Camas parks director to lead Port of Camas-Washougal

Port Commission names Trang Lam as David Ripp’s replacement

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Trang Lam visits Washougal Waterfront Park, June 24, 2024, four days after the Port of Camas-Washougal Commission named Lam, the city of Camas’ parks and recreation director, as the Port’s next chief executive officer. (Doug Flanagan/Post-Record)

The Port of Camas-Washougal Commission has selected Trang Lam as the Port’s next chief executive officer (CEO).

Port Commissioners Larry Keister, John Spencer and Cassi Marshall voted unanimously June 20 to appoint Lam, the city of Camas’ parks and recreation director, as the successor to David Ripp, who is retiring later this year.

“I’m excited to culminate all of my work experience into a single mission,” Lam said. “How great is this mission? It includes everything that I’ve done and want to bring together — place-making, community development, jobs and recreation — all in one (place). That’s very exciting for me.”

Lam said that she was “a little bit shock(ed)” after receiving a text message notifying her that she had been chosen for the Port position.

“I’m newer to the community, (and) I don’t have direct port experience,” she said. “I put my name in the hat because I’ve been in the community for three-and-a-half years, and I thought maybe I could help a little bit more in this (Port) position, bringing these two communities together and bringing a little bit more economic development out here.”

Lam “brings a wealth of experience in leadership, community engagement, and strategic planning, making her an ideal choice to lead the Port into its next phase of growth and development,” according to a news release issued by the Port.

“Her entrepreneurial spirit and commitment to fostering collaborative partnerships have consistently driven impactful outcomes throughout her career,” the news release states.

The commissioners selected Lam ahead of two other finalists — Chris Herman, the Washington Public Ports Association’s deputy director; and Guy Glenn, the finance director for the Port of Columbia County in Oregon.

“The quality of the candidates made the commissioners’ jobs easy as well as very difficult,” Commission President Larry Keister said during the Commission’s June 20 special meeting. “We feel that each of them, in their own way, can take (the) Port to where the Commission and our staff would like to see it go. All have great attributes. I know each candidate would be able to fill (our) requirements.”

Commissioner Cassi Marshall also praised the candidate pool, stating that the applicants “came through in a big way” during the commissioners’ search process.

“As we got to know them more through the interviews, they just became more and more and more impressive,” Marshall said. “We struggled because looking at these three final candidates, specifically, they have such a variety of strengths in a wide range of areas. That’s really hard to compare. It was never apples to apples throughout this process for us.”

Keister began the June 20 meeting by making a motion to select Glenn for the CEO role.

“(Glenn) has a record as a creative, dynamic and caring community leader in the public ports industry, with progressive experience in executive and operational management, board governance, and public finance,” Keister said. “He has demonstrated commitment to operational excellence, economic development, environmental stewardship, a collaborative spirit, and a thriving community for port staff, customers and the general public.”

After the motion failed due to a lack of a second, Spencer made a motion to appoint Lam as CEO.

“What did it for me in the end is that amorphous, ‘How do we bring this Port to the next level?’” Spencer said. “I think Trang has the most strategic mind. She’s the one that is going to look 10, 20 years in the future and prepare the Port best for reaching whatever goal is out there in the distant future.”

Spencer said he received “glowing reports” from the “seven or eight” city of Camas employees he talked to about Lam.

“She was described to me as a unifier of staff, a leader, a mentor, a ‘guru of grant writing,’ the smartest person in the room, and a ‘tour de force,’” Spencer said of Lam. “I specifically went out there looking for negative comments and could not get any. That’s why I am making this motion.”

Spencer’s motion received a second from Marshall and was subsequently approved by all three commissioners.

“I have no concerns (about Lam),” Keister said after the meeting. “I’m supporting her in every way. She was a good candidate, and she’ll do a good job. She will look at things a little bit differently. It’s almost a risk, but we are willing to take that risk because we know it’s going to be successful moving us forward.”

Lam has worked for more than 20 years in leadership roles at the University of Portland; Portland Parks & Recreation; Prosper Portland, a Portland-based economic development corporation; and the city of Camas, where she has led the Camas Parks and Recreation Department since December 2020.

“I have (experience with) economic development, community development, parks, transportation, all of the elements that come together to run a port, but I’ve never run a port,” said Lam, who was appointed to Washington State’s Recreation and Conservation Funding Board by Governor Jay Inslee in 2023. “I’m a quick learner, and I try to bring a fresh pair of eyes into every job that I go into.”

Marshall said Lam stood out due to her experience with public and private operations, community and economic development, real estate and brownfield redevelopment, and parks and recreation.

“But really, we were so impressed with Trang’s history and her proven ability to form collaborative partnerships that combine her extensive planning and team-building skills with robust public processes,” Marshall said. “We believe that Trang can lead (the Port) as we grow in a community minded, strategic and responsible manner, and we believe she can help us identify the most promising opportunities moving forward.”

After Port of Camas-Washougal CEO David Ripp announced his retirement in January 2024, the Port Commission and consultant Jeannie Becket generated a list of qualities they wanted to see in the next CEO and included them in a recruiting brochure. The Port Commission members said they were searching for a CEO candidate with “strong dynamic leadership skills and the willingness to fully commit to the community, the Port and its goals.”

The Commissioners also wanted a Port leader who would “strive to leverage local resources to achieve ‘amazing results’ for the community” and who would have “knowledge of land use property development, including industrial multi-use community-centric development; a strong sense of public service” and “create a positive and team-oriented working environment, be available to staff, the community and stakeholders, and sincerely solicit and value others’ input, opinions, and suggestions.”

The Commission received more than 50 applications by mid-March, conducted interviews in April and May, and announced its three CEO finalists, May 24.

Lam, Glenn and Herman met with Port staff and key stakeholders before participating in a final round of interviews with the Port Commission members.

“It has been a thorough, detailed, and, yes, exhausting journey to select a new chief executive officer,” Keister said, “but no less should be expected as we choose the successor to David Ripp, who has served the Port with excellence.”

The Port Commission is expected to review and vote on Lam’s contract during the Commission’s next meeting, on Wednesday, July 3.

Lam said she will most likely begin her new position as the Port’s CEO in August.

“I’m going to come into this building relationships and networks to see the big picture of where we’re at and leverage all the strengths that our … cities might have,” Lam said. “We also have great economic development outside of the Port — how do we leverage that? I think that’s going to be my first step — looking at the big picture, looking at relationship-building, and then leveraging off of all of that.”