Three pairs of candidates vying for office in Camas fielded questions from high school students during the eleventh annual Camas Youth Advisory Council candidate forum held Oct. 24 at Camas High School.

Candidates included incumbent Bill Ward and challenger Neil Cahoon for the District 2 seat on Camas-Washougal Port District Commission (CWPDC), challenger Margaret Tweet and Ward No. 3 City Council member Shannon Turk; and mayoral challenger Ken Kakuk and Camas Mayor Scott Higgins.

COUV.COM is publishing summaries of each debate over the course of three days this week. The first debate for Port Commission is here.

Debate 2: Margaret Tweet and Shannon Turk, Camas City Council Ward 3, Position 2

The race between challenger Margaret Tweet, 50, and Shannon Turk, 41, is one of stark contrasts. Tweet is a vocal critic of the Camas City Council and said she is running because she wants to see more open and transparent government.

Shannon Turk

Shannon Turk

Turk, who was appointed to the City Council in July, defended the council, saying it is filled with people of integrity who only have the best interests of Camas in mind.

Turk has a graduate degree in public administration and is a management analyst with Vancouver’s Parks and Recreation department. She has also been an active volunteer, serving as a member of the Camas School District Citizen Advisory Committee from 2004 to 2008, as a court appointed special advocate (CASA), and as a basketball and cheerleading coach.

Turk said she jumped at the chance to join the City Council this summer when former Ward No. 3 representative Scott Higgins vacated his seat to replace former mayor Paul Dennis, who left office to become president and CEO of the newly created Camas-Washougal Economic Development Association (CWEDA).

“I wanted to be part of a group of people intent on keeping Camas a great place to live, to work, and to play,” said Turk.

Margaret Tweet

Margaret Tweet

Tweet, who has an undergraduate degree in finance, said she has attended hundreds of public meetings since moving to Camas in 1997 and has led citizen efforts to prevent library users from accessing Internet pornography from computers. She also successfully lobbied for more playground and tennis courts as a member of the Grass Valley Park Committee.

During her opening statement, Tweet took aim at former mayor Dennis, saying he violated ethic standards when he bid on the CWEDA contract as the owner of the sole proprietorship Cascade Planning Group, even while he was still mayor (a claim Dennis has denied in published interviews). The CWEDA budget allows for a maximum salary of $132,000, plus travel expenses. The city attorney ultimately determined that the city’s ethics policy doesn’t apply to elected officials.

“The mayor and council should be held to the same standard that applies to all city employees,” Tweet said.

Tweet added that public votes were needed on major public projects like a new community center or whether light rail should come to Clark County.

Budget cuts

On the question of budget cuts she would implement, Turk hesitated to give specifics. She said she would prefer to work with city departments and fellow council members to identify priorities and find creative solutions.

“Ideally, I would advocate for the city government to work together to prioritize their services – to decide together, as a city, what it is that they would support doing,” Turk said.

Tweet, on the other hand, said Camas’ $50,000 contribution to CWEDA was a place to begin. She would also consider cutting travel expenses for Camas city employees, saying that alternatives like online or local training options should be explored.

“People are hurting and losing jobs and homes, with an uncertain outlook,” Tweet said. “This calls for prioritized, careful spending and caution in future commitments.”

Business development

In response to the question about how to attract new business, Tweet referred to Camas’ historic Farrell House as the sort of business development she would support. Owner Heidi Curley renovated the house and hoped to hold special events, such as weddings. However, in September the City Council unanimously voted to deny Curley’s permit request, fearing negative impacts on the residential neighborhood where the house resides.

Tweet disagreed with the council’s decision.

“That’s an example of where the city needs to get out of the way and let a business prosper and let their ideas move forward and proceed, especially one that is so advantageous to the community like that,” Tweet said.

As for fostering business development, Turk defended the city’s decision to commit to CWEDA.

“This agency is dedicated to attracting, retaining and expanding business opportunities in the cities of Camas and Washougal,” Turk said. “It seems they are doing their job. They are attracting businesses that we want to see in this community.”

Tweet responded by saying the goals of CWEDA were good, but since it was formed as a nonprofit, it is not subject to open meeting laws or state audits. She also felt that the $26,000 Camas pays to the Columbia River Economic Development Commission could be better spent in the hands of the Downtown Camas Business Association.

Biggest challenges facing Camas

Turk said that in light of a limited general fund, fiscal stability is the biggest challenge for the city. On the upside, assessed values decreased by less than one percent in the last year and the new office complex of Fisher Investments, a California-based investment firm, is the sort of economic development that will only increase property values.

Turk also felt that Camas would benefit from a new community center to compliment its park and trail system.

“I would love to be able to see us vote to possibly put something into place to help correct that little deficiency, because then we would be absolutely perfect and could capitalize on all of our assets in the community to retain those businesses, attract new businesses, and create that financial stability,” she said.

Tweet, however, warned that the idea of creating a new taxing district to fund a community center deserves ample public debate. She fears that a publicly-subsidized community center would threaten existing private fitness clubs.

“I think it would be important for citizens to know and understand the pros, as well as the cons, to a new taxing district,” Tweet said. “They could issue a bond without a vote. They would have the right of eminent domain – it would increase our tax burden.”

In closing, Tweet reiterated her stand for open government, “where the people have access to the records, we can understand the processes – not hear about it after the fact.”

Turk, in turn, bristled at the suggestion that the City Council lacked accountability or was engaged in backroom deals.

“I want to join [the council] not because I think they are doing everything wrong, but because I think they are doing everything right.”

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