Camas City Council names Ellen Burton as interim mayor

Burton, an elected council member, has served as the city's acting mayor since the surprise resignation of Barry McDonnell in May

Contributed photo courtesy of city of Camas Camas City Council member Ellen Burton

Ellen Burton, Camas’ acting mayor, will continue to lead the city for the next four months. 

Camas City Council members voted unanimously on Monday, July 26, to appoint Burton as the city’s interim mayor. 

Burton, an elected city council member who was named the city’s acting mayor in May after the unexpected resignation of then-Mayor Barry McDonnell, will remain in the mayoral position through the certification the Nov. 2 gneral election — when Camas voters will choose McDonnell’s replacement. 

Only two people applied for the role of interim mayor. 

City council members interviewed the two candidates — Burton and Jack Derington — during a special meeting Monday evening. 

Derington, a regional manager and entrepreneur who moved with his family to Camas four years ago, said he wanted to see Camas “continue to flourish” while remaining the same “small town” people love. 

“I see genuine improvements and progress (in Camas) and also see the challenges we face,” Derington wrote in his application to be considered as interim mayor.

The mayoral hopeful touted Camas’ strengths and said he would like to see the city “continue to promote and develop infrastructure for businesses, notably manufacturing;” become “a reverse tourist destination,” attracting visitors from out of town as an entryway to the Washington/Oregon highlights of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area; support the school system; and find a balance between rapid development and leaving some people behind — “new visions to see the Camas has affordable housing, for example, are necessary and should continue,” he wrote in his application. 

“What I want from this town is, in four to five years, to be even happier this is where we chose to live and raise kids,” Derington said. “That does not just happen, though and it is why I am offering to play even a small role.” 

Burton said she wanted to be “a caretaker” for Camas and provide a stable transition until Camas voters could elect their next mayor. 

“I will work closely with the interim city administrator, department heads, city council and community to ensure stability and continuity,” Burton wrote in her application and re-stated on Monday evening, during the council’s interview process. “Since I do not have a political agenda, I will make collaborative, fact-based decisions for the benefit of the community and to ensure efficient and effective city operations.” 

Burton pointed out that, if appointed as interim mayor, she could continue to work with staff, council and department heads on several projects and issues that would impact Camas in the long-term — one of which is the fact that several longtime staffers are set to retire soon. 

“That institutional knowledge is about to go out the door,” Burton said. “And we know the hiring market is very tight. It can take three to six months to land a candidate.”

Burton said she could help staff retain the institutional knowledge and maintain staffers’ needs during this transition period. Likewise, she could continue to help guide the city through an enterprise resource planning (ERP) project that has, according to Burton, “been on the drawing board for years,” and will help the city in the long-term. 

“In 120, you’ve got to move fast, listen, learn, be agile and accommodate what comes to us,” Burton said Monday evening. “We don’t know what will happen (with the COVID-19 pandemic), so we have to be flexible.” 

The newly appointed interim mayor added that she loves to work on complex problems and challenges; relies on subject-matter experts to help provide city leaders with the information they need to make decisions and is skilled in collaborating.

Asked by Councilman Don Chaney if she reconsidered her April decision to not run for reelection to the city council, Burton said had struggled with the decision, but ultimately felt her time on the city council and as acting mayor had been “a great learning opportunity” that she could use to benefit her community in another “volunteer service position,” though she did not yet know what that position might entail. 

“It was a very hard decision,” Burton said of not running for reelection to the council. “My friends had to talk me down.” 

Overall, Burton said, she believed the council should appoint her as interim mayor because she was “willing to step up and do the work.” 

“I will have the courage, commitment and conviction to work with entire teams: the department heads, staff, council and the city administrator to keep continuous calm and a professional manner to provide the services that our community expects,” Burton said. 

After deliberating for about 20 minutes, the council, led by current Mayor Pro Tem Steve Hogan, voted 5-0 (with Hogan not voting) to appoint Burton to the position. 

“We were lucky to have two very good candidates,” Hogan said. 

The city attorney will swear-in Burton at the council’s regular meeting at 7 p.m. Monday, Aug. 2. 

The city has two candidates running in the November mayoral election: Hogan and Camas-Washougal Chamber of Commerce Director Jennifer Senescu. 

Burton will serve as interim mayor until the results of the Nov. 2 general election have been certified.