Camas mayoral candidates make pitch to voters

Camas Mayor Steve Hogan faces challenge from avid volunteer Randal Friedman

Camas Mayor Steve Hogan (center) and Camas City Councilman Tim Hein (left) talk to one of two city administrator candidates, Bristol Ellington during an open house at the Camas School District headquarters, Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2022. (Kelly Moyer/Post-Record files)

Randal Friedman stands near the solar canopy being constructed in the front yard of his Camas home, Monday, Nov. 18, 2019. Friedman, a longtime Rotary Club volunteer, is hoping voters will elect him to be Camas' mayor during the Nov. 7 general election. (Kelly Moyer/Post-Record files)

Camas voters will soon decide who will lead their city for the next four years.

There are two candidates vying to be Camas’ mayor in the Nov. 7 General and Special Election: Camas Mayor Steve Hogan and his opponent, Randal Friedman.

Both candidates recently spoke with The Post-Record about why they chose to run for Camas’ “strong mayor” position, a role that, with the assistance of the city administrator, is responsible for managing the day-to-day business of the city and for coming up with a biennial budget based on the needs of the city’s departmental leaders and the policies set by the Camas City Council.

The incumbent: Steve Hogan

Camas Mayor Steve Hogan has a long history of serving Camas as a public servant and volunteer. Prior to being elected mayor in 2021, Hogan served on the Camas City Council for 16 years and was elected by his peers as the city’s mayor pro tem in 2014, 2017 and 2021. He also has served on the city’s finance committee, planning commission, Georgia-Pacific Mill Advisory Committee, and on the board of directors for the Columbia River Economic Development Council and the Clark County Ending Community Homelessness organization.

Hogan has volunteered with the Camas-Washougal Rotary Club, was a founding board member of the Downtown Camas Association, served as the president of the Camas Education Foundation and was a youth soccer coach for three decades.

When he was elected mayor in 2021, the city of Camas was at a crossroads. Voters had elected a last-minute write-in mayoral candidate, Barry McDonnell, during the contentious “pool bond” election of November 2019, which saw a voter backlash to a city proposal that would have built a $78 million community-aquatics center and upgraded Camas sports fields throughout the city. A little more than one year later, however, McDonnell had quit, saying the mayoral position was taking up too much of his emotional and physical presence. McDonnell’s handpicked city administrator also resigned from his position in 2021, and then, in March 2022, Camas’ fire chief resigned unexpectedly. One month later, Camas’ long-time police chief gave notice of his retirement.

“When I came in, Camas was a mess,” Hogan said of his early days as the city’s elected mayor. “It was clear to me that the senior staff was feeling that this was a landslide, a catastrophic failure about to happen.”

Hogan, whose professional background includes four decades as a senior manager and chief operating officer in the recycled paper, wood and steel industries, said he relied on his managerial skills as well as his coaching background to help calm Camas’ department heads.

“Managing is a lot like coaching,” Hogan said. “To get high performance out of an organization, you have to make people feel comfortable. It was fundamental that we had faith that we were going to be able to move forward. I had to make them understand that it was not going to be a catastrophe or disappear off the face of the Earth. This is a 100-year-old business and every city in the world has to deal with the same types of problems.”

Hogan, who earned his master’s of business administration degree from Seattle University and his bachelor’s degree in business administration finance from the University of Washington, said he felt confident in his ability to turn the city’s ship around.

“I told the staff, ‘If you have real problems, bring them to me,’” Hogan said. “We have a talented staff and I’ve worked with many of them for 16 years.”

Hogan said he knew that, if he could help stabilize the city through filling key positions, “we could grow properly and we would be back on track.”

Over the next two years, Hogan worked to recruit, hire and retain a new city administrator, police chief, fire chief, internet technology department head and community development director.

He also met one-on-one with city staff and department heads to find out what Camas’ staff needed in their individual departments.

The city also was just coming out of the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic and had several huge infrastructure needs, including reports showing that the Camas-Washougal Fire Department needs to replace two of its three fire stations and plan for a new station to accommodate Camas’ growth, and a public works building that was in desperate need of an expansion or rebuild.

“A lot of the infrastructure things couldn’t even get on the agenda,” Hogan said, noting that the city was unable to spend money on infrastructure during the COVID-19 emergency. Once the city could concentrate on non-pandemic issues, Hogan wanted city council officials to prioritize his department heads’ needs and wants.

“We had some knock down, drag out sessions … but we ended up coming to where we had priorities,” Hogan said. “I’m CEO of the city right now, so I wanted to come up with priorities that were basically ranked one through five.”

The top priorities – what Hogan called the “ones and twos” were things that were either mandated as must-dos by the state or federal governments or were things that needed to be fixed immediately to keep providing the same level of service Camas residents expected. Next were items that, if not taken care of, could pose a risk to Camasonians.

“If there were people bringing things up that were truly risks, we wanted to prioritize that,” Hogan said, noting that cybersecurity for the city also made its way into that third “risk” category.

The “fours and fives” were the department leaders’ top “wants,” Hogan said. And finally, the lowest priorities — “things you need to do but that are not the biggest things in the world,” said Hogan — were listed as “fives” going into the city’s 2023-24 budget process.

When the Council said it wanted to include all of the “fours” in the mayor’s proposed budget, Hogan said he was a bit caught off-guard, but worked to come up with a revenue package — a mix of the city’s allowed 1% annual property tax levy increase and a 3% utility tax — that would accommodate the “wants and needs” the Council said it wanted to fund.

In the end, the Council would split its vote on the revenue packages and would discover that, without the 1% property tax levy increase, 3% utility tax and an unexpected decrease in the city’s property and sales taxes thanks to a slowing housing market, about 22 positions included in the biennial 2023-24 budget approved by the Council in December 2022, would need to be reconsidered by the end of 2023.

“That was the one thing I should have managed better,” Hogan said.

Now, the mayor is faced with finding revenues that can support the city’s host of infrastructure and staffing needs.

“If you sunset the utility tax, then what’s next?” Hogan asked.

“You don’t try to kick it down the road,” Hogan added, referring to the city’s “one through three” priorities that will need revenue sources. “We have to go back to what it is we want as a community. That will be a choice for the Council.”

Hogan said he also is adamant that the cities of Camas and Washougal need to find a solution to the funding woes facing the joint Camas-Washougal Fire Department, in which Washougal has had trouble paying for its roughly 40% share of services.

“We’re responsible for delivering when the two communities need (fire and emergency medical) services,” Hogan said. “We need to have good people, good fire stations where these people live, and we need (Washougal) to pay. We’re not going to lower the service. That’s not an option. … We have to be prepared and keep our (fire and EMS) equipment updated. This is not a partisan issue.”

Faced with the possibility of asking voters to approve both a bond to build a new CWFD fire station headquarters to replace the failing headquarters currently located beside Camas City Hall in downtown Camas and to create a new regional fire authority within the next two years, Hogan said he knows both asks may be “pretty hard sells.”

“We’re going to take some pretty bad abuse,” Hogan said. “But we have to deal with it. And the fire people know this could be a heavy lift and that they’ve got to be a part of it. I can’t go door to door as mayor, but they (fire department staff) can go door to door. And we’re going to need boots on the ground to sell it.”

Hogan touched on the amount of misinformation and disinformation that often permeates Camas’ social media networks during elections and when local officials are debating the city’s priorities.

“It wears you down,” Hogan said. “And it wears down the people who are most aware of it pretty quickly … That’s why we lost a lot of staff. They basically said, ‘If I go to another organization, I won’t have to deal with that stuff.”

Many Camas City Council candidates have mentioned the city’s need for a new swimming pool, but Hogan said he doesn’t think a pool is a top concern for most Camas residents.

“I think the surveys have shown it’s not a top priority,” Hogan said, adding that he does like the way Trang Lam, his head of parks and recreation, has approached the issue — seeking partnership opportunities with nonprofits such as the YMCA and giving realistic timelines and cost estimates to city officials.

“I like the way she’s thinking about it,” Hogan said of Lam’s research into what it might take to someday have an outdoor or indoor swimming pool in Camas. “She is a good professional person and, with an indoor pool, knows it’s important for the community to have a good understanding of what it’s going to cost.”

Describing himself as “a better manager than a politician,” Hogan said he loves the day-to-day business of running a city.

“I love to run enterprises, and I call ‘em like I see ‘em,” Hogan said. “I do think our heaviest lifts are still in front of us and that those are the things that are going to be important for Camas long after I’m gone.”

The Challenger: Randal Friedman

Though he may be relatively new to the Camas area, having moved to the city in 2019, after a 32-year career as a military civilian representative of the United States Navy to the state of California, and just before the COVID-19 pandemic upturned everyday life, Camas mayoral candidate Randal Friedman, has already positioned himself as an enthusiastic volunteer and keen follower of local politics — joining the local Rotary Club, volunteering with Meals on Wheels, becoming part of the local ivy-pulling group and participating in public comments during city council workshops and meetings. 

“I have a deep love for this city,” Friedman recently told The Post-Record. “It’s a special and magical place, and I care deeply about it. I’ve met lots of good people through Rotary (Club) and downtown … and I see lots of good things, as well as things we could do better.” 

Included on Friedman’s list of things he believes city leaders could improve is ensuring the Georgia-Pacific paper mill property is not only included in the City’s upcoming downtown subarea planning work, but also that the state is requiring the mill’s ongoing environmental cleanup meet standards that would someday allow people to live, work and play on the prime Camas waterfront property should the mill’s owners ever decide to completely shutter the company and sell the downtown acreage. 

“The downtown subarea plan must, in some way, include the mill property,” Friedman said. “That, in the end, is what drives the (environmental) cleanup … the Department of Ecology can’t make Koch Industries pay $20 (million), $30 (million), $40 million if it says it will stay industrial.”
When he discovered in 2021, that the state of Washington wanted to investigate and mitigate potential environmental contaminants on shuttered portions of the century-old mill site, Friedman, who had worked as  a government affairs manager for the United States Navy’s Southwest region for many years and helped the Navy meet stringent California environmental regulations as it cleaned up several sites, including two Superfund sites, rallied community members. During a 2021 public hearing before Ecology, Friedman and dozens of other Camas residents asked the state to consider stricter cleanup standards for the mill. 

In December 2021, the Downtown Camas Association appointed Friedman to the 11-member community advisory group Camas Mill Cleanup Advisory Group that acts as a conduit between the public and the ongoing environmental cleanup work at the mill. 

“People need to get an idea of what they would like to see done there,” Friedman said in 2021. “The more you can dial-in future uses, the more you can do a better job with cleanup and have a less-costly cleanup. We have a chance to get it right at the start.” 

Friedman said this month he is proud of the mill cleanup advisory group’s efforts to form partnerships in the region. 

“We have the makings of a new partnership with the Yakama Nation, and they’ve been very supportive. Their goals for the cleanup align with ours,” Friedman said, adding that the Columbia Riverkeeper environmental advocacy group also has been supportive of the mill cleanup efforts.

“We can’t do it ourselves, as a city,” Friedman said. “We need to partner with other organizations like the Riverkeepers and the Yakama Nation.”

Other issues important to Friedman include addressing Camas’ affordable housing shortage, strengthening the city’s historic downtown, looking into building a public swimming pool, dealing with “forever chemicals” in the city’s water system and investigating more sustainable options for city buildings and other public infrastructure. 

Friedman said that, if elected, as mayor he would work with developers to see what the city could do to promote the creation of more affordable housing units. 

“In the North Shore, there was no mention of (affordable housing) at all. No goals for it,” Friedman said. “I think there are things the City can offer that would help the developers (build) affordable housing. With the amount of development potential (in Camas), there is room to talk about how we can work with the development community. I would like to see stronger language (around affordable housing) in the comprehensive plan … because we need this type of housing for our service workers.”

Friedman said he has talked to many Camas residents who miss having a public swimming pool in the city. 

“We have to have an honest conversation about it,” Friedman said of building another public pool in Camas. “I think (the demand) is larger than people realize. And there’s been a lot of finger-pointing in the past, but now we need to move forward.” 

Friedman said he would, as the city’s mayor, like to revisit the pool issue and see if there are some “more reasonably priced” options. 

Considering the major infrastructure needs facing the city of Camas, including the need for the City to replace its fire department headquarters, Friedman said he believes decisions like those impacting public safety “should not be political.” 

Friedman said he believes city officials have an obligation to provide information to the public that allows voters to make more informed decisions on things like whether or not they will agree to fund a bond to replace the downtown Camas fire station. 

“It is regrettable that we didn’t have the funds (to maintain the fire stations), but that’s in the rearview mirror,” Friedman said. “Now, we need to convince citizens (of the need to build a new fire station) and not use consultants — not try to make them feel like they’re being sold something.”

When he’s not volunteering or running for office, Friedman said he loves working in the garden he and his partner, artist Debbie Nagano, have created at their Camas home. 

“We love our garden here — everything about it,” Friedman said. “Just seeing it year to year, literally blossoming … and enjoying all the wildlife we have here. We have a bird population (that visits our) property, and it’s wonderful to see the restoration of this place.” 

The couple also enjoys traveling and exploring the area when possible, but Friedman said he also loves staying in Camas and fully committing his time to volunteer work. 

“Volunteering is wonderful,” he said. “My two boys are in their 30s, and when I look at the world we’re leaving them, I think we need to be doing more to correct the problems we’ve created and work on a more sustainable future.”

Campaign finance data exposes differences between two candidates

Although both candidates in this year’s Camas mayoral race have raised  similar amounts of money — a little over $22,000 for Camas Mayor Steve Hogan and $21,000 for his challenger, Randal Friedman — the sources behind these funds couldn’t be more different. 

Hogan, who spent 16 years on the Camas City Council before being elected the city’s mayor in 2021, has raised the majority of his funds from local individuals, while Friedman, who moved to Camas in 2019, following a three-decade career representing the U.S. Navy to the state of California and jumped into volunteer work with local Rotary, Meals on Wheels and ivy-pull groups, has raised the majority of his funds from himself, his wife and out-of-state individuals. 

According to filings recorded by the Washington Public Disclosure Commission (PDC), as of Oct. 17, Hogan has raised $22,595 for his second mayoral campaign, with 65% ($14,590) coming from individuals, 17% ($3,850) from businesses, 15% ($3,365) from sources recorded as “other” by the PDC and around 3% ($790) from political action committees (PACs).

All but one of Hogan’s campaign donors live in Washington state, with the one exception a $250 donation from a Portland resident. 

Hogan has collected seven donations of $1,000 or more, including a $1,0000 donation from the Washington Association of Realtors Political Affairs Council; a $1,000 donation from Vancouver resident Albert Angelo, the president of the property management company Angelo Albert, Co.; $1,200 apiece from Seattle residents Constantinos and Jeannine Christofilis; and a $1,000 donation from Camas resident Bev Bernardi. 

Hogan also collected 10 donations between $500 and $750, including $500 donations from former Camas Mayor Scott Higgins and his wife, Allison Higgins; a $750 donation from the Clark County Democratic Central Committee; a $750 donation from Daniel Schooler, vice president of Waste Connections; and a $500ion from former Camas City Councilman Tim Hazen. Other notable donations to Hogan’s campaign included a $250 donation from Camas School District Superintendent John Anzalone and a $250 donation from current Camas City Council candidate John Svilarich. 

In contrast, Friedman’s campaign is mostly self-financed, with infusions from family and out-of-state donors.  

As of Oct. 17, Friedman had raised $21,000, according to PDC filings, with around 71% of that amount ($15,000) coming from Friedman himself. Friedman’s partner, Debra Nagano, also contributed $1,200 to his campaign. 

Out-of-state donations to Friedman include $1,200 from Aaron Nagano, a Goldman Sachs lawyer from New Jersey; $500 from Alan Friedman, of California; $500 from Otome Nagano, of California; $1,200 from Siran Tanielyan, a New Jersey financial analyst; and $400 from California attorney Jeremy Jungreis. 

Friedman also collected a donation of $500 from Susan Knilans, of Camas. 

Friedman’s campaign has taken in $350 in small donations, as well as a $150 donation from former Camas resident Marie Tabata-Callerame, now of Vancouver, who has long advocated for city of Camas officials to look into the Lacamas Shores biofilter, which she and others believe is contributing to Lacamas Lake’s toxic algal blooms. 

According to PDC data, both Camas mayoral candidates have already spent the majority of their campaign funds. As of Oct. 17, Hogan has spent $15,039, while Friedman has spent $23,120.