Camas, WA — After deliberating for about 25 minutes Wednesday night, the five remaining Camas City Councilors unanimously voted to appoint sitting councilor, Shannon Turk, to fill out the remainder of the term of former Mayor Scott Higgins, who recently retired from public service. She will be sworn in on November 19.
The announcement followed interview sessions with all four candidates: Turk, Pastor Georerl Niles, former Camas Mayor, Dean Dossett, and Camas City Councilor, Melissa Smith.
”Right now I’m glad the process is over because it was very stressful,” said Turk. “There were four very equally qualified candidates, and I spoke with them and they are very smart, likeable and would have been great mayors. I don’t know how Melissa is doing, she seems to be handling it very well. She’s a good person, and she wants what’s best, I’d hate for her to feel that she doesn’t have as great a value due to the votes. There is some benefit to having a unanimous vote.
”What I’ll do next is a lot of listening and continued learning, my own self-improvement, but also learning the things I don’t know. I have a lot of listening to do. I know my opinion and I know the people who I directly talk to — mothers with kids in the schools near Dorothy Fox. I know my ward, but I need to know the greater city.”
Turk will spend the next days and weeks deciding city priorities.
“My priority would be the pool/community center, and I need to lay out the options and let them choose what the priorities are. We don’t communicate processes well, so we need to work on that.”
Turk acknowledged the city has a public relations problem stemming from the departure of former City Councilor Tim Hazen and the ill-fated Senior Center project on Everett, and the lingering perception the council is a good ‘ol boys network.”
”We need more open communication,” said Turk. “Get all of the information out there that we have. Addressing the ‘Good ‘ol boys network’ perception, I will say this: Until I was appointed on council I didn’t know any of the city council members. I’ve grown with them, I hope they see my knowledge and potential leadership. The mayor is the city’s executive and needs to know how the city operates, so you would need someone with experience as opposed to someone from the outside.
“I am going to lay out a vision that would be to just get the city to focus on something — whether it’s firefighters, the pool/community center, police, or change the form of government. The executive provides the leadership and it’s a give and take. Some things they will bring up to the mayor and others will be from the mayor’s initiative. We need to talk about diversifying revenue. I see six options that we need to discuss.
“In the next 12 months, by the end of November 2019, I want people to understand where the city is going. I want actual progress toward whatever initiative we choose. I want development of a strategic plan.
“In 12 months, I don’t know if we can solve all the problems on the table right now. We can have the firefighter funding plan, but solving that issue is not what I see happening. We’re still talking about where to build the new community center/pool. It just takes time. I want to do all those things, I wish I could do everything.
“We have disparate points of view on Crown Park and the splash pad. Should I proceed with making a fantastic asset at Crown Park, or should I only focus on the pool? Lots of things to get done.
“It’s a leader’s job to proceed with the Crown Park Master Plan, and build a new pool with a community center. We need to have the competition pool centered there with sports fields. That’s what I want to do.”
She wrapped up her first interview as “Mayor-Elect” by praising a council colleague.
“Don Chaney acting as the mayor for the past six weeks has done a fabulous job of holding the line and making progress on communication issues,” Turk said. “They’ve already made some changes internally. He just didn’t fill a seat, he tried to make improvements, and I appreciate that.”
She said she will run for a full term in 2019.
Each candidate was peppered with seven questions during their 20-minute sessions, and each finished with a 60-second closing statement about why they wanted to be the next Mill Town Mayor.
Chaney presided over the sessions, and councilors also had opportunities to ask questions.
The first question was really about personal introductions and professional backgrounds.
Turk explained her professional background in budgeting for local governments. She currently works full-time for the City of Vancouver doing budgeting analysis, and has 25 years of government experience.
“I have a strong sense of local government,” said Turk, who was nervous through about two-thirds of the interview. “I believe what I do is important. This is so nerve-wracking.”
The second question had to do with leadership and management style, and each candidate was asked to provide some examples.
Turk explained that she’s collaborative, and doesn’t always believe she has the only opinion.
“You have to listen to get buy-in and get to the common good,” she said. “I would like there to be a community center here in town. I would have to go out and see what people want.”
The third question was about the city’s challenges over the next five years.
“Our biggest challenges are funding services — and going through the needs versus the wants,” said Turk. “We have many opportunities facing us. What are our options for paying for public services, for police, fire, etcetera? How do we pay for it? Parks and Rec has needs with limited resources — do we create a new taxing district? Then I look at growth north of the lake. We will have to pay for infrastructure improvements. I’m concerned about growth and there are many here that are upset about it.”
The fourth question was about candidate perceptions and opinions of the various forms of city government. Camas operates under a strong mayor form of government and there’s been discussion about shifting that to a councilor-mayor, aka “weak mayor” form of government.
Turk said she’s comfortable with both forms.
“There are benefits to both,” she said. “Some strong mayors forbid council to interact with staff. I think that both forms of government are pretty similar — it’s just how they’re implemented. I would be comfortable working under wither form. I‘ve watched Mayor Higgins.”
Councilor Deanna Rusch asked: “The prior mayor was very active — Do you have any challenges to your schedule?”
Turk’s reply: “Scott set a strong example. I would not have those same opportunities, but I have a very flexible job. I see this as positive, but we need to rely on the strategic plan and decide what our goals are. Staff should feel empowered to make the decisions. It would be a hinderance to have me in here all the time.”
The candidates were also asked about social media, how it’s changed the way in which society communicates, and how they approach adversity and criticism on the Internet.
“I have never responded to criticism on social media,” said Turk. “You don’t win when you engage in social media. Never engage because it creates more opportunity for vitriol.”
She encourages personal communication, face-to-face, and said sometimes people need perspective. She discussed the issues and concerns around Crown Park Pool, and how people didn’t realize there were nine months of communication on that topic.
Each candidate was also asked about their greatest strengths and weaknesses.
“I’m very aware of the functions of city government,” said Turk. “I love what I do, I would love to be the mayor because I see so much opportunity. My challenge is we need to communicate more, which is my biggest challenge. Sometimes I cringe at things attributed to me. When you are trying to represent the city that’s not the image I would want. Scott was such a masterful speaker. That’s not me, that’s my biggest challenge. It means I can’t speak.”