Three pairs of candidates vying for office in Camas fielded questions from high school students during the 11th 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 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.
Camas mayoral debate, Oct. 24: Ken Kakuk and Scott Higgins
Higgins, 39, is a local pastor and Camas native who served on the City Council for 10 years before being appointed mayor in June following the departure of former mayor Paul Dennis.
Kakuk, 51, previously worked for the City of Camas for 16 years, but was terminated as the city’s GIS Coordinator in June, allegedly for disruptive behavior and insubordination. (Kakuk denied any wrongdoing).
Higgins began the debate with a spirited opening statement about growing up in Camas and never imagining as a kid that one day he would be mayor. He said that despite four years of negative budgets, the city government is still providing essential services to the community, has forged strong partnerships with schools, and is poised to be an example for the rest of Clark County in terms of economic growth.
“I’m very proud of what Camas has stood for and accomplished, and I am excited to take it to a whole new level,” Higgins said.
In his opening statement, Kakuk stressed his desire to create a more open and transparent form of government that would support all of Camas citizens. He pledged to run a government in accordance with all of Washington’s Sunshine laws, which govern public access to governmental records.
“I would like to restore the public’s trust and assure that they have a voice, whether it is criticism or compliment,” said Kakuk.
The role of mayor
Higgins explained that Camas uses a “strong mayor” structure in which the mayor ensures city services are functioning properly and is responsible for the hiring and firing of most department heads, such as the chief of police or fire chief. The mayor proposes the budget, but must be able to work well with the City Council to have it approved.
“It makes you realize how important it is to have good leadership in that spot,” he said.
Kakuk reiterated that the mayor’s role is to propose budgets, manage the city, and carry out the policy set by the council. However, he said the city could do a better job in making information available to the citizens. He would like to see audio recordings of government meetings posted on the Internet and the process for accommodating public information requests streamlined.
“I think that information should be available 24/7 and that there is no reason that [with] all of the electronic documents that we have, that we can’t provide a better, more informative system for our citizens,” he said.
Higgins said he also supports open government and that the Camas city website is undergoing a redesign. All government documents are, nonetheless, available to the public.
Supporting local business
Kakuk emphasized the need to help small businesses. Larger corporations might provide six-figure salaries for highly qualified employees, but Kakuk asked, “Where are the $40,000-a-year jobs that our children need to stay in this community?”
Kakuk would like to encourage commercial business and the development of industrial land.
Higgins says Camas is supporting business right now through the $50,000 it has invested in the Camas-Washougal Economic Development Association and the $26,000 it has given to the Columbia River Economic Development Council. Higgins pointed to the 300 new jobs created by Fisher Investments’ new office as an example of the city’s development efforts paying off.
“That doesn’t happen every day, but I’m hoping that will become a regular thing in our community,” Higgins said.
On the topic of fostering job growth, Higgins referenced the work of past mayors for diversifying Camas’ economy. Higgins said the city is currently committed to building an extension of SE 20th Street on its western border to tap into Vancouver’s 192nd corridor. This, Higgins says, will open additional commercial land for development.
“We have partners that want to be here and we want to help them say ‘yes’ to bring more jobs to our community,” Higgins said.
Kakuk responded by saying Camas needs to develop the Cascade Business Park, where high-tech employer WaferTech is located. But he also stressed that Camas needs family-wage jobs, not factory positions that might start at only $10 hourly.
He would push the county government to better represent the interests of Camas and lobby for the construction of a new bridge across the Columbia River at 192nd avenue, and possibly a fourth bridge at an unidentified location.
“I think that is what we need to do to encourage economic development,” Kakuk said.
Regarding a new bridge, Higgins said he wouldn’t unilaterally call for such construction without Camas citizens weighing in.
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