Nine apply to fill vacant Camas City Council seat

Applicants include former Camas City Councilwoman Deanna Rusch, several candidates who ran for council and school board seats in 2021

Former Camas City Councilwoman Deanna Rusch is one of nine applicants hoping to be appointed to the Ward 1, Position 1 Camas City Council seat left vacant in July 2022 after the unexpected resignation of Councilwoman Shannon Roberts. (Contributed photo courtesy of Deanna Rusch)

Camas Planning Commission member and former Camas City Council candidate Shawn High is one of nine applicants hoping to be appointed to the vacant Ward 1, Position 1 Camas City Council seat. (Contributed photo courtesy of Shawn High)

Camas Planning Commission member and former Camas City Council candidate Geoerl Niles is one of nine applicants hoping to be appointed to the vacant Ward 1, Position 1 Camas City Council seat. (Contributed photo courtesy of Geoerl Niles)

Lifelong Camas resident and former Camas City Council candidate Gary Perman is one of nine applicants hoping to be appointed to the vacant Ward 1, Position 1 Camas City Council seat. (Contributed photo courtesy of Gary Perman)

Former Camas School Board candidate Jeremiah Stephen is one of nine applicants hoping to be appointed to the vacant Ward 1, Position 1 Camas City Council seat. (Contributed photo courtesy of Jeremiah Stephen)

The Camas City Council will consider nine applicants hoping to fill the Ward 1, Position 1 Council seat left vacant this summer, after the surprise resignation of then-Councilwoman Shannon Roberts on July 27.

The Council will hold two public meetings leading up to the appointment of the new Council member, and plan to discuss the nine applicants in an executive session closed to the public on Sept. 19, before announcing which candidates will be asked to proceed with a more formal interview process.

The Council will schedule a special meeting to interview the applicants and make an appointment to the vacant Ward 1 seat. If the Council does not appoint a replacement for Roberts’ seat before Oct. 24, the Clark County Council will select a new council member.

The selected Council member will begin their duties at the next regularly scheduled Council meeting and will serve the remainder of Roberts’ elected term, which ends on Nov. 28, 2023.

There are some familiar names among the nine applicants vying for Roberts’ former Council seat — including former Camas City Councilwoman Deanna Rusch, who lost to Roberts in the November 2019 election, during a local political shakeup that saw an incumbent mayor ousted by a write-in candidate, an incumbent Council member (Rusch) defeated by a political newcomer (Roberts) in a 44% to 56% vote and a 9-1 trouncing of a $73 million city bond measure to construct a public community-aquatics center.

In her application letter, Rusch — an active community volunteer who currently serves as the co-chair for the West Columbia Gorge Humane Society board of directors, president of the Camas-Washougal Community Chest board of directors and a member of the Downtown Camas Association’s board of directors — told Council members she had enjoyed her time on the Council (2017-19) and thought the experience would allow her “to hit the ground running.”

“I am not interested in making city issues partisan, and I am truly independent — I vote on the issue at hand,” Rusch stated in her application to be named to the vacant Ward 1 seat. “I want to help make Camas an inclusive community where all of our citizens can live and thrive. I want to serve my community again and believe my experience will allow me to do so and to assume the position seamlessly.”

Rusch, a Vancouver attorney who has lived in Camas for seven years, said she would use her Council position to help ensure the city continues to plan for and manage “smart growth.”

“In four or five years, I hope some of the major projects the city is facing — infrastructure and buildings, specifically — have been started or thoroughly planned out.”

Rusch said she also would like to see the city have more affordable housing in five years.

“My vision for Camas is a thriving community where people can afford to live and work,” Rusch stated in her application.

Other applicants include former city council, school board candidates

Other Council hopefuls include several former local city council and school board candidates, including Camas Planning Commission members Shawn High, Geoerl Niles and Gary Perman, all of whom ran in the August 2021 primary election for the Council’s Ward 1, Position 2 seat — a race that Councilwoman Marilyn Boeerke won during the November 2021 general election.

High, a 14-year Camas resident and former Camas Library Board trustee, said during the run-up to the August 2021 primary election that some of his biggest interests, if elected to the Council, would be improving the city’s affordable housing options.

“I want to see Camas be a well-rounded town. It’s important for Camas to be that way,” High said. “But (around) 95 percent of what we’ve been building is 3,000- to 5,000-square-foot houses. Our teachers, firefighters, and city staff can’t afford to live here or even get an apartment here.”

In his application to the vacant Ward 1 seat, High, the parent of a Skyridge Middle School student who also serves on the board of the Washougal animal shelter, the West Columbia Gorge Humane Society, said he believes the three major challenges facing the city of Camas today are managing and planning for growth; increasing citizens’ trust and participation in local government and “coming through with a solid plan for a wider variety of housing.”

“A better mix of housing in Camas is something that is overdue and is leading to a lot of growth anxiety from the community,” High stated in his application. “This has shown up in every community survey. Without more options, our longtime residents, city staff, teachers and first responders are slowly trickling away from Camas. We need to prioritize this to keep the small-town Camas feel.”

High, who served on the city’s planning commission as it worked its way through the city’s new Housing Action Plan, intended to diversify housing types and affordability in Camas, said he sees “many options” for achieving more affordable housing, including “incentivising smaller homes in the permit process, requiring larger developments to include varying sized homes, zoning changes, more mixed-use zoning and less conditional-use permits, while adding more outright permitted land uses (and) having an annual result check-in, with actual permits issued.”

Niles, the executive director of Ascend International Ministries and lead pastor of The Calling Church, also ran in the 2021 primary election for the Camas City Council’s Ward 1, Position 2 seat.

“My interest in becoming a member of our city council began over 12 years ago when I understood the value of involvement in the civil service side of our great town,” Niles stated in his application for the vacant Ward 1, Position 1 seat. “I began to take part by chairing our parking committee and then took a role within the planning commission, where I now serve as vice-chair alongside some amazing citizens and staff. … I believe with years of experience as a leader and supporter of our great city, I would bring a great deal of value, were I to be chosen to fill this position.”

Asked to detail what he saw as some of the “most significant challenges facing the city of Camas today,” Niles said he believes Lacamas Lake “is an enormous challenge that must be met with vigor.”

“I live on the east side of the lake, and it is one of the most widely used resources we manage,” Niles stated in his application. “We need to make these improvements more rapidly and make sure the waste running into our natural resource never happens again.”

Niles also said he believes “the North Shore project must be a shining example on how to utilize land without endangering our precious natural resources” and listed the hiring of a new police chief and fire chief as one of the biggest challenges facing the city today.

“In the past, we have seen city management positions and others becoming a stepping stone to other positions outside our community,” Niles stated. “I believe we must have a better vetting process in order to see these positions remain long-term.”

Gary Perman also ran for Council in 2021, and advanced to the general election in November 2021, where lost the Ward 1, Position 2 seat to Boerke in a vote of 49% to 51%, by a margin of 220 votes.

In his application to be appointed to the vacant Ward 1, Position 1 Council seat, Perman said he had already been “thoroughly vetted and examined by Camasonians during the last election process” and believed he could “be a valuable asset to the Council and the city in representing Ward 1.” ”

A lifelong resident of Camas-Washougal who grew up in Camas’ Ward 1 boundaries, Perman said he has “developed deep relationships with (the) Ward 1 community” and is known as “a positive and supportive neighbor.”

Asked how he might address the city’s “budgetary difficulties,” Perman said he would “collaborate with and learn from” the city’s staff, who he described as “the experts on our city budget,” as well as the city administrator and the rest of the Council.

From a citizen’s perspective, Perman said he assumes the city is facing “many large, critical capital expenses … like constructing new fire stations, wastewater treatment upgrades … evaluating parks and recreation projects/upgrades and still having enough money left over to pay for important transportation and road improvements throughout the city.”

Perman said he would want to “categorize all the needed and wanted items into prioritized buckets” then use those categories to “create short-term, medium-term and long-term budget calendar.”

“To develop new revenue, we should encourage and incentivize new businesses to come to Camas,” Perman stated in his application. “It is common knowledge that businesses have left Camas in the recent past. We should consider … actively recruiting companies to (locate) in Camas. I am a professional recruiter. I can definitely help with those efforts.”

Perman also signaled his support for a downtown sub-area plan, something Camas Mayor Steve Hogan and the Council are considering funding as part of the city’s biennial 2023-24 budget.

“There are many opportunities for smart, sustainable growth (in downtown Camas),” Perman stated in his application. “The downtown can be home to a lot of affordable housing and mixed-use development (as) it already has roads and public transportation resources it can rely upon.”

Other candidates for the vacant Ward 1, Position Council seat include:

  • Julia Kornyushin-Anderson is a licensed mental health professional who has volunteered at the Camas Farmer’s Market, describes their vision for the city of Camas in five years as “an inclusive and cohesive community that is thriving and continuing growth in equity and access to support services,” and said they believe “limited access to support services like mental health and substance treatment” is one of the challenges facing the city today: “I would like to lead the city of Camas toward creating accessible mental health and substance use treatment services, developing after-school activities to guide at-risk youth and supportive resources for the homeless population,” Kornyushin-Anderson stated in their application.

 

  • Samantha Horner, a native of the East Vancouver-Camas area, who moved back to Camas in 2016 and helped her sister run the Cake Happy business in downtown Camas for seven years before going to work for the Camas-Washougal Chamber of Commerce as an administrative assistant in 2021. Horner said some of the biggest issues she would want to tackle if appointed to the city council are bringing more transparency to the community in the hiring of certain high-level city staff positions, including the police chief, fire chief, city administrator and community development director; addressing pollution in the lakes; reviewing all proposals for the North Shore infrastructure to ensure it supports the major growth and development that is anticipated for this area,” addressing what she believes is a community desire to build a community pool in Camas, and working with Koch Industries to come up with “a plan that suits both our community and their future vision” for the paper mill property in downtown Camas.

 

  • John Nohr, a 35-year firefighter who now serves as the fire chief for Clark-Cowlitz Fire Rescue in northwest Clark County and southwest Cowlitz County, is a long-time resident of Camas’ Ward 1. “I have had the opportunity to grow with our community and experience many of the exciting changes that have occurred over the past three decades,” Nohr stated in their application to fill the vacant Ward 1 Council seat. “The impetus to serve on the City Council stems from my desire to see our community continue to grow and move forward in a manner that serves all our citizens.” If appointed to the Council, Nohr said they would try to help keep the city moving in what he considers the right direction: “I have long wanted to serve on the city council to help keep the forward momentum moving,” Nohr said. “I have reached a point in my career where I can consistently provide the time and energy necessary to be a productive member of the city council.” Nohr said they would like to see city leaders be more proactive when it comes to the city’s infrastructure. “It is always better to make the repairs and upgrades upfront rather than trying to fix a system after it has failed,” Nohr stated in their application. “The same is true for our water system, sewer system, electric supply system … and multiple other systems that we take for granted each day.”

 

  • Hawk Rolewicz, a former commercial airlines pilot and flight instructor who currently owns Smokie River Smoked Meats in Camas, said they would draw on their professional and military history if appointed to the Council. “The Marine Corps and then 22 years as a commercial pilot I have received and taught many skills that I can bring to Camas,” Rolewicz stated in their application. “Both occupations strongly emphasized teamwork. If the team isn’t successful, then neither am I.”

 

  • Jeremiah Stephen, a Vancouver insurance agent and 2021 Camas School Board candidate, said their vision for Camas in the next five years is “to create transparency for the community and encourage involvement from the community,” Stephen stated in their application. “We have a great community and besides a few hiccups along the way we need to keep encouraging more residents to be involved. Creating an atmosphere that attracts families means having a safe community where residents feel secure enough to raise their future families,” Stephen stated. “Encouraging and inviting industry into our community will provide benefits that will last generations. Sustaining and responsibly developing our natural resources is crucial to our continued success and taking care of our lakes and rivers to improve and secure their use for our community. Using our land to develop the most thoughtful and useful home development. Working with the paper mill to guarantee the land is returned to Camas in as good or better condition and to listen to what the people of Camas expect from this and other projects the city takes on.”

Editor’s Note: This article was edited on Sept. 28, 2022, to correct inaccurate information regarding Council applicant Samantha Horner. Horner helped her sister run Cake Happy in downtown Camas. The business closed its storefront in December 2021, but still does custom orders and sells its baked goods at Cedar Street Bagels in Camas. The Post-Record strives for accuracy and regrets the error.