Bellisle, Burke face off for open Woodland council seat

Former councilor Burke seeks a return, while Bellisle takes a third shot at council

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One of two competitive Woodland City Council seats up for election this year features a former councilor attempting to make a return and a previous seat-seeker making another effort to win the contest.

Keith Bellisle and John “JJ” Burke will square off in November to take the council’s position 1 seat which doesn’t have an incumbent seeking another term. Although current seatholder Janice Graham is not seeking re-election for that position, she has since declared a write-in candidacy for position 6, which is currently occupied by Benjamin Fredricks, who is not running again.

Music instructor and Planters Days Board President Keith Bellisle is running for the third time. He ran in 2017, but lost in the primary, and in 2019, losing in the general election. During that time, Bellisle says he’s gained knowledge as to what issues the council and the city as a whole face.

“I think I’m better situated to understand the challenges that are going on in the city right now and how to approach those,” Bellisle said. “And the challenges … we’ve got our share of them.”

Bellisle believes the current council appears to be more focused on the city’s limitations for accomplishing goals instead of seeking creative solutions. He said in some cases the determined solutions don’t add up, mentioning plans to improve Interstate 5’s Exit 21 as an example.

“The majority of people say that the roundabout is the better option, but why are we choosing a lighted intersection?” Bellisle said.

Although the arguments against roundabouts pointed to hindrances to truck traffic, “I think that’s the price we have to pay to have a more fluid transportation solution,” he said.

Bellisle’s been a regular at city council meetings, oftentimes showing up as the sole in-person attendee.

“There’s a vast difference between the way the mood of the proceedings (is) when the room is full and who the room is full of, or if the room is empty,” Bellisle said. “Sometimes it gets pretty silly.”

“Woodland’s identity just does not seem too up to par with its neighbors at this point. I think we’ve got to approach that as kind of a big picture thing,” Bellisle said.

If elected, he said he wants to strengthen the city’s relationships with neighboring jurisdictions like Cowlitz County.

“We’ve got to see ourselves as part of a bigger community,” Bellisle said.

Bellisle has been more involved with the campaign this year than in years past, taking part in the traditional campaign sign displays and knocking on doors.

“I’ve experienced people really thankful I’m at their door asking them ‘how can I help you, how can we help Woodland,’” Bellisle said.

Bellisle said he isn’t running to participate in political squabbles.

“I’m an effective leader who aims to build community, rather than inject divisiveness,” Bellisle said.

Burke, who is also seeking the seat, previously served as a councilor from 2002 to 2014, and is a former Woodland Chamber of Commerce executive director and also served as board president for Planters Days. He left the council to keep up with his other pursuits, but he said now seemed like a good time to return to the council chambers.

“Now that I’m retired I’ve got more time, though I did 12 years (on council) and never missed a meeting,” Burke said.

Burke identified issues with utility rates in the city and what he says is a non-application of city code. He said businesses are operating in the city without licenses.

“If these people are going to get away with not having a business license, then why should anybody else have one?” Burke said.

Burke also took issue with the city putting a change of government from mayor-council to council-manager on the November ballot, something shot down by voters in 2009.

“The people already said no,” Burke said, noting he was against the original proposition.

He pointed to the city hiring a city administrator and said that went against the will of citizens.

Burke said his longtime presence in the community is a reason citizens should vote for him.

“I think I can change things. I think I’ve got the experience,” Burke said.

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