The 2019 $78 million Camas pool bond continues to be a topic of widespread discussion in our local body politic, and became a central issue in this Fall’s elections. It’s been used as a political tool, a wedge issue, and an example of government out of touch.
While the ill-fated Shannon Turk administration came down because of that bond, let’s look at what the 2019 council vote — and subsequent public vote — was really about.
Former Mayor Turk wanted to replace the Crown Park pool that was taken down by a 2018 council vote, and she wanted to go big or go home. She ended up going home. Her desire was to have a community center and pool that would be the envy of the region. She ignored the advice of city staff, which based on surveys and polls, said Camas would support a pool with a price tag of up to $35 million.
The bond itself was part pool, part community center, part new street improvements, and part parks and recreation improvements. Turk wanted it to be all things to all people. She ignored the advice of those around her, which said “do these things over time, in phases and the public will go with that.”
Turk wanted the new community center to be her legacy. So, in July 2019, she asked Camas City Council to put it to a vote. While the city council had the legal authority to unilaterally vote to build the community center, they didn’t. Their vote on that fateful day was to present the $78 million community center/pool bond, known as Prop 2, to the voters, and let them decide.
The narrative got out of control immediately, which was predicted by former Camas City council member Ellen Burton (now Interim Mayor) who said “all everyone is going to hear is $78 million.”
She was very right. All everyone heard was $78 million. Even some of the city’s biggest supporters of having a new pool were weary of the price tag.
Known as Prop 2, the bond became a political weapon that ushered in political novice Barry McDonnell as Camas Mayor, who ran a 34-day write-in single issue campaign and defeated Turk. The bond was killed 89-11, with little more than 600 people voting for it. McDonnell lasted 18 months as Mayor.
“The process worked,” said Burton, recently. “Council presented the bond to the people, and the people rejected it.”
Burton said it’s unfortunate that council’s vote to allow the people to decide has been politically weaponized.
Council member Steve Hogan, who is likely going to become the next Camas Mayor said this two years and repeats it today: “I was never in favor of spending public dollars to build a new pool. I voted to allow the people to decide.”
His pool bond vote was used against him in this Fall’s campaign.
Hogan agrees with Burton, and said the process did what it was supposed to do.
“People rejected the bond, and I’m glad they did,” Hogan said. “I wasn’t in favor of spending that much money.”
As a literal observer of all these events, this journalist wrote all this down and reported the facts repeatedly.
This is the record. This is what happened.