City Council Member Melissa Smith shared her reasons for challenging Mayor Shannon Turk in an exclusive interview with Lacamas Magazine
Editor’s note: This story was first published by Lacamas Magazine (www.lacamasmagazine.com) and is published here with full attribution to and permission from Lacamas Magazine Editor Ernie Geigenmiller.
CAMAS — Dissatisfied with the direction of City of Camas leadership, 15-year Camas City Council Member Melissa Smith officially announced Wednesday she is challenging incumbent Mayor Shannon Turk with a write-in candidacy.
“It hurts my heart to have to do this, but I cannot abide by what is going on,” said Smith. “I feel truly bad for Shannon, and this may be uncomfortable for a while, but I just want the citizens to have a voice.”
Smith’s announcement followed the declaration of Barry McDonnell, who will also seek to unseat Turk via the write-in process.
Smith went on the record with Lacamas Magazine for about 90 minutes answering several questions. Here are the questions asked and her direct answers.
Question: Does your candidacy mean you have no confidence in Shannon Turk?
I wouldn’t have put in for it if I did have confidence in her. I don’t see any leadership in the current mayor. The appointment process was council’s decision. I knew Shannon would probably get it, but this time is a citizen’s choice and I trust the citizens to make the right choice. This is my home and just like everyone else who lives here, I want to take care of her. I want to see Camas be prosperous and collaborative; a place where opposing views are heard as long as things are done in a civil manner. You can’t totally shut people out.
The October 2 Open House for Proposition 2 was not good for the voters. People were so upset they didn’t have the opportunity to speak. People were angry and residents kept saying they all got different answers from council members. We on council didn’t get any information prior to the meeting. That’s very troubling.
Question: Does this mean you have no confidence in Camas City Administrator Pete Capell?
Back in 2016, I begged former Mayor Scott Higgins to fire Pete. I think a majority of council would support firing him. Higgins refused to fire him. That’s when Higgins starting coasting when he went into the real estate business. I know that when we lost Nina Gregore (the prior city administrator) it really affected Scott and when Pete got hired Scott really leaned on Pete, and Pete just picked up the pieces for Scott. And Scott gave Pete complete free reign. When Scott left working as mayor 40 hours a week then Pete ran amuck and just started creating a hostile environment for staff.
Shannon has had a year to deal with him, and she hasn’t. She was supposed to do an evaluation on him with our input and she hasn’t done that. That was due last January.
Question: You said last year that you would spend 40 hours a week as mayor, and that this time commitment is crucial. You said: “We need a mayor who can commit to 40 hours a week. The staff is phenomenal, but we’re at a time in our city’s history where we need a full-time mayor. There are so many important issues happening in our growing city.” Why did you say that, and do you still believe that?
I said that because I look ahead. I talk to staff, I don’t always just rely on the agendas. I’m always researching and connecting with people. What is it that concerns citizens? We are growing and we have to bring in more living wage jobs for families. We do have a great staff. The role of mayor is supposed to be held in reverence. Held in esteem. You set yourself up because you’re the leader of the city or organization. This is regardless of pay — you’re responsible for the lives and the future and the economic development for the city.
Being there 40 hours a week you are more accessible. Shannon works full-time. She works for the city of Vancouver. I like her as a person, I truly do but she’s not very responsive. That’s hard. It has a negative effect. If the staff doesn’t have their leader there isn’t a rudder. That happened with the last 18 months of Scott’s term — he just wasn’t there very often. I can right the ship and create stability. This Prop 2 shows there’s a lack of communication going on. I want to get in there and fix it and correct and move in a positive direction.
Question: What are the top reasons you want the job?
Leadership: I don’t see true leadership in the current mayor, and I think I have the skills sets to do this job.
Life Experience: For me it’s not a status thing, or a money thing. $22,000 a year isn’t much. I have a lot life lessons. I have traveled extensively throughout the United States with my job and personal life. I’ve been to foreign countries. I have a broad outlook on life. I’ve seen a lot. I’ve seen real racist things in the South, and I’ve been serving the city of Camas for many years. I know how things work.
North Shore: We need to build a good infrastructure for that part of town.
Collaboration: Everyone has 24 hours in a day. Because of health issues I’ve learned that how you manage your energy is more valuable in the long-run because it makes you more productive, more efficient, more balanced. Energy is more important than time. I’m very much about closing the loop on projects because of the different work experiences I’ve had. From conception to completion, you need to look at the glitches, then analyze them and so you need critical thinking. It’s having the ability to bring the right people together and do the what/if scenarios.
Building the New Camas Pool: I’m very much for a new pool, and I’m very open to the competitive part of swimming. I applaud what they do with football, but there are other sports that need the same support. I think the mill’s R&D property needs more research. There are other properties we need to research. The people don’t want it at Fallen Leaf Lake. We just need to get it done and put together a smarter, cost effective package.
I’m very much for a new pool, and I’m very open to the competitive part of swimming. I applaud what they do with football, but there are other sports that need the same support. I think the mill’s R&D property needs more research. There are other properties we need to research. The people don’t want it at Fallen Leaf Lake. We just need to get it done and put together a smarter, cost effective package.
Question: Why are you a write-in candidate for Mayor?
I can jump in and make quick changes. This would be a shock for council if I win but we would come back together whole. I am who I am. I would give Pete Capell the option to resign first, and if he didn’t leave I would fire him. I would go in a different direction. We’ve gone without a city administrator for many months before. I’d be in the office each day to support staff. We’d then get the replacement process started. I would implement business people, development people, school leaders, community leaders to form a diverse group for an interview panel. The mayor stays out of it until you have the final two.
Question: Why did you not file in May and be placed on the ballot?
I wasn’t thinking about it then. I had told Shannon that I would not run a campaign against her. This is really painful to me to break my word. I know she’s hurt by it, but I’ve just been looking back over the past four years and I see the same leadership continuing from Higgins onto Shannon. No one is steering the ship.
Question: Are you upset with the rollout of Proposition 2, even though you voted to push it out as a bond? Did Mayor Turk push it out too fast? Is it too bold of a bond?
Yes, because I didn’t realize everything that had been rolled up into the bond language. The rollout was a 15-minute presentation with so many items on the bond issue, and we needed more time to learn about it. The street signals, for example, should come from public works funding — they shouldn’t be in a GO bond. This bond has too much in it and there is not a clear enough breakdown of why these items are in Prop 2.
Everyone just said $78 million for a pool is ridiculous, but when you see all the line items I would have done it differently. Prop 2 is five bonds in one. It’s too much.
We’re not sure about locations, they said we have multiple sites to choose from. I asked where those sites are, but my question wasn’t answered. To not have anything locked down but to trust them is not acceptable. I take my part of the blame on that.
In hindsight, I would have voted no to the rollout of the bond. I would have looked at different ways to fund this. Swimming and a community center is high on the list. Nobody talked about parking or fixing the street or scalability.
You want to believe in your leadership and believe you’re being told good information. Fault me for trusting the information that was presented to us. That’s why I’m stepping up now because the communication is so lacking. It’s not clear to the community.
Question: Camas leadership told the pool committee that surveys showed that Camas voters would support a $35 million bond for a new pool. Why did Capell and Turk push for more than twice that?
It’s foolish. Because it means you’re not listening to the citizens. Lack of communication is frustrating a lot of people, and it’s been happening for several years. We’re in a ‘what the hell’ is going on period? I can take criticism from the public. I have no problem with that.
Question: What other concerns do you have about city leadership?
- Bad Communication
- Lack of transparency
- Lack of timely responses
- Lack of vision
- Lack of planning
- Holding back details
Question: What is your vision for Camas over the next 30 years?
I want to see affordable housing for people, and try to work with developers to dive into the codes and see if we’re able to allot so much land through RCWs. I want to bring in more living wage jobs to the area.
I want to focus on a new pool to replace Crown Park and/or build a large pool complex. Having the right pool is good for the economy and for our citizens, but it has to be done through proper processes.
North Shore is my main priority and how we build that out and provide services. We have garbage, water, fire, police requirements, and we need to set up an infrastructure for these services. We need to figure that out quickly because there’s building already happening. Current leadership has no vision.
We just need better, more frequent communication with the citizens. Have a quarterly update from the mayor on what’s going on. Do a city newsletter.
Question: What are your city mismanagement concerns?
For the Bank of America building we paid $1.6 million and that was over asking price. Then we were told we had $400-500,000 for renovations. At our last meeting they said it was more than $1 million for renovations. So we will have spent $2.6 million on the building to simply prepare the building for full occupancy.
We could have built a 14,000 square foot facility on 38th in Grass Valley for $2 million. Pete and Shannon said it would cost $30 million to build a new city hall.
We don’t have the right skill sets for the positions that are in charge of getting the right information to have city council make the correct and true decisions. We have to fix this problem now.
Question: Why are you qualified to be mayor?
Experience on the council. We have a good staff. I have always been a believer in hiring people smarter and better than you.
I will never leave anyone hanging. I will always follow through and come back with an answer. I often don’t hear back from Pete for days or even a week. That’s not good.
Question: Is this vengeance for not being appointed as mayor in 2018?
No. Not getting appointed hurt, but I’m OK now, this is my journey. For me, this is my last chance to show the citizens we can right the ship. It’s more important for the citizens to elect their mayor than to have city council pick your favorite.
Does your experience help or hurt you?
I’m not going in there to make friends and hang out with my council peers. I’m not saying I won’t be social, but that’s not my thing. I don’t share my life stories, but if you need my help, I’m there. I have always gone in with pure intent because I’ve seen how friendships can be used as emotional blackmail to sway votes. I am like the Lone Ranger. I’m just direct.
Having said that, nobody has said to me directly they’ve been offended by me. They haven’t told me. If I need to improve myself, I’ll do it but you have to talk to me.
I’m saying that I don’t like the mayoral appointment process. It’s a popularity contest. It’s not based on competency or skills.
Question: What is the role of a City Council person?
To create policies, collaborate on ideas and vision of how we want to see things brought to light. We hold the purse strings for funding as the legislative branch. A lot of ideas should come from the city administrator, then investigate and create a policy around it. I think a lot of things get stopped at his (Capell’s) door that we don’t get to see them on council. I’ve tried for years with this current leadership to get more details. They don’t provide them.
They think we’re not trusted enough. We need to demand it back. That’s why I want to be mayor to have more transparency. I’m starving for information and I got tired of asking because we don’t get it. I want good debates. I want good discussions.
We need to be able to speak up, instead we do too much withdrawing and retreating.
Question: What would you do on day one?
I would meet with staff and ask about their concerns. I would meet with citizens and do the same thing. I would reach out to former Camas Mayor Nan Henriksen and Washougal Mayor Molly Coston and get their input. I would work closely with the port. I would reach out and learn from them. I don’t take elections personally. People say I’m divisive. I’m not divisive on council. I was part of a Facebook group that was very outspoken, but I was a moderator on that. I know how to handle divisive people. I’m tired of tolerating lack of administration and operations. Paul Dennis and Lloyd Halverson were our last good leaders.
The mayor at this point needs to be the focal center of a lot of communication. I know well enough what type of information needs to get out.
Question: How are you getting the word out?
I’m not going to do signs. I’m going to use media, Facebook, and other social platforms to get the word out. Website is coming. This is truly grassroots. I think I have a good chance of winning.
In response to this news, Turk said the following:
“Melissa has previously indicated her desire to be Mayor and sought appointment to the position less than a year ago. It doesn’t surprise me that she would run for the office. Melissa is a good person and I have enjoyed working with her, first as a city councilor and now in my role as Mayor. I look forward to discussing the issues with both write-in candidates in the short time remaining before the election.”
Turk also said she’s open to debating Smith and the other write-in candidate, Barry McDonnell.
“Yes. I had mentioned that I had a write-in at the Camas youth advisory council meeting when they were discussing the upcoming candidate forum (date is the last two weeks of October, not firm yet) and they added the mayor position to the lineup.”