Last Monday March 16, Camas City Councilors met for an open public workshop and regularly scheduled City Council meeting at City Hall. The meeting was open to the public, and attended by city staff and several members of the Public. Additionally, it was live-streamed to the city website, as most regularly scheduled council meetings are (we've uploaded copies of those broadcasts here and here in their original, unedited form for posterity).
The agenda, the largest in recent memory, was heavy - more than $6.5M in consent agenda expenditures, including $5.27M for construction and $858K more for the consultants of the Lake/Everett roundabout. The original consultant contract, filed at the end of 2018, wasn't to exceed $1.2M, but somehow the bill has ballooned by almost 76% to just under $2M - That's how $3M roundabouts turn into $8M total project costs.
During Monday's meetings, Councilmember Greg Anderson informed those gathered that Mayor Barry McDonnell was out of the country on vacation (the way he did that is a story on it's own), and that he would act as the Mayor Pro Tem and conduct the meeting in his absence. On Saturday before Monday's meeting, Anderson made time for an interview with the Lacamas Magazine blog. He declared that he was running the City of Camas, and was clearly in charge while the Mayor was in Spain for a family reunion planned since before last year's election.
"In the absence of the mayor or when he goes out of the country, which makes him unable to sign documents, I become the acting mayor on his behalf and that gives me in general terms the same power the mayor has. I can’t launch big projects, but I can sign documents on his behalf. I can hire people if there was an active process in place. I retain my full role as a council member, as well. I can still make motions and vote on motions. I run city council meetings."
He also reassured citizens he was focused on the COVID-19 outbreak and the City's response to emergency declarations being made by many neighboring communities, including the county and State of Washington.
"It took two meetings with department heads and myself," he said. "And we put out our ideas and framed them, then we summarized them over two days. People need to be smart and use common sense. We didn’t want to cancel First Friday and the Easter Egg Hunt, but we thought it was necessary. It’s hard to find a balance. We’re trying to do the right thing. We all have different points of view."
But somehow, Mayor Pro Tem Greg Anderson never delivered on all that hard work. Despite his numerous meetings with staff spent framing and summarizing all those ideas, and despite his navigation of the common sense balancing of all those different points of view, Anderson selflessly led his Council to exactly zero declarations of anything.
No COVID response plan.
Ultimately, no emergency declaration was ever made by Mayor Pro Tem Anderson. It was only the duly elected Mayor Barry McDonnell, returning early from his trip to Spain navigating a national lockdown, who made that Emergency Proclamation for Camas on Wednesday, March 18.
Anderson did make sure one thing went forward however. The Monday, March 16 City Council meetings happened, and the $7M expenditure vote crammed onto the meeting agenda would not be postponed - regardless of reported citizen outreach begging reconsideration (that plea can actually be heard being laughed at by councilor Bonnie Carter during the meeting). Not surprisingly for those familiar with council's voting record, the spend was unanimously approved by all councilors in attendance. Literally during the course of these meetings Monday evening, two Clark County citizens, a husband and wife, were dying after contracting COVID-19 just 10 miles away at PeaceHealth Southwest.
Greg Anderson still decided to gavel a public City Council meeting, despite the Mayor's absence and despite the health concerns of nearly every piece of guidance being issued by the CDC, Governor Jay Inslee, and every other federal, state, or local agency involved in the fight against the novel Coronavirus. Not a meeting to discuss the COVID-19 response, nor plans to address businesses shutting down left and right, nor the realities of our city's rainy day fund and what COVID-19 means to our fiscal solvency - but a meeting to spend $7M on non-essential services, including a million dollar addition to the roundabout's consultant fee contract.
That contract now includes Sub-Task 13.5 – entitled "Public Outreach" , where in addition to their other duties, those consultants are actively:
Managing social media accounts:
City of Camas Facebook – Create graphics and wording; monitor and respond to comments.
City of Camas Twitter – Create graphics and wording; monitor and respond to comments.
Camas Projects Twitter – Create graphics and wording; monitor and respond to comments.
Nextdoor – Monitor only; no posting.
Other relevant community groups – Monitor; respond as needed.
As well as
Posting to CamasConnect app.
Updating Lake Road Construction project page.
Generating articles for the City website to announce new project info; link to project page.
Creating press releases and distribute to local media outlets.
Creating PowerPoint presentations/support materials for Council workshops/meetings.
During their annual retreat this January, Camas City Councilors including Anderson, reflected on their number 1 takeaway from the $78M pool debacle in November, where 90% of Camasonians unified to defeat a bond measure forced upon citizens by the same City Council. The result? Council determined they needed a better salesman. It should be no surprise then that new City of Camas contracts appear to require those type of "services", including the monitoring (but no posting) of public comments in NextDoor, a private social network for verified neighbors and unlike the very public Facebook and Twitter.
During Monday's City Council meeting, Anderson was actually monitored on a hot microphone joking with fellow Councilmember Ellen Burton about the plight of COVID-19 on the homeless population.
When Burton whispers that
"San Francisco counties are ordered to shelter in place, I'm not sure what that means,"
Anderson interrupts and replies,
"It means if you're homeless, you're gonna stay homeless, right where you are."
Burton responds with excitement in her voice, and an almost musical tone,
"Right where you are - In your car, in your boat, in your motorhome, in your tent, in your bush or your bench. Sounds like Dr. Suess."
Mayor Pro Tem Anderson wasn't really there last Monday to talk about COVID-19. He was there to vote and sign a contract for non-essential expenditures, all while Mayor Barry McDonnell was scrambling to return his family home early during a global pandemic.
That's really the only thing Greg Anderson did during his brief stint as self-imposed Mayor of Camas.
He made sure that $7M didn't get held up another second. He made sure that Council passed an even more restrictive public meetings code of citizen conduct, in complete defiance of the real Mayor's premier campaign promise of new Council meeting transparency - all while McDonnell wasn't even in the room. And as a final gratuitous pat on his own back, Anderson declared March 16-20: Camas High School Gymnastic Team Appreciation Week. As promised, he even got to sign his own proclamation, gold seal and all.
All while the COVID-19 virus was actively changing life as we know it in Camas, and while the Camas Mayor was frantically in transit with his family on an early return from Spain - Greg Anderson was large in charge. In between his numerous leadership meetings with staff, focused discussions on COVID-19 response, Easter Egg Hunt and First Friday decisions, and Gymnastic Appreciation proclamations, he also made time to be interviewed by local blog author, Ernie Geigenmiller, who he knew would be more than happy to print his advice for the elected Mayor of Camas.
"It’s not usual for a mayor to come in and take time off so quickly," Anderson said. "It’s a growing point for any mayor to respond to media and I’m sorry he didn’t respond to (your) media requests. He has been emailing staff and checking in with staff while he’s been in Spain. It’s an awkward question for me to answer. I think he’s made a mistake but it’s one he can correct going forward. He should have left a forwarding email and not left you hanging, to direct you to staff to answer specific questions in his absence... It’s a rookie mistake. The press deserves a response. Not a black hole."
Greg feels the press doesn't deserve a black hole. Ironically, as a tax-paying citizen of Camas, you can't actually ask Greg Anderson questions during his bi-monthly appearance as an elected official at City Hall and expect a response - It's akin to talking into a black hole, where something goes in, but nothing ever comes back. And with Greg Anderson at the helm, questions and answers are against the new rules. You'll likely be reminded of that fact as soon as you attempt the brazen act of asking one during a City Council public comment time. Instead, Greg and his fellow Councilmembers recommend you reach out one-on-one to discuss your concerns- without your neighbors, without cameras, microphones, or anyone else in the room to confirm your side of the conversation.