Mayor has had his hands full since earning the position with a successful write-in campaign in the November general election
CAMAS — It’s been an eventful six months for the city of Camas and Mayor Barry McDonnell since he won a write-in campaign in the November general election to become mayor of the city.
McDonnell’s victory over former Mayor Shannon Turk was attributed in large part to the overwhelming opposition by Camas residents to the city’s $78 million proposition to build a pool and recreation center. That proposition failed with nearly 90 percent of voters casting their ballots in opposition.
McDonnell didn’t even file as a write-in candidate until just over one month prior to the general election. He was sworn in on Nov. 26, just three weeks after the general election. In his short time as mayor, McDonnell has obviously had to deal with the coronavirus pandemic and the corresponding stay-at-home orders that have significantly impacted budgets of area municipalities. Camas officials have also been criticized for moving forward on an $8 million project to construct the Camas Lake Road/Everett roundabout.
On May 18, McDonnell offered members of the Camas City Council, as well as residents of the city, his thoughts on the events of the past six months (text and video provided by city of Camas):
The last six months have been, by far, the most challenging six months of my life. Learning and doing this job while also maintaining my full-time job, along with staying connected with my wife and children, is a juggling act I am constantly, actively working at. That challenge is even more compounded by a few other factors.
First, Camas is currently operating without a City Administrator. Now, I will own that impediment as it was my decision to go in a different direction, but it still has made it challenging. The City Admin position is the biggest, and I believe, the most important non-elected position in Camas. The good news is that we still have the money budgeted for the position and that we have had plenty of applicants for the job. We are starting to go through those this week to narrow it down to the right candidate.
Secondly, and as everyone is aware, there is an unprecedented global pandemic going on with COVID-19. The good news on that front is that our healthcare system has not been overrun by this disease. The bad news is that it has destroyed a lot of small businesses and our economy as a whole. Right now, we are focused on getting through the next couple of weeks, and we look forward to entering Phase 2 and starting to open our city back up. After we get through this, I think it will be important to look back and see what could have been done differently at a local, State, National, and global level once we have all the information in front of us. But until then, my focus is on managing us through these times the best that we can.
When I stood up to offer myself to this position, what I saw as the biggest challenge in Camas was around communication. First and foremost, our website is not that great – it’s something the City is working on, and right before we went into this stay at home order, we were on the way to doing that. But it needs a total overhaul, which we have already started the process. I feel confident that we can have the new updated website up and running by the end of the year.
People can’t get involved to make a difference unless they have the correct facts, and they have trusted sources to get them from. That’s what I intend for this new version of our website to provide. I want to make it more accessible to find and get correct information about what’s happening in our town. I want people to know how they can participate in ways that get results, that help our community, that strengthens us all. Camas is a small town, but I believe that together our community can do big things.
Camas is an old town with deep and honorable roots. And I am honored to be part of this town and to help lead this town. I believe myself and my team are all leading with positive values, and respect is at the forefront of those values. I understand that these are challenging times, and emotions can run high – however, I have an expectation that everyone communicates in a respectful way.
I have set that tone with my staff and with the Council, and I have the same expectation for our citizens. We can and may disagree on things; however, this can be done in a productive way where both sides present themselves with respectful candor and not contempt.
I recognize that I am not your typical Mayor. For one, I came into this position with zero government or political experience. This was not even something on my bucket list – I never dreamt that I would be the Mayor of our city. But the timing was right, and thanks to the support of many of you, I will be holding this office for the next three and a half years. I’ve committed myself to a single four-year term in office, and I believe I can accomplish a lot in that time frame. And as your Mayor, there are a lot of things that I want to accomplish.
When my term is up, my biggest hope is – and I need to believe – that there will be quality candidates who are willing to stand up and put themselves out there to be the next Mayor or Council member, people who are willing to invest their time for the betterment of Camas’ community, people who care enough about our town to ensure we protect what is important. My dream is to inspire future candidates who will take that leap of faith because they care for and believe in the health and strength of our community, they believe the way Camas looks and feels is important, and they believe that they have the ability to do what it takes to help our town move forward in a positive way. People that make it about Camas and not themselves. Inspiring people who think this way to a call to action for our town will be the biggest gauge of how I measure my success as Mayor.
Last fall, I decided to stand up for this position because I was frustrated that no one else would. And on that journey, I met with many enthusiastic and energized citizens of Camas as I asked them to vote for me as a write-in candidate. But in those same conversations I also told them not to write my name down unless they were planning to get involved too. I knew at the time, and it is abundantly clear to me now that I cannot do this job alone; in order for our city to be successful, we have to work together and keep working together. Camas needs our citizens to show up, too. In three years, if we don’t have good people, quality candidates, to pick up where I will be dropping off, I will have failed. My job in the next three and a half years is to get people to give a damn and show up – and to show up with optimism.
Under normal circumstances, the biggest contingency of people who show up to City functions are the people who are upset, who only get involved when they are angry about a specific issue. I know this particularly well because not long ago, my wife was one of those people. The first time I went to a City Council meeting was when Stacy came down to complain about losing the Crown Park pool. That was my first experience with Council meetings, and to be honest with you, my first experience with local government. It was frustrating for Stacy not getting a satisfying answer from the City, and ultimately she ended up having no impact for our beloved Crown Park pool. It was frustrating for me; I saw the communication between our City and ourselves as a one-way street. We were both ignorant to the processes. We did not know what a Council meeting was but had an expectation that this is where you went to get answers.
Now, as Mayor, I recognize there needs to be a place for citizens to publicly interact with their elected officials, and I have come to recognize that our City Council meetings are not the ideal place for this as these are specifically set up as a time for Council to approve the policies and budgets that must be held in public. That is the purpose of these meetings.
Two council meetings ago, I said that we would start posting the questions online that we had received in meetings so that everyone would have access to the responses. What I didn’t anticipate was turning the meetings into a question and answer section at the beginning and end as well as creating some potential public request issues along the way. It’s also a terrible format for questions and answers. Ultimately, I feel like it’s important to have an actual dialogue with citizens and that creating a separate place for that is the way to go. At the same time, we need a better way of communicating questions and answers in a more streamlined fashion. We are working on this as a component with our City’s website. During meetings, we will continue to follow up with individuals with questions to get results, but I need to find a better format and forum to do so. The last two weeks have been extremely busy, and I still have the questions from last meeting and will get them updated soon.
But because these meetings are a challenging place to have a meaningful conversation, starting this summer I will be rolling out a new type of meeting, an open town hall AMA (Ask the Mayor Anything) with the ability for our citizens to engage with myself and other leaders in our town on a regular basis in a space that’s designed for open conversations. I believe this will be a more effective way for all of us to communicate and would be something that Council members will be able to join me on a regular basis going forward, too. As of this moment, I am unsure as to how I will roll it all out currently, but I am looking forward to it and will get the information out to you as we firm up the plans.
So, we have a lot going on in Camas right now. Not everything is perfect, but we are constantly working together toward identifying our issues and solving our problems. And I think it’s very important to emphasize both sides of that equation – that with as many moving parts as there are to an entire city, there will always be things that need to be fixed, and conversely, that myself and my team are actively making improvements to make Camas a better place to live, work, and enjoy, too. It’s important not to get caught up in emotions on a singular issue; it’s important to keep a perspective of all the moving parts – to see and acknowledge all of the good that we have going on in this City. It is important to not only be realistic but optimistic, to be engaged, to be thoughtful, and to be respectful, and now is a time more than ever that we as neighbors and friends in Camas need to come together and work together as we go through these strange times and help each work together to build a future we can all enjoy. We are all here because this is a place we love and enjoy living in, because we want the best for this place and our community. I know that’s why you’re here, too, and Camas absolutely needs you, our citizens, as part of our equation for success.
Thank you for your time and your vote of confidence, I’m pretty sure I went over my three minutes there. I am happy to be, and even though my hair is a little bit greyer than it was last fall, I am still very optimistic for what the future of Camas can be when we all work together. And I truly believe we can.
-Mayor Barry McDonnell