Camas Council fills vacant Ward 3 seat

C-W Chamber of Commerce Director Jennifer Senescu to fill remainder of Greg Anderson’s term, through Nov. 28

The Camas City Council has appointed Camas-Washougal Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jennifer Senescu to fill former Councilman Greg Anderson’s vacant Ward 3 Council seat.

Anderson unexpectedly resigned from the position he’d held since 1997, in December 2022, just one year shy of the end of his most recent Council term.

The Council interviewed Senescu — a 1985 Camas High School graduate and recent Camas mayoral candidate who owns the Camas Gallery with her mother — as well as five other Council hopefuls during a special meeting on Friday, Feb. 17.

Other applicants hoping to fill the vacant Ward 3 seat included:

  • Attorney Megan Bynum, a four-year Camas resident who serves on two subcommittees for the Clark County Bar Association — the Diversity, Equity and Inclusivity subcommittee and the Judicial mentorship subcommittee — and is a member of the Washington Women Lawyers group;
  • Stephen Dabasinskas, the owner of a small business consulting firm and former law enforcement agent who moved to Camas nearly five years ago;
  • Randal Friedman, a retired California government affairs manager for the U.S. Navy’s Southwest region who moved to Camas in 2019, and has since been a vocal participant at Camas City Council meetings as well as a member of several local groups, including the Rotary Club of Camas-Washougal and the Camas Mill Community Advisory Committee;
  • Larry Larimer, a Camas resident for the past two decades who served as the Camas-Washougal Fire Department’s battalion chief from 2001 to 2018, and as a board member of The Living Truth Fellowship, an international Christian teaching and fellowship ministry (2012 to 2014), and HOPE, an advocacy and support group for caregivers of dementia and Alzheimer’s patients (current); and
  • John Svilarich, a 2022 Camas City Council candidate who has lived in the city for 21 years and has been served on several committees and local groups, including the Camas North Shore Citizens Advisory Committee (2022), the Deer Creek Homeowners Association Board of Directors (since 2004), the Camas Rotary and Kiwanis clubs, the Camas School Board Citizens Advisory Committee, the Port of Camas-Washougal Waterfront Advisory Committee and the Camas School District Long-term Facilities Planning Committee.

During the Council’s interviews on Feb. 17, the applicants explained why they wanted to serve on the city council and shared their thoughts on why the Council should appoint them to the vacant Ward 3 seat.

“My heart is with this city,” Senescu said. “I grew up here, and I believe in everything we’re doing. I have time to serve, to be a part of this team that makes decisions on behalf of our citizens. I know what a responsibility it is.”

Senescu, who helped oversee the 2022 Camas Days event that drew thousands of visitors to downtown Camas in July 2022, also spoke to what she calls “the magic of Camas” during her interview on Friday.

“It is magical, but it takes work to make it happen,” Senescu said, recalling a vendor issue that occurred during the 2022 Camas Days event to show how she might tackle disagreements or conflicts if appointed to the city council.

“When things are going wrong, I ask, ‘How can we make it right?'” she said. “You have to identify the problem and validate people’s feelings on both sides by thoughtfully listening and understanding what the conflict is.”

Senescu told the Council she is a good listener who enjoys communicating and engaging with other people.

“I love to hear other people’s opinions that don’t agree with (mine),” Senescu said, “because I get smarter, and sometimes I change my mind.”

When she ran in the 2022 mayoral campaign, Senescu said she enjoyed hearing from Camas community members about what was most important to them.

“People had concerns I didn’t even know about,” she said. “It was wonderful to hear from the community (as a mayoral candidate).”

Senescu added in her application that she felt like she needed to do more for her city, so she had decided to run for mayor in 2022.

“(It) was a wonderful experience that expanded my mind more than I could have imagined,” Senescu stated in her application. “I realized through that process that my purpose in this community is to serve with civility, compassion and collaboration.”

Asked to define some of the issues she believes will be most pressing for the city in the near future, Senescu stated in her application that she feels city leaders need to work on building trust between themselves and the community, “embrace the growth of the city” and work on attracting a diverse industry base “so that short-term economic conditions would not devastate a large portion of Camas’ tax base.”

“We need to make sure that this growth is sustainable and has a supportive infrastructure,” Senescu stated in her application. “For example, (in the city’s North Shore area) we must ensure that the design has the appropriate infrastructure to support the growth.”

The lifelong Camasonian also said she believes there is a lack of trust in local government.

“Across the nation, people are questioning our governing bodies. It is no different in Camas. As we face challenges, we need to act thoughtfully, taking into account all of the materials presented to us without preconceived notions. We need to do a better job of connecting and listening to our citizens,” Senescu stated in her application. “Rather than having them come to us to provide comments or soliciting input online, we should physically go to them and listen. Town halls, door-knocking efforts, open coffee hours for each councilor at local shops to hear various concerns, for example.”

The Council went into a closed executive session to debate the applicants’ qualifications. When they emerged 30 minutes later, the Council was deadlocked, with Councilmembers Don Chaney, Tim Hein and Leslie Lewallen casting votes for Senescu while Councilmembers Bonnie Carter and John Nohr voted for Larimer and Councilmember Marilyn Boerke cast her vote for Svilarich.

After another closed executive session, the Council again split their votes, with Boerke changing her vote to Larimer, for a 3-3 tie between Larimer and Senescu. After Mayor Steve Hogan announced the tie vote, he asked the Council if anyone wanted to change their vote.

Boerke then switched over to the Senescu camp, giving the Chamber director a majority 4-2 vote.

Senescu was sworn-in to her new role as a city councilor during the Council’s regular meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 21. Voters will elect a permanent Ward 3 Council representative during the November 2023 general election.