Rapid growth, policing, fire department funding, homeless issues discussed by Rochelle Ramos and Paul Greenlee
The League of Women Voters (LWV) of Clark County held its initial Voters Forum Saturday afternoon, giving voters in Washougal their first look at two of the three candidates running for mayor. In this round, the LWV only hosted candidates who will be on the Aug. 3 primary election ballot. It was the first of four forums to be held for primary ballot candidates.
The forum featured candidates Rochelle Ramos and Paul Greenlee. Candidate Derik Ford did not participate. Washougal recently changed its form of government from a strong mayor to a city manager-led government. This is the first election for mayor under the new charter. The top two will advance to the November general election.
Each debate opened with candidates being allowed to state their qualifications and why they are running for office. They had one minute for each question, and 90 seconds for their final statement.
The candidates were asked what the major issues were and what skills they offer the voters.
Paul Greenlee cited his 14 years experience on the city council, viewing it as a training period. “My fascination is with community,” he said. “How do you build a community? How do you transform a bunch of garage doors into a community?” He noted the mayor’s job is largely ceremonial, but he hopes to bring people together.
Rochelle Ramos emphasized improving aesthetics of Washougal, working with police and attracting small business. She sees her candidacy as an opportunity to continue the work she has been doing to improve the community, citing the nonprofit and volunteer groups she started. Ramos mentioned her experience with the city’s park board and working as a human resources director for a government contracting agency.
Camas and Washougal have a joint fire department. Candidates were asked how they see that relationship working over the next 10 years.
Ramos noted there is a consultant studying the issues of the joint fire department and wants to evaluate the recommendations before recommending any changes. She noted Washougal has more calls for EMS service than Camas, and therefore needs to find a way to fund that part of the obligation. Ramos believes the city needs to figure out how to proactively address the problem and be strategic rather than reactive.
Greenlee said “fire is a bit worrisome in terms of financing, it can be a black hole.” He noted Camas has had problems with funding in the past before the cities combined fire departments. He doesn’t see the departments separating, but said what might work better would be a larger fire district that covers all of Clark County. “We have to find a way to cap the costs,” he said.
The candidates were asked what policies they would pursue to promote social and racial justice.
“Social justice is the real issue,” said Greenlee. He mentioned Washougal has 4 percent of mixed race, 2.5 percent Asian, and less than 2 percent are African American. Hispanics make up between 10 and 14 percent of Washougal residents. He mentioned they have “no handle’’ on the slavic community, believing the city needs to reach out to the less advantaged population.
“ I don’t see that there’s a lot of injustice in our community,” said Ramos. She believes education and communication can improve things overall,she doesn’t see the need for a big policy push in how the city conducts business. (CVTV audio problems silenced part of her answer). She noted that Washougal is not Portland.
Candidates were asked what Washougal’s responsibility is to the homeless population.
Ramos noted that it’s not illegal to be homeless. She knows what it’s like to struggle to pay bills and deal with difficult times. She noted the trash, needles and destruction of property. “ I think we need to treat criminal activity as criminal activity and address it,” she said. The city needs to offer alternatives for those that need help, partnering with other groups to provide that help.
Greenlee mentioned ways to keep people in their homes, citing a utility assistance program. He cited the East County Family Resource Center. “That’s the home for over 30 organizations and agencies that provide everything from mental health, to a food bank, to computers to use for a job search, to a lending library of clothes to go on a job interview,” he said.
They were asked how each candidate assessed the financial situation of Washougal and what they would change to improve it.
“We actually have been extraordinarily fortunate over the past year and a half, two years,” said Greenlee. He cited the city stopping capital improvements and repairs and stopped hiring new people, due to the pandemic. He said property and sales tax revenues are ahead of forecast before COVID, so the city has resumed hiring and their repairs and capital improvement programs.
“I’m very proud of the city of Washougal for what they have done,” said Ramos. She noted the city’s early action helped sustain the city through some difficult times. She has witnessed that as a member of the Park Board. Ramos hopes to use the experience as a great learning opportunity for the future if a situation like the pandemic happens again.
The candidates were asked what suggestions they have for improving recruitment, retention and accountability of the police force?
Ramos said she “100 percent supports our police department,” noting morale might be low due to all the negative press about law enforcement. She wants to promote the positive stories, to demonstrate that the people of Washougal fully support their police department. She wants to evaluate the department to see if staffing levels are appropriate, and if they have the equipment they need to best serve the people.
There were audio problems with the first part of Greenlee’s response. He noted that some officers are on military deployments. The city is trying to hire one new officer, but has new vehicles and equipment.
Candidates were asked how they would address the continued population growth of Washougal.
Greenlee cited that state law requires the city to plan for employment and population growth. Washougal is growing at about 4 percent a year, an increase of 50 percent over 20 years to a target of 24,000. He mentioned the city has shifted growth from the back side of Windburn Hill to downtown and is offering an eight-year tax exemption for certain mixed use development.
Ramos agrees with what Greenlee mentioned about shifting growth to downtown, but is worried about infrastructure to support that growth. She cited inadequate roads to handle traffic at certains times of the day, and people getting stuck in the SR-14 roundabout. She noted the coming development in both downtown and the waterfront and said the city needs to ensure the road structure is provided to support that development.
Ramos summed up by emphasizing she is not a politician, but brings fresh energy and perspective to the city leadership team. She loves all the city parks and trails for outdoor recreation. She hopes to bring a business person’s perspective to the city leadership team, fueled by the desires of the people.
Greenlee closed saying he had lived in a dozen states all over the country. “ I just shopped a long time before I found my home, and I love Washougal.”.he said.When it comes to diversity, he believes working with the school district is a fundamental piece of the puzzle.
Ballots will be mailed this coming Friday. People can register to vote, either online, or in person up to the day of the primary.