Though he’s fresh off an uncontested race for Woodland mayor last November, Will Finn now eyes a Cowlitz County commissioner seat in order to address issues he’s seen with the city and its relationship with the county.
Finn announced late last month he would seek the District 1 seat currently occupied by Arne Mortensen. The district includes Woodland, Kalama, East Kelso and much of the south part of unincorporated Cowlitz County.
Finn said the decision to run wasn’t easy, but when conversations about a potential candidate didn’t yield any volunteers, he took it upon himself to run.
“I couldn’t consciously not put my name into the hat at that point,” Finn said.
Though initially Mortensen said he would not seek another term as commissioner, the state Public Disclosure Commission received a campaign filing from the incumbent in January, something Finn said was unexpected.
Finn was first elected as Woodland mayor in 2015 and was re-elected last year, both times in uncontested races. He said the first years of his mayorship faced challenges in changing the culture of the city, which he felt have since been resolved.
Now the pressing issue for Woodland is growth, something he said the county has not been helpful with. He expressed frustration over attempts the city made to work with the county on projects such as a comprehensive growth management plan update, work that has since been tabled but he anticipated would come back into conversation next year.
Finn gave an example of requesting the county apply for grant opportunities to draft a master plan for the Woodland Bottoms, unincorporated land to the south of city limits that is anticipated to be the site of future growth.
“Basically we were told ‘no,’” Finn remarked.
He said there a plan to develop hundreds of homes in the area is in the works but that it featured “no city input” as of last week.
Though his experience is representing Woodland, Finn pushed back on the notion that he would only have the city’s interests in mind should he be elected commissioner.
“We’re not the only city in the county that feels like we’re being under-represented and we’re being taken advantage of,” Finn said.
He said there should be more dialogue between leadership of the county and the cities, as well as ports and school districts.
Finn said that Woodland had been the “forgotten city” — too far south for Cowlitz County and too far north for Clark County. He said he considered those in the county on the outskirts of the city as Woodland residents if not by legal definition.
“Anything we do inside the city impacts them,” Finn said.
Finn felt there hasn’t been enough done in the county to attract business, noting that Cowlitz County had a higher-than-average unemployment rate compared to statewide. He was in support of the methanol production facility project in Kalama which has hit roadblocks from the state, most recently a decision by the state department of ecology to conduct an additional environmental impact study.
“What people should be upset about is the fact that here is somebody (Northwest Innovation Works, the company behind the facility project) who has put an investment into our county and they’ve done everything they were supposed to … and yet someone came along, changed the rules now, forcing them to put more financial investment into this project,” Finn said. “That’s just a huge frustration for me.”
Finn also advocated for seeing lodging tax revenues the county receives going to the cities which he said would allow them to invest in tourism promotion to boost their economies.
“We can do better at the local level than what they are doing at the county right now,” Finn said.
“I’m passionate about not only south county but the entire region,” Finn said. “I’m passionate about getting jobs and companies that come to Cowlitz County and build there, whether it be inside a city or whether it be in the county.”
Though he is running as a Republican like Mortensen, Finn said he was more interested in finding solutions than sticking to partisanship.
“You’ve got somebody here that would be at the table, sitting in the seat, willing to work across party lines to make something happen for Cowlitz County which in turn makes something possible for the citizens,” Finn said.