Council delays spending $234,000 on renovations for North Shore home acquired in $22 million legacy lands purchase
At a Camas City Council workshop and regular City Council meeting last week, Mayor Pro Tem Ellen Burton announced she has chosen former Battle Ground City Manager Jeff Swanson to act as a temporary city manager. The council approved the hiring of Swanson in spite of many questions raised by concerned citizens about both Swanson and the contract.
Members of the council also considered spending $234,210 for renovations of the Rose house it acquired as part of the North Shore lands purchases. They also received updates on the Parker Estates stormwater facility and road upgrades to NW 12th Avenue.
The council members thanked departing City Administrator Jamal Fox for his service to the community. He departed on July 9 for another job in Takoma Park, Maryland after less than a year in Camas. He had served as deputy chief of staff for Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler prior to coming to Camas.
“I’m so excited to have someone with experience and expertise like Jeff, to come in and help keep the ship steady during this transition,” said Burton. “Jeff is highly regarded in Washington and has connections that will be beneficial to the city. Additionally, this decision was fully supported by the city’s leadership team.
“Jeff comes extremely highly recommended from his colleagues and from former bosses and managers,” Burton said. “He has a broad background at the state and regional and local level. He will provide the skill set to keep the city focused on the business that it needs to, and ensure that our taxpayer dollars are invested wisely, especially as we go through the process of allocating the American Rescue Plan funding.”
Swanson’s departure from Battle Ground
Swanson had served for two and a half years as Battle Ground city manager before resigning. The resignation came after a special meeting of the City Council. The council went into “executive session” for two hours.
When the council went back on the record, Deputy Mayor Shane Bowman made a motion to immediately terminate the professional services contract of Swanson. The motion passed with only one “nay” vote, from Councilor Phillip Johnson. Bowman and Johnson declined to comment to Clark County Today regarding the termination of Swanson’s contract, referencing the city press release.
Several Camas citizens cited this unexpected termination of Swanson as a concern they had regarding his hiring by Burton. Citizen Brian Wiklem mentioned the special meeting agenda, which cited “potential litigation that the city reasonably believes may be commenced by or against the city, the city council or an employee acting in an official capacity.”
“Nowhere does the meeting minutes suggest Mr. Swanson resigned and as a result the city accepted his resignation,” he said. “Nor did they thank him for his service. There was explicit talk about litigation against the city and as a result they terminated his services.”
Wiklem requested a “complete investigation and written response from the council as to why the Battle Ground mayor and council went into an executive session on October 22 2018, and came out voting to terminate Jeff immediately.”
Councilor Bonnie Carter shared she had reached out to a member of the Battle Ground city council. “That individual said he’s a great guy and ultimate professional; and a highly valued asset to any organization that is lucky to get him. So I feel confident in the background work that you performed.”
The professional services agreement stated Swanson would make himself available a minimum of 25 hours per week to the city. Burton mentioned he had other obligations as a consultant, including serving the city of La Center as their community development director.
La Center Mayor Greg Thornton addressed the council at the beginning of the meeting. “Jeff has done an absolutely outstanding job for the city of La Center. Myself and the council could not be more pleased with all the contributions that he has made to our city and to our community.” He shared Swanson has been working with the city for two years.
Citizen Brian Lewallen said “professional service contracts that the city council approved normally have clear detailed cost proposals, budgets and limits,” which are missing from this agreement. “There is not a ‘not to exceed,’ cost threshold; and there is no limitation on the hours worked,” he said.
Lewallen said the contract was a “blank check” in terms of the number of hours the city could be billed for at a rate of $200 per hour. He and others cited the city of Mukilteo (WA) which hired an interim city administrator for $84 an hour. Other citizens said that if Swanson billed the city 40 hours per week for a 50-week year, that would equal $400,000 in pay, versus departing administrator Fox working for an annual salary of $150,000.
Councilor Shannon Roberts asked about the unrestricted nature of the hours billed in the contract. “What’s to keep the city administrator from working 50 to 60 hours a week,” she asked.
Burton responded that it would be the mayor’s job to oversee the work and time billed by the interim administrator.
Burton mentioned she and the city’s leadership team considered five or six options, including doing nothing until the new mayor and City Council were elected. The other extreme was hiring a full-time replacement immediately.
“Based on recommendations from staff and other advisors, we decided that we wanted to find a short-term, highly qualified interim city administrator to take on the duties of city administrator until we can get a new mayor and city council on board,” she said. They expect it to be about nine to 12 months, but made the professional service contract through Dec. 2022 with a 30-day notice to end the contract.
Citizen Scott Hogg reminded the council that former Mayor Barry McDonnell ran the city for eight months without a city administrator after Pete Capell resigned.
The Rose property renovation
As part of the $22 million North Shore of Lacamas Lake legacy lands, Camas acquired two homes, one was the Leadbetter house, and a home owned by Jerry and Jo Rose. The city acquired 87.7 acres including the two homes for $17 million. The Pittock-Leadbetter House was built in 1901.
According to Public Works Director Steve Wall, the Leadbetter house is presently rented, but the Rose house has been vacant since the Rose’s moved out. Wall mentioned there had been multiple inspections of both houses and from a rental perspective, the staff knew renovations would be required.
In 2018, the house sat on one acre of land, with a structure value of $221,992 and land valued at $189,000 according to the county tax appraisal. The city acquired a total of 54.45 acres of land. The purchase price in 2020 is shown as $12.5 million on tax records.
On the council agenda was a $234,210 renovation of the house, Included was a new roof, new appliances, engineered stone countertops, window replacement, and repainting and carpets. There are 15 separate “work divisions” in the contract. (See pages 8-15 of council agenda packet).
• Paint and finishes including carpet – $49,248
• New windows – $22,119
• Roofing & gutters — $36,689
• Deck repairs – $13,709
• Electrical work – $9,770
Included in the contract is a 20.75 percent profit of $37,128 for the contractor. The funds will come from a General Obligation bond issued in 2020. Wall mentioned the city had budgeted $500,000 for renovations and repairs to both the Rose and Leadbetter houses.
Wall shared that the city doesn’t have a specific formal plan for what to do with the Rose house.
“When we closed on the property, and during the time of the purchase, there were just discussions amongst staff and council regarding the use of the property and legacy lands in general,” he said. The discussions included “how the city ultimately wanted to use not just the Rose property, but some of the adjacent properties, including the Leadbetter property.”
The legacy lands in Camas are part of a broader network of land supposedly preserved for recreation and “natural” use by citizens. “The City’s North Shore Legacy Lands project is a 30-year initiative that started in the 1990’s focused on establishing a fully connected recreation and conservation corridor around Lacamas Lake,” claims city officials. “Over 1,000 acres of publicly owned land surrounding Lacamas Lake guaranteeing access, recreation, and conservation for generations,” the city claimed in a Sept 2018 Parks and Recreation Commission presentation.
At that same meeting, the Parks and Rec Commission considered a 190 acre donation from Georgia Pacific of the two dams that help create Round Lake and retain Lacamas Lake waters.
The city budget allocated $7,656 for legacy lands in 2017-18, but then increased it to $10.3 million in the 2019-20 budget.
Roberts asked “What is the long-term use of this property going to be?” The staff response was “we’re still in planning”. There apparently is no specific plan, but staff are discussing some parks and hiking trails.
Roberts pushed for more. “I’m just concerned — we’ve purchased it, now what are we going to do with it?” Staff responded that “the range of planning is at least another five years.”
“Are we going to be able to make any money or profit off of our purchase?” asked Roberts. The staff response talked about “possibilities”, but clearly didn’t have specific ideas or plans, over a year after the property was purchased by the city.
“I’m just looking at it from a citizen’s standpoint,” said Roberts. “What are we getting for the money that we spent? What’s the long-term payback?”
Councilor Melissa Smith asked about hiring a permanent caretaker and would it be a government employee on the job roster. “There’s a lot of underlying issues that we haven’t covered yet, and that makes me nervous.”
Councilor Steve Hogan asked if the council could have a tour of the property before they make a decision. Citizens also expressed concerns during public comment.
The council removed the item from the regular meeting consent agenda. It will be brought back at a future meeting for council consideration.