Camas Mayor Pro Tem (and City Councilperson) Greg Anderson answers several questions regarding the city’s mitigation plans as the COVID-19 outbreak expands. Anderson and city department heads are running the city in Mayor Barry McDonnell’s absence while he is on vacation (and likely quarantined) in Spain.
What is going on with the Camas mitigation plan as the city prepare for the COVID-19? What needs to be finished at Monday’s council meeting?
It’s in place, but there is still work to do. At Monday’s workshop we will have a discussion about council meetings and workshops. There’s a provision in the code that we can have virtual council meetings. We can cancel some and still have some. There are many options. We can consider minimizing public attendance and implement social distancing. The Multnomah County Library is closing all facilities. Camas has not closed our library and we are needing to work our way through this. We will also discuss our upcoming town halls. The mayor has asked that we do this, but we are considering postponing them. One is scheduled for later this month. They are usually smaller affairs with 20-30 people. Those are the big ones we’re sorting through. Certain services are being changed.
We are trying to improve our ability to communicate.
How long did it take to draft the Camas coronavirus response that was unveiled Friday?
It took two meetings with department heads and myself, and we put out our ideas and framed them, then we summarized them over two days. People need to be smart and use common sense. We didn’t want to cancel First Friday and the Easter Egg Hunt, but we thought it was necessary. It’s hard to find a balance. We’re trying to do the right thing. We all have different points of view.
Based on what we know now, we will continue looking for new data — good and bad. Nothing is locked in stone other than those things we already set. We are very sensitive to the fact that businesses require people.
With Mayor McDonnell gone, who is running the city?
I am, along with senior staff. There are several department heads. Public Works, Parks and Recreation, Community Development, Finance, Police, Fire & EMS, HR and Admin, and Information Technology. We still don’t have a city administrator, but we do have an acting City Administrator. Her name is Jennifer Gorsuch.
How long has Mayor McDonnell been on vacation? Lacamas Magazine reached out to him on Monday, March 9 and we haven’t gotten an email reply from him.
He got on a plane March 6 and left the country March 7 (on a planned trip to Spain) and planned to be back in the United States on March 23. He may come back early, but he hasn’t given me any solid dates.
He is likely to be put in self-quarantine when he returns home. Everybody flying into the US is subject to medical screening and potential quarantine, regardless of citizenship, so he could be quarantined in Spain. I spoke to Mayor McDonnell yesterday (Friday, March 13) on the phone and he didn’t provide a return date. He could be quarantined in the US, as well at the port of entry city. There’s a high likelihood he will be quarantined, we just don’t know where.
Editor’s Note: While this story was being written, Spain went on a nationwide lockdown.
Is it prudent for a new mayor to leave on an extended vacation so early in his term, especially given he had no prior public service experience? Especially knowing that coronavirus at that time was already a growing problem.
He had this trip planned prior to him running for office. It’s a family reunion and vacation and it’s been in the works for a while. It’s not usual for a mayor to come in and take time off so quickly. He still cares. He’s not running away. It was one of those moments where he couldn’t do this without disappointing a lot of people, a lot of family members.
We have good staff. They are very experienced and very well rounded. They all have a long time being part of this community so they are relatively experienced and seasoned. So, they work well together as a team, which makes my job easier as Mayor Pro Tem. I am able to rely on them and have them provide me recommendations.
It’s a growing point for any mayor to respond to media and I’m sorry he didn’t respond to media requests. He has been emailing staff and checking in with staff while he’s been in Spain. It’s an awkward question for me to answer. I think he’s made a mistake but it’s one he can correct going forward. He should have left a forwarding email and not left you hanging, to direct you to staff to answer specific questions in his absence. That’s unfortunate. It’s a rookie mistake.
The press deserves a response. Not a black hole.
What does Mayor Pro Tem mean? What is the function of this position?
In the absence of the mayor or when he goes out of the country, which makes him unable to sign documents, I become the acting mayor on his behalf and that gives me in general terms the same power the mayor has. I can’t launch big projects, but I can sign documents on his behalf. I can hire people if there was an active process in place. I retain my full role as a council member, as well. I can still make motions and vote on motions. I run city council meetings. If something happens to Mayor Pro Tem the next most senior council member assumes the Mayor Pro Tem role, based on state law. The council also decided who that would be. For 2020, we appointed an alternate Mayor Pro Tem (Don Chaney).
I’m glad we did that in hindsight.
With the news Friday, there’s a lot to process right now. With the shooting, until the investigation is completed, no more news is coming out.
If Camas has an outbreak of COVID-19, will you have to declare a state of emergency?
RCW 38.52.070 (state law) is about declaring an emergency and allows us to bypass established regulations and processes and laws temporarily. We are likely not to do this. Governor Inslee’s declaration allowed the cities to piggy back on that.
In my role as Pro Tem to declare an emergency I need council to confirm it. Not sure if there are state mandated provisions to help out businesses, but I know President Trump’s declaration does help small businesses.