Camas narrows city administrator search

Mayor, city council members interview two 'very strong' candidates for city's top job

Camas city administrator candidate Robert Pickels (center) talks with Camas Mayor Steve Hogan (right) and a community member during an open house at the Camas School District's Zellerbach Administration Center, on Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2022. (Kelly Moyer/Post-Record)

Camas city administrator candidate Bristol Ellington (center) talks with Camas Mayor Steve Hogan (far left), Hogan's wife, Mary Beth Hogan (second from left) and Camas City Councilman Tim Hein (right) during an open house at the Camas School District's Zellerbach Administration Center, on Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2022. (Kelly Moyer/Post-Record)

Bristol Ellington

Robert Pickels

Four months after Camas Mayor Steve Hogan announced the city was going back to the drawing board following its nationwide search for a new city administrator, Hogan and other city officials are interviewing two new candidates for the city’s top staff position.

City staff, officials and community members gathered inside the Camas School District’s main meeting room on Tuesday, Sept. 13, to meet with the two city administrator finalists: Bristol Ellington, the deputy city manager and chief operating officer for the city of Henderson, Nevada — Nevada’s second-largest city with more than 320,000 residents, located 16 miles from Las Vegas — and Robert Pickels, a Vancouver resident who served as a city attorney for the city of Sedona, Arizona, and as a county administrator in Yuma County, Arizona, before moving to Clark County to be closer to family in Camas and the Portland-metro area.

Prior to the community open house Tuesday evening, the two city administrator candidates met with Camas city staff, city council members and leaders from the Downtown Camas Association to learn more about the city of Camas and tour the city’s various neighborhoods, including the historic downtown business district.

Both Ellington and Pickels have backgrounds in city and county leadership. Ellington served as an assistant city manager, director of community development and assistant director of community development prior to taking on the deputy city manager position in Henderson in 2018. And Pickels worked as a chief civil deputy county attorney and civil deputy county attorney before serving as a county administrator and city attorney in Arizona.

“They are both very strong candidates,” Hogan said, adding that he expects to make a decision on the city administrator position soon, but doesn’t want to rush his decision.

In May, after community members met with the city’s top-four city administrator candidates, Hogan said he was hoping “to be dazzled” by the applicants — which included two city managers

for small towns in Oregon and Washington; Olympia’s assistant city manager; and a community services and library director from Arizona — but that none of the candidates “had the whole package.”

“Camas is growing like a weed and it’s taking more and more talented staff to take care of everything we’re doing inside the city government,” Hogan told The Post-Record in May. “We need to increase our expertise and knowledge of how to adapt to a growing city. It’s better to take our time and get a person who has a really good knowledge of how governments work in both forms of governments.”

In a video statement posted to the city’s website on May 23, the mayor noted that the city has some “pretty unique and significant issues (its) dealing with right now” and listed ongoing issues with the city’s joint fire department, a three-year computer system update, and “significant facilities needs.”

“So it’s more than just the average city administrator (responsibilities) we’re dealing with,” Hogan said. “We’re looking for someone with a city manager skill set rather than a city administrator.”

The city has been without a permanent city administrator for more than a year. Former city administrator Jamal Fox quit unexpectedly in May 2021, less than one year into his role running the city’s day-to-day business.

The Camas City Council approved an interim city administrator contract in July 2021, with Jeff Swanson, a former Battle Ground city manager and contract community development director for the city of La Center.

In early 2022, city officials hired Raftelis, an Ohio-based recruitment firm, to lead a nationwide search for a permanent city administrator. Hogan announced on April 28 that city officials and Raftelis consultants had whittled a list of 34 city administrator applicants down to four top candidates. In May, Hogan said he planned to ask city officials to OK a salary increase for the city’s staff position and would ask Raftelis to keep the job search open, but alter the job title to city administrator/city manager and adjust the salary range.

On June 6, the Camas City Council voted unanimously to increase the city administrator salary range by around 4%, to a range of $173,000 to $205,000 per year, bumping the city’s top pay scale step from $16,500 per month to $17,083 per month.

Hogan said he will consider input from city staff, city officials and community members — who were able to provide feedback on the city’s top two city administrator candidates through noon on Wednesday, Sept. 14 — before making his final decision.