Election 2023: Councilman John Nohr faces challenger Gary Perman in race for the Camas City Council Ward 1, Position 1 seat

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

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Camas City Councilman John Nohr (left) and his opponent, Gary Perman, (right) are vying for the Council's Ward 1, Position 1 seat in the Nov. 7, 2023, General and Special Election. (Contributed photos courtesy of John Nohr and Gary Perman)

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; the Council’s Ward 2, Position 1 seat represented by Councilwoman Bonnie Carter; and the Ward 1 Position 1 seat.

Councilman John Nohr, appointed to the Council in October 2022, and lifelong Camas resident and business owner Gary Perman, are competing for the Ward 1, Position 1 seat. 

The incumbent: John Nohr

In October 2022, the Camas City Council interviewed six applicants to determine who might fill the Council’s Ward 1, Position 1 seat left vacant after Councilwoman Shannon Roberts quit unexpectedly in July 2022. 

Among the applicants was Clark-Cowlitz Fire and Rescue Fire Chief John Nohr. 

A Portland native who has lived in the Camas area since 1989, Nohr, 57, said his desire to serve the public prompted him to apply for the vacant city council seat.

“I’m looking for opportunities to serve the city and to help keep the city moving forward,” Nohr told the city council members in 2022. “If you’re not moving forward, you’re moving backward.”

Today, one year after his appointment to the Council, Nohr is hoping to retain his Council seat and spend the next four years making good on his promise to help move the City forward. 

“The city is very well run and has an excellent staff of directors and employees taking care of business and making it work well day to day,” Nohr recently told The Post-Record. 

If Nohr has the chance to stay in his Council seat, he plans to stay focused on the city’s looming infrastructure needs, particularly when it comes to repairing city streets, ensuring the city has safe drinking water and addressing the Camas-Washougal Fire Department’s station needs. 

“We need to work on getting our pavement preservation program back up and running,” Nohr said, referring to the city’s road maintenance efforts. “It had been put on hiatus during COVID and we need to dedicate proper funding to that.”

Nohr pointed out that the city of Camas only has two major roads going in and out of town, with “a few minor connectors.”
“We have to look, long-term, at how we handle the volume of traffic we might expect,” Nohr said. “We need a (road) network to get people where they need to be.”  

Infrastructure was Nohr’s No. 1 issue when he applied for the Council seat in 2022, and remains one of his top priorities if he is elected on Nov. 7.

“When I talk about infrastructure, it’s roads, but it’s also the things you don’t see,” Nohr said. “It’s the water lines, the sewer lines.”
And, for the veteran firefighter and fire chief, it’s also the infrastructure needed to ensure public safety and emergency medical response. 

“I am definitely going to be a champion for stabilizing and improving our fire and EMS service,” Nohr said. “I appreciate our local ambulance. It’s good to have that local control and to have local firefighters taking care of us.”
In fact, Nohr said, having a locally controlled and funded EMS division is something that drew him to Camas. 

“It’s one of the reasons I live here,” Nohr said. 

Addressing the current CWFD situation — which includes divisions over the funding formula between the cities of Camas and Washougal; the need to replace two of the fire departments’ three fire stations, including the CWFD headquarters in downtown Camas; and the possibility of asking voters to approve a regional fire authority — Nohr said he knows a lot of the fire department’s most pressing needs might “be a heavy lift” for some Camas voters.

“But when people know the issues and understand how it affects their safety and lives … they will feel much more comfortable supporting them,” Nohr said. “If we’re asking for (taxpayers’ money), we have to take the time to explain the need to as many people as we can. We need to explain why a modern fire station needs to be earthquake resistant, why we have to have space to do these programs.”

Of course, Nohr said, the City needs to figure out a way to pay for its infrastructure needs — which extend far beyond the fire station replacements, according to a 2022 report showing the City faced nearly $35 million worth of needed upgrades and repairs to 17 of its publicly owned buildings.

“You can’t pay for infrastructure if you don’t have financial stability,” Nohr said. “And it’s not just the buildings. It’s roads, parks, the water system, the library — all the things that make a healthy community.” 

And while he is always open to hearing his constituents’ complaints, Nohr said the majority of people he talks to are “very happy with what’s going on” in the city of Camas.
“Most people are really satisfied with city services and amenities,” he said. “But I do listen. I kind of pride myself on listening to people’s issues, and I’m absolutely happy to engage with citizens.”
After a year on the Council, Nohr said he wishes Camas officials could do more to help Camas residents understand how local government works. 

“I almost feel like we should have a ‘Civics 101’ workshop,” Nohr said. “We should explain to people how it works, here’s where your money goes.”
For instance, though he hears complaints about the City’s use of consultants, Nohr said this type of practice is common, especially among cities of Camas’ size. 

“Every city uses them,” Nohr said of outside consultants. “We would have to have four times the staff size (to avoid using consultants). But that doesn’t mean you just willy-nilly sign contracts. I want to ensure the City is getting the best financial deal it can.”

Nohr raised his 27-year-old twin daughters in Camas and said he loves living in his home Crown Park.  

“This is a wonderful community,” Nohr said of Camas. “There are so many positive things going on here. … I’m surrounded by good people with good senses of humor. And I serve with very good people on the Council. I have good neighbors, good friends. I’m surrounded by a lot of great people.” 

His love of Camas is one of the things that made Nohr want to serve on the city council in the first place. 

“My campaign slogan – ‘For work, for play, for community’ — is really how I feel,” Nohr said, explaining he wants to help create more job opportunities so Camas residents don’t have to commute outside the city or state each day, and take care of the City’s opportunities for “play,” which might be running on city trails, canoeing on one of the lakes, dining at a local restaurant or shopping in downtown Camas, Nohr said. “Let’s have a community where people really feel those things.”

Part of building a strong community, for Nohr, also means ensuring that all residents and visitors feel welcomed. 

“We need to be open to everyone, so they feel welcome and a part of the community,” Nohr said. “Because of my work … we serve everyone. And you have to open your ears and eyes and listen to the concerns from these different folks.”
When he graduated from Portland’s Roosevelt High School in 1984 — the most diverse high school in Oregon at the time — Nohr said he believed better days were ahead when it came to stamping out racism. 

“It felt like things were getting better,” Nohr said. “But now, 40 years later, racism is worse than I’ve ever seen it in my life. It’s out there and it’s overt racism. I absolutely will put a stop to it every time I see it. I will very strongly take a stand against racism — and misogyny — every time I see it.” 

When he’s not campaigning, working as a fire chief or volunteering as a board member for the North Clark Community Food Bank, Nohr enjoys spending time with his dogs — he has two and is caring for one of his daughter’s dogs — and taking his motorcycle on backcountry roads and trails to better explore the Pacific Northwest.

“I’m an adventure motorcycle enthusiast. I carry a lightweight tent with me and stop in these little towns. It’s great to get out and open your eyes to what’s out there,” Nohr said. 

If elected to the Camas City Council on Nov. 7, Nohr said he will work to gain the trust of his constituents and make Camas the type of community where people feel safe and welcome. 

“People want to trust their city government and know we’re doing the right things,” Nohr said. “T They want to live their lives and interact with their children, their family, their friends and not worry about what’s going on in city government. That’s why we must make sure our actions are as transparent as possible.” 

The challenger: Gary Perman

This is not the first time Camas City Council candidate Gary Perman has run a citywide campaign. 

In fact, in November 2021, Perman, a lifelong Camasonian, business owner and board member of the St. Matthew Lutheran Church in Camas, came within spitting distance of Councilwoman Marilyn Boerke in the race for the Council’s Ward 1, Position 2 seat and garnered 48% of the vote. 

“I lost by only 220 votes last time, so I had a lot of encouragement to run again,” Perman recently told The Post-Record. “And I live in Ward 1, near downtown, and we keep seeing rates go up and taxes increase … and it hits people in Ward 1 the hardest. We have a lot of older seniors and a lot of blue-collar workers in Ward 1, and I’ve known people from church who can’t afford to live here anymore.”
Perman, 62, who grew up in Camas when it was a mill town of around 5,000 people has watched his hometown increase its size nearly six times over.  

“I’m a firm believer that people in Ward 1 or Ward 2 shouldn’t be paying for the new developments (in the city’s newer areas),” Perman said. “Especially when the people in Ward 1 get no benefit whatsoever.” 

Perman is running in the Nov. 7 general election to represent Ward 1 again — this time in the Position 1 seat currently held by Councilman John Nohr. 

In his candidate statement, Perman says he believes Camas officials “continue to ignore the citizens they’re supposed to serve.”
“Neighbors have lost their faith in City leadership,” Perman stated. “City leaders are simply not listening to the people.” 

If elected, Perman said his top priority for Camas would be “getting the budget under control.”
“That would probably mean some hard cuts,” Perman said, adding that he would want to prioritize transportation infrastructure, crack down on speeding on Camas’ streets and law enforcement’s needs over other city issues.

“The City is having a problem with its finances right now,” Perman said, referring to the recent revenue shortfall the city’s finance director recently attributed to an unanticipated housing market slowdown caused by historically high mortgage rates. “We need to scrap the (Columbia River Economic Development Council) and get a business recruiter working for the City who actually goes out and hunts for new businesses. … We should take care of our own, in that sense, instead of depending on Clark County.”

Perman would also like to have “a more thoughtful” approach to transportation planning in Camas. 

“I hear more complaints about that Slough Bridge (connecting Camas and Washougal on Highway 14),” Perman said. “We need to fix it. It’s terrible.” 

And when it comes to reaching out to constituents to gauge their priorities and issues, Perman agrees with many Council candidates that city officials must do a better job of connecting with Camas residents. 

“Back in the day, we had neighborhood associations and, usually twice a year, our neighborhood would have neighborhood picnics with all age levels and people from all walks of life,” Perman said. “You got to meet people you normally wouldn’t meet at a town hall meeting and listen to their concerns. I think we need more of those types of (events). They’re cost-effective, too. That should be something Council members do a couple times a year.” 

Perman does think the City is doing a better job reaching out to people than it did even just a couple years ago, but said he sees plenty of room for improvement. 

“Sometimes, they only reach people online,” Perman said of city officials and staff. “They tell them to go to the Engage site, but how many people go to the city website?”
Instead of relying so heavily on a website or online communication, Perman said he would like to see the City pump more information out via direct mailers or even on city utility bills. 

When it comes to the city’s recreational needs, Perman said he wouldn’t put recreation “as any type of a priority right now.”
“We have budget shortfalls right now. We either have to find a different revenue or cut back on our expenses,” he said. “We have trails and plenty of them right now … and we have enough sports complexes. I would put that as a low priority on our list of needs. The pool issue will come up. A lot of people want a swimming pool, to have somewhere they can teach their kids to swim that’s not Clark Park or the Washougal River.” 

Perman does believe there are plenty of parks-related projects that city volunteers could help with, and said he would back hiring a volunteer coordinator for citywide projects. 

He would also like to see Camas officials “get on a plane and go talk to (Koch Industries leaders) about how they can make money and  rezone the mill property, or sell a portion of the land to help the downtown area grow.”
Perman said he has loved going door-to-door during his most recent campaign. 

“That’s one of the things I’ve always loved about campaigning,” Perman said, “It gives me the ability to reach people.” 

When he’s not working or campaigning, Perman said  he can usually be found experimenting in his kitchen. 

“Cooking is my stress reliever,” he said. He also loves exploring the region – usually by car. During a recent Thanksgiving celebration, Perman and his wife, Becky, and their two grown sons, took a family trip to Leavenworth. 

“I love taking road trips,” Perman said. “We get off the highways and take the back roads.” 

He used to be an avid hiker, but tends to stick to more gentle hikes — usually around Lacamas or Round lakes in Camas – these days. 

“I grew up in this city,” Perman said. “I’ve watched it grow and I can bring that perspective to the Council. And if there are tough decisions to make, you’ve got to tell people about them … the city needs that transparency.”