Longtime Washougal councilor running for mayor

Paul Greenlee says he is ready to be ‘face of the city’

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Washougal City Council member Paul Greenlee (left) chats with Jemtegaard Middle School art teacher Dani Allen during a reception for Washougal middle school students, who created designs on birdhouses hung outside Washougal City Hall, on June 23, 2018. (Post-Record file photo)

The city of Washougal will have a new mayor in 2022, and a longtime council member wants the job.

Molly Coston will not seek another term as the chair of Washougal’s city council in November’s general election. Instead she hopes to win voter approval to continue in her current No. 5 position, to which she was appointed in September 2020 after Ray Kutch resigned from the council.

Longtime council member Paul Greenlee will run for election in the No. 1 council position, which was designated as mayor after voters approved a proposition in November 2020.

Greenlee, a council member since 2007, had been considering running for mayor for “at least (the past) eight years.”

“I have the greatest respect for Molly,” he said. “She told me some time ago that she wasn’t going to run for mayor this time, and she wanted to go back to being on council. That created the opportunity. (Previously), I would look at the situation and say, ‘If I run, who else is going to run? Is there a chance they could win? If they did, what would that mean for the city?’ I really looked at what’s best for the city, and that’s what convinced me twice previously that it was not yet time to run. The opportunity is there (this time around) to do more for my city, and I don’t see any downside.”

Coston pointed to “the amount of time that (the job) takes” as the main reason for her decision to not continue as mayor.

“I just think, even in a strong council form of government, it’s a very time-consuming job,” she said. “I felt after a while that was the reason for my existence, just to serve as mayor. I have grandkids that are out of state. I have brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews. I want to have a little more flexibility to travel and spend time with my extended family. I really (want to be able to) to say, ‘I’m going to be gone for this next council meeting.’ I technically could do that now, but (it’s different because I’m the) ‘public face.'”

That’s a role that Greenlee is ready to assume.

“The big thing is you’re the face of the city — you certainly go to all of the ribbon-cuttings and so forth — but also there actually is an opportunity for real leadership,” he said. “Not in the sense of giving orders, but in organizing peoples’ interest in building a community, building a consensus. I’m ready to take it on. I think it will be a challenge. It’s not something I’ve done before, but I do have a lot of experience, and I believe that I will be a good mayor, that I will bring the city forward.”

Coston considered stepping away from the council altogether, but realized that she still has plenty of interest in serving her community in a variety of ways, many of which she can’t pursue her current role.

“I feel that I still can be very effective, maybe even more effective, as a (regular) council member,” she said. “I have some little pet projects that I’d like to get more engaged in. I’ve always really wanted to find better ways for community engagement, to hold forums with a topic and back-and-forth communication. We didn’t really do them at all during COVID, so I think as a council member I might have the opportunity to strategize that and really make that work and be more of a person in the background so the mayor, whoever that is, if they’re interested, could be the front man for that and I could navigate a part of that.”

Coston was elected as Washougal’s mayor in November 2017. The next year, the city adopted a mayor-council system which turned Coston into a “weak mayor” and voting councilmember. When Kutch resigned, the council chose to move Coston into his position rather than fill it with an external candidate to keep the council at eight members. But by then, Coston was already thinking about moving away from the mayor role.

“It’s something that (Greenlee has) wanted to do for some time,” she said. “He’s been hoping for the opportunity. He told me, ‘I will never run against you.’ That had no bearing (on my decision), other than that I knew that there would be a candidate that knew about policy decisions and how to make good policy and would do a good job.”

Greenlee, who moved to Washougal in 2000, was appointed to the city council on April 2, 2007 and elected in 2007, 2009, 2013 and 2017.

“Sometime in my late teens or early 20s I joined an organization — I can’t remember which one — and we took a pledge to pass on to those who follow not only not less, but greater than what was given to (us),” Greenlee said. “I pretty much always tried to do that, and (running for mayor) is another opportunity.”