Camas Council appoints Nohr to vacant Ward 1 seat

Clark-Cowlitz Fire & Rescue chief will serve on city council through November 2023

The Camas City Council has appointed longtime Camas resident John Nohr as its newest member.

Nohr, the current fire chief of the Clark-Cowlitz Fire and Rescue district, will fill the Council’s Ward 1, Position 1 seat, left vacant after Councilwoman Shannon Roberts quit unexpectedly on July 27.

The Council interviewed its top six applicants during a special meeting held Tuesday, Oct. 11. Each of the candidates — which included former Councilwoman Deanna Rusch, who lost the Ward 1, Position 1 seat to Roberts during the November 2019 general election in the wake of the city’s controversial, $78 million “pool bond” initiative that garnered the support of just 10% of voters — had 20 minutes to answer questions presented by Camas Mayor Steve Hogan and members of the city council.

Nohr, a Portland native who has lived in the Camas area since 1989, and leads a fire district that serves 60,000 people in a 125-square-foot area of Clark and Cowlitz counties, including La Center, Ridgefield, Woodland and the Cowlitz Indian Reservation, said his desire to serve the public prompted him to apply for the vacant city council seat.

“I’m looking for opportunities to serve the city and to help keep the city moving forward,” Nohr said Tuesday. “If you’re not moving forward, you’re moving backward.”

Asked what he believes are the top issues facing the city over the next five years, Nohr said he wants to make sure the Council is focused on planning for future growth and looking at Camas’ infrastructure and transportation needs, while also addressing “the chronic revenue to spending mismatch” between the city’s needs and its revenues.

“I think one of the biggest challenges the city will face in the next five years is infrastructure,” Nohr said, adding that the drier weather reminded him that city leaders must think about things like water infrastructure and the question of how Camas will provide water and other city-operated services to people in areas like Camas’ North Shore as the city continues to grow.

“Second, without bringing in businesses that contribute to the (business and occupation) taxes and jobs that contribute to people wanting to spend money here, we will find ourselves without enough funds to do the things we need to do,” Nohr said. “And, third, transportation (is a challenge facing the city). There are only two main routes into town — Lake Road and Sixth Avenue, and Lake Road is on an active slide zone. It only takes a few really wet winters to have some problems there. So what are we doing … to make sure (the city’s) transportation (system) contributes to the needs of the community?”

Asked why he believed the Council should appoint him to replace Roberts, Nohr said he has participated in local governments as a member of public safety services for over 20 years and feels that he understands how local government works and what Council members can do to help move the city forward.

“I understand local government. I understand the system,” Nohr said, “You can rail against the system or you can change the system from within, but you have to understand the system first.”

Councilman Tim Hein asked Nohr to describe what he believes is the role of a city council member and to tell the Council how he would be an effective city councilor.

Nohr said he believes the role of a city council is to “set broad guidelines and delegate to the city administrator to make sure (those guidelines) happen.”

“The Council represents the people,” Nohr said, “and it’s about understanding the needs (of the community) … and asking people what they need.”

To be an effective Council member, Nohr said he would focus on “understanding those needs, asking the important questions and working with other Council members to provide feedback to city staff to make sure they’re moving in the right direction.”

Nohr added that one of his strengths is that he truly likes to understand people better and find out what makes them tick.

“I want to understand people — what motivates them?” Nohr said. “I ask a lot of questions … to break down the issues and find a common goal.”

Other applicants for the vacant Council position included:

  • Camas Planning Commission member Shawn High, a flight attendant and co-owner of a Camas dog-training business, who ran for the Council’s Ward 1, Position 2 seat in 2021;
  • Samantha Horner, a native of the East Vancouver-Camas area, who moved back to Camas in 2016 and helped her sister run Cake Happy in downtown Camas for seven years before going to work for the Camas-Washougal Chamber of Commerce as an administrative assistant in 2021;
  • Geoerl Niles, another member of the Camas Planning Commission, executive director of Ascend International Ministries and lead pastor of The Calling Church, who, like High, ran for the Council’s Ward 1, Position 2 seat during the 2021 primary election;
  • Gary Perman, a lifelong Camas resident and businessman who also ran for Council in 2021, and advanced to the general election in November 2021, where lost the Ward 1, Position 2 seat to Councilwoman Marilyn Boerke; and
  • Deanna Rusch, a Vancouver attorney and former Camas City Council member. Following the loss of her Ward 1, Position 1 Council seat to Roberts during the November 2019 general election, Rusch continued to serve the Camas community and now serves on the boards of directors for at least three local nonprofit organizations, including the West Columbia Gorge Humane Society, the 100+ Women Who Care charitable group and the grant-funding Camas-Washougal Community Chest.

Councilmembers and Mayor Hogan went into a closed executive session for 20 minutes following the applicants’ interviews, and then took one of two roll-call votes.

In the first roll-call vote, three members of the Council — Greg Anderson, Marilyn Boerke and Bonnie Carter — voted to appoint Rusch to her former Council seat. Councilman votDeanna Rusch, a former Camas City Council member who lost her Ward 1, Position 1 seat to Roberts during the November 2019 general election.

Councilman Hein voted to appoint Niles, Councilman Don Chaney voted to appoint Nohr and Councilwoman Leslie Lewallen voted to appoint Perman.

With no majority winner in the first roll-call vote, the Council went back into an executive session for an additional 10 minutes.

When they emerged, Nohr was victorious, with all but two members of the Council agreeing to appoint him to the vacant Ward 1 seat. Boerke stuck with her vote for Rusch, while Lewallen changed her vote to Niles.

Mayor Hogan thanked all of the Council applicants and said Nohr will be sworn-in to his new position during the Council’s 7 p.m. meeting on Monday, Oct. 17. Nohr will serve on the Council through Nov. 28, 2023. Voters will choose a permanent Ward 1, Position 1 Council member during the November 2023 general election.