was too big for staff … this is an opportunity to take on someone who can hit the ground running from day one.”

Swanson’s contract began July 7 and runs as long as needed up to December of 2022.