Election 2023: Camas City Councilwoman Bonnie Carter, challenger Ry Luikens compete for Council’s Ward 2, Position 1 seat

Nov. 7 election will decide fate of four Camas City Council seats

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Camas City Councilwoman Bonnie Carter (left) and her opponent, Ry Luikens (right), are vying for the Council's Ward 2, Position 1 seat in the Nov. 7, 2023, General and Special Election. (Contributed photos courtesy of Bonnie Carter and Ry Luikens)

Camas voters will decide the fate of four Camas City Council races in the Nov. 7 General and Special Election. Of those four races, only three are considered competitive — with Councilwoman Jennifer Senescu running unopposed for her Ward 3, Position 1 seat. 

The three competitive races include the Council’s at-large position, which represents constituents citywide. Councilman Don Chaney said earlier this year that he planned to step down from his long-held Council position, which leaves no incumbent in the at-large race. Instead, longtime Camas volunteer John Svilarich and Stephen Dabasinskas, a former law enforcement officer turned business executive who enjoys coaching youth basketball teams, are vying for Chaney’s at-large seat in the Nov. 7 election. 

Chaney’s exit would make Councilwoman Bonnie Carter the senior-most Council member, if voters re-elect Carter to her Ward 2, Position 1 seat. Carter’s opponent, Camas newcomer Ry Luikens, is hoping voters will respond to his campaign promises to clean up Lacamas Lake, build a new public swimming pool and give residents more of a voice in city decisions. 

The incumbent: Bonnie Carter

If voters re-elect her to the Camas City Council Ward 2, Position 1 seat for a third time since her Council appointment in February 2015, Bonnie Carter will become the Council’s senior-most member. 

“I was really OK being a junior member,” Carter said recently, laughing. “But I feel the obligation to stay on and, hopefully, support Mayor Hogan in keeping things stable and moving us ahead with our projects and trying to educate newer Council members on their roles.”
Over the past few years, Carter has been an advocate on the Council for the types of projects various reports and seasoned staffers have said are critical to the future of Camas’ public services. This includes advocating for revenue streams that will help the City move forward with infrastructure projects that have been put on the back burner in past years. 

“We have budgeted in this current biennial budget for the planning for infrastructure,” Carter said. “Fixing the library, searching out a replacement location for the fire station headquarters — we are moving ahead with those planning documents. You always have to have a plan before you can write a grant … and our staff is really good at getting grant-funding. They can usually tailor our projects to that grant, and that’s a huge advantage to us.” 

Having sat on the Council for nearly a decade, Carter knows the City is facing a few critical decisions in the next few years. 

“There is going to be a lot of building and construction going on in the next five to 10 years,” she said, “and people need to be ready for that because change is hard, and they’re going to be concerned.”
But Carter said the fact remains that the City has “come to a critical mass” on several necessary infrastructure needs and officials must not keep kicking things down the road. 

“Over the past 20 years, we’ve been running really lean,” Carter said. “We as a city have not wanted to talk about additional taxes or increasing them.”

Carter would like to help educate the general public about the taxes available to the City. For instance, when City officials talk about taking the 1% property tax levy increase each year, that does not mean the City is going to increase everyone’s property taxes by 1%. Rather, that is the increase in the total amount of property tax revenue the City can bring in each year, Carter said, and that roughly $100,000 is spread evenly amongst all Camas property taxpayers, resulting in an average increase of around $1 a month. 

“And that 1% doesn’t even keep up with inflation,” Carter noted. 

In her candidate statement, Carter said she has been dedicated to “maintaining Camas values of safe neighborhoods, a clean environment, planned growth and accessibility for all” during her nine years on the Council. 

“Through stable and unstable times, our collective priorities of needs and wants have been reviewed, analyzed and discussed to look at the full scope in order to avoid unintended consequences,” Carter stated. 

In fact, Carter learned a hard lesson about “unintended consequences” in 2019, as a member of the city council that elected to bring a $78 million aquatics-community center bond to the voters. After 90% of voters in the 2019 general election knocked the bond down, Carter and other Council members reflected on why the proposal had failed so spectacularly. 

“The bond was supposed to go to voters in 2019, but we weren’t able to get all of the information nailed down and secured by the deadline,” Carter said. “We set the vote before we had the information. Did we learn from that? Yes, yes we did.”
Since then, city officials — including Carter — have pushed for more public outreach during the project-planning process for everything from the roundabout built at the Everett-Lake intersection in Northeast Camas shortly after the failed “pool bond,” to the creation of the Lakes Management Plan shared with the public last month.

Although city staff and consultants have included more public outreach in their project planning, Carter said she believes city officials can do more to connect with their constituents. 

“We have a lot of information that is not being pushed out. People have to come to our website to find it,” Carter said. “We do push out on social media, but our information is factual. What gets people’s attention is splashy, catchy phrases and so, sadly, when you have to get facts out there, it’s not exciting.”
Officials “have to continue to reach out to people,” Carter said. “We have to figure out a way of doing that that is not just telling folks to call or email or go to a website.” 

Carter said she likes some of the outreach she’s seen the city’s parks and recreation director doing during summertime events in Camas parks, and would like to explore how city officials might build on that idea. 

“I listen to everyone’s comments,” Carter said. “Even the ones who tell me I’m trying to ruin my hometown. I still listen to their complaints, and I try really hard to stay neutral and advocate for them.”
That level of professionalism can be tough in the face of rumors that sometimes take on a life of their own online and in certain Camas circles. 

“I know some people have formed a judgment in their mind and no matter what facts we can present, they don’t want to hear it,” Carter said. “They’re just angry … and I don’t know if it’s about (the city council) or just other things in their life.” 

The negative reactions have not stopped Carter, who has worked as an administrative assistant in the Camas School District since 2014, from wanting to pitch in and help her community. 

“Like everybody else who ends up here, when you visit Camas you feel that special, small-town feeling. It’s a gorgeous area with Mount Hood at the end of the road, the lakes, the trees. It’s a beautiful town,” Carter said. “And I like people, so I built community and got involved with the schools, the PTA and projects that would benefit my neighborhood. When I got on the Council, I was already in volunteer groups, giving my input. I was on the (Camas Educational Foundation) board during the Great Recession and fundraising is tough when no one has money, when everyone is listing their houses. You have to be able to think outside the lines a little.” 

As a Councilwoman, Carter often brings up topics — including sustainability and tree preservation — that other Council members might pass over. If re-elected, Carter said she would like to see the City work more with the Port of Camas-Washougal on sustainability issues. 

“The Port has really been doing great work,” Carter said. “I’d like to learn more about what they’re doing and let them take the leadership (on sustainability). We’re going to be getting our open space and urban tree program going and are working right now with (Washington’s Department of Natural Resources) to figure out what that program is going to look like.”
Knowing city officials also will need to partner with regional, statewide and federal partners to help clean the Lacamas Creek watershed that is the main source of pollutants like phosphorus that feed toxic algal blooms in Lacamas and Round lakes, Carter said she would like to see an emphasis on education. 

“I like to be the ripple in the pond that goes on and on and remind people of these things,” Carter said. “Eventually, people will think about how they can impact sustainability. If you tell people they need to stop doing this right now, they’ll turn away and not comply.” 

Carter and her husband have been married for over 30 years and are the parents of four sons — the eldest is 27 and the youngest just started college this year. 

“I’m happy to see our sons going into the next stages of their lives,” Carter said. 

And when it comes to Camas, Carter said she has no agenda with her role on the city council other than to help improve the town where she’s raised her family. 

“I have experience. I have historical knowledge. And I’m here to serve,” Carter said.

The challenger: Ry Luikens

When Camas City Council candidate Ry Luikens was exploring Camas properties in 2019, he noticed something big going on around his new community. 

“I would drive around and see all of these signs and one kept sticking out to me,” Luikens, 38, recently told The Post-Record. “I saw them everywhere – No on the Pool Bond.”

To Luikens, an Arizona native who had lived in major cities throughout the world, including New York City and Cairo, Egypt, while working as a photojournalist and, later, mentoring entrepreneurs in the technology industry, the signs coming out against a proposal asking Camas voters to approve a $78 million bond that would have built a community center with two pools, including a competition pool for local swim teams, and improved sports fields throughout the city, seemed like something that was uniting instead of dividing the community. 

“People were rejecting something. They had found a way to get catalyzed toward some common purpose,” he said. 

For Luikens, he saw a community “together and united” against the bond. 

“United, we are a people who cannot be divided,” Luikens said. 

He liked the energy of Camas and wanted to “be a part of the conversation and decision-making.” 

He and his wife began looking for a home to buy in Camas, where they would raise their young family, which now includes two children, ages 3 and 1. Of course, soon after moving to Camas, the family found themselves smack dab  in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic and its public health shutdowns. 

“Coming out of the pandemic, with two kids, we found it hard to meet new people,” Luikens said. “So, I would show up to Caffe Piccolo or Hidden River or Squeeze and Grind and talk to people.”
Eventually, Luikens would form a 100-member group he called the Camas Coffee Club. 

“People in their 20s to early 90s would show up, and I got to hear everything they love about Camas and what they hope they will see in the future.”
Luikens said there seemed to be four main categories of concern — the direction the city was taking with regards to new developments; the environmental health of Lacamas Lake; the need for a public swimming pool to replace the failing Crown Park pool the City demolished in 2018; and the feeling that Camas residents did not have a voice in local government decisions. 

“There is a feeling that folks aren’t being heard,” Luikens said.

The Camas newcomer decided to take these ideas and incorporate them into a run for the Camas City Council’s Ward 2, Position 1 seat currently held by longtime Camas Councilwoman Bonnie Carter. 

Luikens’ campaign slogan spoke to the coffee club members’ biggest issues: “Your Lake. Your Pool. Your Voice” 

Imagine a Camas shaped by your voice,” Luikens stated in his online candidate statement. “Picture Lacamas Lake, our shared treasure, shimmering and pristine — a symbol of our collective commitment to the environment. Visualize our community pool — reborn, revived, resurrected, becoming once again a hub for generations of family bonding and learning, without excessive financial burden. This is the Camas I dream of, and for which I’ll fight.”

In a video posted to Youtube detailing Luikens plan for his first 100 days if elected to the city council, he says he wants to retest Lacamas Lake waters, essentially redoing a years worth of work already completed by the City between June 2022 and June 2023 — the results of which form the basis of the draft Lakes Management Plan now before the Camas City Council. 

Luikens said he believes the community feels “left out of the process” despite numerous open houses, news articles, city council workshops and meetings on the lake testing and creation of the draft Lakes Management Plan. 

“It doesn’t feel great that we are going to commit to non-sustainable solutions,” Luikens said, referring to a recommendation from city staff that Camas officials begin in-lake treatments to bind and make unusable the phosphorus coming from the lake’s sediment and, mostly, from the 67-square-mile Lacamas Creek watershed, as a short-term solution to prevent toxic algal blooms that threaten the health of humans and animals. 

Luikens said he believes there are “more innovative and more sustainable and potentially less harmful” solutions than those recommended in the draft Lakes Management Plan, but did not explain what those solutions might be.

He would like to see the City stop using phosphate-based fertilizers. City staff has said they are phasing out the City’s phosphate fertilizers and plan to use non-phosphate fertilizers in the future. 

When it comes to the second part of Luikens’ campaign promises — building a public, outdoor swimming pool — he has said he is “aggressively interested” in (Camas) selecting a site for a new pool, “cutting through the red tape” and prioritizing a pool in the budget. 

“We need to work with a diverse group of stakeholders — in Camas, Washougal, the Port, the YMCA — to come up with a shortlist of viable sites based on monies we’ve allocated to build (a pool),” Luikens said. “We have to ask people, ‘Is this what you want?’ and then they have to have a seat at the table and truly feel like they’ve engaged in the process.” 

In his candidate statement, Luikens says Camas is at a crossroads. 

“Activating my diverse experience in sustainable development, startup growth, and community engagement, I’m ready to meet our city’s challenges head-on,” Luikens stated. “Our city’s potential is limitless, mirrored by the spirit of its residents. We deserve leadership that respects and champions the aspirations of all Camasonians.”