Battle Ground City Council candidates participate in forum

Battle Ground City Council candidates participated in a League of Women Voters forum Thursday. Shown here (left to right) are Shane Bowman, Josh VanGelder, Dan Dingman, Josie Calderon and Eric Overholser. Photo courtesy Leah Anaya
Battle Ground City Council candidates participated in a League of Women Voters forum Thursday. Shown here (left to right) are Shane Bowman, Josh VanGelder, Dan Dingman, Josie Calderon and Eric Overholser. Photo courtesy Leah Anaya

Thursday event was hosted by the League of Women Voters

Leah Anaya
For Clark County Today

Five of the candidates for Battle Ground City Council participated in a forum Thursday (July 6) hosted by the League of Women Voters. Those present were: Position 2 candidates Shane Bowman and Josh VanGelder, Position 3 candidate Dan Dingman, and Position 7 candidates Josie Calderon and Eric Overholser. All candidates were invited but others were unable to attend at the selected date and time. 

Each candidate was asked several questions with an allotted 60 or 90 seconds to answer, depending on the question. Candidates were seated in the order in which they will appear on the ballot and took turns answering questions first. The main issues discussed were topics relating to public safety, growth, infrastructure, and business.

Every candidate brought up the need to fully fund and staff the Battle Ground Police Department as a priority to work on should they be elected. Bowman, the only candidate who is currently serving as a council member and who has served in that capacity for 12 years, made the comment, “Make no mistake, our police are fully funded …We have the most police officers per capita in any city of Southwest Washington. We did that as a council because it was a priority for us. Our public safety is doing very well in the city of Battle Ground.” Each of the other candidates, however, stressed the need to ensure the police are funded and given any and all necessary resources in order to establish the best public safety possible, specifically as crime has risen in the entire county over the last several years, to include within Battle Ground city limits.

Most candidates brought up the need to responsibly manage growth for the city, with things like water, sewers, roads, and park impacts. Bowman said that the water and sewers are both already built for future growth until about the year 2035. Calderon said that she served in 2018 on a citizen group called the Navigators that came up with comprehensive plans for several aspects of the vision of Battle Ground’s future, but she’s unsure if the City Council is currently following how it’s laid out. She also said she believes the sewer line is being fixed and is only currently at 50 percent use capacity. Overholser said any time there is building, impact fees must be added to plan for future growth concerning sewers, sidewalks, water use, etc., and we have to find the best ways to use what we have now. He said he doesn’t want quick fixes that fix the problem in the short term, but he wants to ensure the problems are addressed for the next 20-plus years for his children, and added that he would like to see lots of bids on jobs for the best quality and price. “The more bids, the merrier,” he said. 

Bowman said that infrastructure priorities have always seen parks get pushed to the end of the line following water, sewers, and transportation, and mentioned that the council plans to put more emphasis on parks because that’s what the people have been asking for. VanGelder agreed that the plans in place seem to be going well as the city grows “like crazy,” and said that he supports less taxes for families but more for businesses. Dingman added that existing residents shouldn’t have to pay more for existing services just because someone somewhere in the city is building. “Those services should always be there without payment increase,” he said.

The issues of traffic flow and safety for bikers and pedestrians alike were raised. Overholser said that the construction occurring on Main St. is a “necessary evil.” He said he saw the plans the city has that they’re working on, and he supports them. He suggested the possibility of introducing roundabouts to side streets as well. VanGelder said that he believes taxpayers are already paying more than their fair share and would not support a tax increase to address roads. However, he suggested that speed limits are addressed on side roads, such as a side road that has a posted 25 mph would allow for more diverted traffic from main thoroughfares if that limit were increased a small amount to just 30 mph. He also said he would like to see a redirect of enforcement with police, with the focus moving to speed and moving violations versus parking or other violations. Dingman said the city is in need of more east-west thoroughfares, and also said that he supports more bike lanes in the city and crosswalks with lights. Most of the candidates echoed that statement, with Overholser adding that many parts of the city are in need of adding sidewalks. Calderson agreed regarding sidewalks and said the city needs “better bike lanes.” Bowman said sidewalks are very expensive and the city needs to consider public versus private when looking to add them in.

Regarding adding jobs to the area, Overholser opened by saying he would like to see small businesses along with light and heavy industrial, as the latter are what brings more family-waged jobs to the area. He said it was a great thing to have the lineman school brought to Battle Ground and he would like to see another type of educational facility, such as medical, added as well. VanGelder and Dingman echoed the need for jobs that bring family wages. VanGelder discussed construction jobs, saying that Tapani Inc. is the largest employer in the area. “We need to capitalize on that,” he said. Dingman said he is a big supporter of local businesses, saying, “Those are our people. We want them to stay in our city.”

The candidates were each asked about the role of the City Council in promoting a diverse population. Bowman said that they should be “accepting” and supported the June LGBTQ “pride” proclamation. Calderon said she is “part of that diversity” as a Hispanic. VanGelder said he believes that making the city the best area people can live in is the best way to naturally promote diversity, while Dingman said the key to bringing diversity is respect. “Everyone has gifts and value,” he said. “I don’t have to agree with someone to show them respect.” Overholser added, “Diversity is about being welcoming. To welcome diversity is to create a better flourishing culture. We are all created equal under the law and under God. Our city, our state, and our country were built on diversity, good ideas, unique ideas, and inalienable rights given by God. Diversity is important.”

In closing, each candidate was allotted time to tell why they feel they deserve the vote of citizens. VanGelder went first, saying that citizens are due proper representation, which should be the highest priority of anyone elected. “The Washington State Constitution says that all powers of the government are derived by the consent of the governed, and as an elected official, that would be my first and foremost guiding principle, representing the citizens, serving them and protecting their rights.”

Dingman said that as a 23-year resident, he loves the city of Battle Ground and its people. He said that it’s important to collaborate and work together for the citizens. He agreed with VanGelder that the job of a City Council member is to represent the people and pledged to work on issues that matter to the populace, whether it would directly benefit him or not. “My votes on the council,” he said, “should be what is for the best benefit of the majority of the people of Battle Ground. What will bring the most good. That’s what I pledge.”

Calderon mentioned that she was previously a planning commissioner and worked with the parks department, and she also started a nonprofit for tutoring high school students. She said she grew up in a “not so safe place” in California and wants to make sure Battle Ground doesn’t head down that path. She said she’s a Harvest Days committee member and loves the small town feel of Battle Ground, adding that she will continue to volunteer in the city whether or not she’s elected.

Overholser said that Battle Ground needs someone who is not afraid to get their hands dirty. “I’m not afraid of hard work, and I’m not afraid to represent the town and its core values,” he said, adding that in his own life and while he’s coaching children with CCYF, the three values he lives by are trust, integrity, and excellence. “I am transferring those values to my campaign,” he said. “I believe in trust and transparency in government, and that any citizen can come up and have a conversation with me and ask me the hard questions, and I’ll answer honestly. I have the integrity to do what’s right. Sitting on the council, each member represents one-seventh of Battle Ground’s population. That holds a lot of weight, and it’s important to do the right thing for all of them, not just for me. Excellence, I will do the job well.”

Lastly was Bowman, who said that the number one priority in his 12 years of serving in the same position has always been public safety. He mentioned being endorsed by police and fire, and said, “I don’t think the city is broken,” and said there isn’t much that needs to change. He mentioned the importance of having experience on the board since there are so many open positions this election.

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