Camas and Washougal Mayors invite local reporters to meet at Washougal City Hall

February 14, 2012

by Martha Martin

Camas Mayor Scott Higgins & Washougal Mayor Sean Guard posed for a portrait of collaboration between the two communities of Camas and Washougal (photo Martha Martin)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mayors Sean Guard of Washougal and Scott Higgins of Camas called a “Media Meeting” on Thursday, February 9 to address what they expressed as misconceptions surrounding the joint efforts between the two communities.  Attending were reporters from the Post Record, the Columbian, and the editor of the Silver Star Reporter.

This is the first time both mayors have jointly called this kind of meeting, which both say will continue.

Mayors  Guard and Higgins say they are asking assistance from and encouraging better communication with local media.  The goal, according to the mayors, is to let the citizens know what’s going on.

Higgins said he came to this meeting “intending to support any concerns that might be coming out that Camas and Washougal are not walking solid as they should be”.

Guard added that partnerships are being developed between the two cities in areas that “we haven’t even started yet or told you about”.

Both mayors repeatedly stated that they want to improve communication, both with citizens and with the media.  They offered the recognition that “historically this has been challenging”.

According to Guard and Higgins, both the recent proposed changes by Camas to the local municipal court and the Fire Consolidation process have apparently sparked some controversy.  The Mayors say they are concerned that people are struggling to understand what is happening.

Mayor Guard says these issues get “muddied”, since some are not clear cut and have cross-overs, such as the Trial Fire District Consolidation process and the Emergency Medical System budget concerns.

According to both mayors, the most recent concern started when the  presentation for proposed changes to the local municipal court happened first in Camas.   In this case, Camas council members were presented information at their Planning Conference on January 28. Washougal council members will be presented the same information at a later February meeting.  The timing apparently has been perceived as Camas taking the lead, and Washougal following along with Camas.

Guard emphasized his desire that “the right signals are going out; that this is still a joint exploration between the two cities.  One [city] may be taking the lead to chase down information, it’s not just one community asking the other to come along”.

According to Guard and Higgins, both mayors have been discussing the issue of cost-savings by having the municipal court separated from the county structure, and taking on the responsibilities locally.

Guard described another concern, stating that he had been asked about the Fire Consolidation process and  “why Camas wants to take over Washougal’s fire efforts”.  Guard stated that this process really started out as “a Washougal ask to Camas, and not the other way around”.

Mayor Higgins emphasized the desire of Camas to work with Washougal.  “So much energy has been put into this [the Trial Fire Consolidation].  Everyone must be on board for this to happen”.  He went on to say that no one stakeholder can be more significant or “it affects the whole thing like a poison”.

“It’s only working because it makes sense”, added Higgins.

Some of the concerns are born from past experience.  Both Mayors say they recognize that Camas has tried (the Fire Consolidation) before at least twice.  Those efforts failed, which they say contributes to doubts by the Camas council that it can work.

Guard mentioned previous Washougal administrations that demonstrated poor partnership.  Examples included Washougal pulling out of discussions for consolidation, and backing out of a joint community center with Camas.

Higgins sees this current effort as more positive.  He stated that there are now cost savings being seen “even with increased call volumes”.

Guard cited examples of police, fire, and emergency services partnering well, including during the murder-suicide that happened in December of 2011 in Washougal.  He said he saw “everyone getting along just fine, including East County Fire and Rescue.  At one point, Chief Koehler was our PIO (public information officer)”.

“We are never going to become one city, [but]we are always going to stay one community” said Guard.  Higgins agreed.

Both mayors say they meet regularly, which includes both city administrators.

And what is a message they both want to send?  They both say they are proud of the east county area and want to encourage people to move here, have their businesses here, go to local schools, and participate in sports here.

Regarding the future, Mayor Higgins said that “if the world cooperates, we [Camas and Washougal] are going to do really well”, referring to a hopeful upswing in the economy.  Mayor Guard followed with “We will affect those things we can affect, the other things somebody else is going to decide for us.”

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