A Sticky Situation: The February North Shore "Visioning Workshop"

During the North Shore "Visioning Workshop" on February 4th, 2020, an unknown presenter without a title or a company disclosed, introduced himself only as "Steve".

Steve took the microphone from Sarah Fox, longtime Camas Planner and newly elected Vancouver City Council member, who didn’t introduce him. For the rest of that night, neither Steve nor Sarah nor any of the other city officials in attendance, including the mayor, would provide qualification as to who Steve was. Nobody disclosed what function Steve performed, who Steve worked for and why Steve was someone to be taken seriously at all by citizens. There are a number of “Steves” involved in Camas’ interaction with its people in the last several years - a vague insulation to at the same time calm frustrations and give citizens a sense of being heard. Citizens who’ve had direct interactions with the “Steves” of Camas report hearing things akin to, “I’m not the guy you’re mad at, but you make a great point, and I can definitely let them know your concerns” before never hearing anything again. A sort of energy vampirism that drains a citizen of their rightful upset at poor representation, while also feeding Steve what he needs to get his consultant’s paycheck from Camas taxpayers.

Without any of that context made clear though, Steve presented the results of what he called North Shore “community outreach efforts”. At a certain point, he summarized Camas citizen’s own comments under the title "How We Should develop the North Shore" - a statement that assumes Camas has to develop the North Shore at all (see the Camas Inevitability Problem). Steve or someone Steve spoke with may think we “should” do this or that, but what does Camas think? What does our mayor think?

Speaking against an inevitable “progress” of north shore development (in the first council meeting to follow this “visioning workshop”), Mayor McDonnell said directly to council:

“there’s still opportunities there to understand, I think, what all the options are and why we’re doing certain things and what happens if we don’t do certain things… Because we don’t have to, we don’t have to do the north shore plan up there either...”

The mayor is correct, but unfortunately his words may have been missed by many as they were spoken in a brief and quiet moment at a 4:30pm council meeting while most Camasonians were at work. It’s powerful to watch him need to seemingly explain the concept to the council that afternoon in city hall, as not a single council member responds to the statement. Here is that exchange on video:

Word Clouds

Back to the visioning workshop at the high school, at one point “Steve” showed a slide with a word cloud. If you’re not familiar, a word cloud is made by scanning the text of a document to count the occurrence of different words and then making those words appear larger or smaller in a graphic based on the frequency of their use.

For example, here is a word cloud of the top 20 words appearing in one of the latest WATCH Camas News articles about Camas’ job search for a new city administrator entitled: DID YOU KNOW? The city of Camas is actively searching for a City Administrator? (Deadline: May 3rd).

You’ll notice in this word cloud that three of the largest words are “WALDRON”, “CAMAS” and “GORSUCH” - referring to this city, along with its current HR consultant called Waldron HR and Acting City Administrator, Jennifer Gorsuch - All of those things are discussed in the article. But watch what happens below as we only process the first half of the article’s text, this time to generate another word cloud...

The word “GORSUCH” disappears, and readers are now missing part of the story if this graphic were presented as representing that recent article, where the possibility that the city already has a preferred candidate and isn’t necessarily searching for a fit is discussed in detail.

The word cloud that Steve presented on a slide at the visioning workshop had a small note in the upper left hand corner of the graphic reading “374 of 676 respondents”. Many of the citizen response summary slides that evening had this type of edit in common - Did Steve, Camas’ unknown tour guide, decide that only 374 of the Camas resident and taxpayer comments should be considered in the word cloud below? When the word cloud went from pulling in 676 citizen comments to just 374 comments, what words do you think disappeared from Steve’s summary?

Was your comment, or your neighbor’s comment, perhaps one of the 302 removed from the record without explanation?

Whether that filtering of many citizens' comments was done by the direction of Camas city officials or not, WATCH Camas isn’t sure, but it wouldn’t be a foreign concept in Camas to actually change the public record. But even with half of the people who responded silenced without explanation, the remaining citizens expressed themselves so clearly that the message was unavoidable for anyone attempting to pull focus.

What do you think Camas’ citizens are saying in the word cloud below?

Students, please take your seats

The adult taxpayers of Camas were asked to sit down in the Camas High School common room at 6:30pm on a Tuesday evening. Vaguely titled as a "Visioning Workshop", the adults were there following the earlier effort of Camas' high school children. Camas’ kids had been guided in a similar exercise by paid consultants, maybe even Steve, participating in a "Student Visioning Workshop" months prior. That workshop was not videotaped, or at least that tape was not released, but a version of the presentation that the city says they gave to the students was released here with a Dec. 3rd date. Camas’ children, who are literally trained like all school children to be good citizens and follow the direction of adult authorities without questioning, were given direction by the authority of city officials, or Steve, on how specifically to perform the "visioning exercise”.

Here are those kids during their visioning as they were asked to comment on “commercial nodes”, low-density housing and municipal zoning. This was a photo released by the city publicly, so one may assume that it’s the picture that showed the most enthusiasm and joy in the children’s faces from that day.

The result of Camas’ students following those directions, their “visioning maps”, were then in turn shown to Camas' adults on that February evening in the high school before they did their own exercise - as if to say, "Here's what the kids want for the future... would you care to disagree publicly?". Some citizens who attended the workshop and later spoke with WATCH Camas reported that the sentiment was clear.

The city projected images of three of the kid’s maps throughout the evening’s exercise as a "reference" for the adult taxpayers doing this exercise. None of the children’s example maps would end up looking anything like the taxpaying-adult created map that received the most votes as “the best” - more on what that means later.

A Sticky Situation

The main activity of the adult’s exercise that evening was to place color coded sticky notes, representing re-zoning options, onto a printed map of the north shore with a defined border highlighted and enough sticky notes to entirely fill that space. In their maps, many citizens naturally chose to leave off or alter the size of their sticky notes without instruction that it was even an option. The people seemed to be working to express something that night.

Though the finished maps were varied to a degree, many had in common an effort to either get as far away from the lake as possible with their stickies (to preserve natural land as undeveloped) or to outright defy the drawn boundaries of the exercise entirely. Many opted to place stickies in other areas of Camas beyond the imagined north shore boundary and even into unincorporated Clark County - some groups literally ripped their stickies in half to make them smaller.

Each map was then presented by elected “table leaders” from each group. All citizens were then given ten minutes to vote on maps with two adhesive "dots" that they were given (small round stickers). “ can place both your dots on one board, or separate them between two boards, which ones you like best”, said another unintroduced person at the podium, a woman named “Nicole” this time, again without a last name or place of business given. Sarah Fox is never introduced as just “Sarah”. Sarah is always Camas Senior Planner Sarah Fox, though it is never mentioned that she is now also a sitting Vancouver City Councilor - a position she now holds while still planning for Camas, a city with competing land interests to Vancouver at times.

When the dust settled, the map that got the most votes far and away, was actually a map from a group of citizens that choose to put no sticky notes on their map at all. They called themselves the “Rebels with a Cause”. No other map received nearly as many votes as the Rebel’s map by all accounts, including the mayor’s own account. The city has not released a vote count or a photo of all maps with votes attached that WATCH Camas has seen. Here is the “Rebels” map:

Notice how the voters didn't even want to place their yellow vote stickers on Camas’ beautiful, undeveloped land.

You can see the Rebel’s full presentation and reasoning in this clip. Including their large round of applause from the entire crowd - given enthusiastically mid-presentation that night and not just politely at the conclusion of a presentation as with others.

Advocates for Change

Mayor Barry McDonnell would later remark on the “Rebels” map being the citizen's favorite in the Feb. 18th City Council Workshop meeting as he added, “I liked their name for their group”. This was a passing comment by the mayor at the end of the Council Comments section of the meeting, but it seemed to noticeably alert Councilor Bonnie Carter’s attention as she sat up and interrupted the Mayor’s time while he was addressing the council to say, “But wasn’t there like 14, 15 other advocates for change that had dots on ‘em?” (Shannon Roberts visibly nodded and proclaimed, “yes, yes, yes”).

WATCH Camas is unclear as to what an advocate for change is in this context. It wasn’t a term discussed during the visioning workshop event either by organizers or citizens. This seems to be purely Bonnie Carter’s own interpretation of the citizens’ approach to this exercise with no factual support or even anecdotal evidence provided.

As he was interrupted, the mayor seems taken aback by a noticeably exaggerated change in tone. He says, “Correct, but one got the most votes”. Council member Carter continued to essentially argue publicly with the Mayor as he restated his point in a very odd display with some longer pauses.

She continued, “When you have one versus collectively 15 other… right? … You had 15 different plans collectively, it wasn’t just...” Mayor McDonnell then stepped back in to repeat himself again, “Correct, different maps, totally… (but) that was the one that got the most votes in the end”.