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Kelso City Council could take a turn to the center next year

Kelso City Hall

The front of Kelso City Hall, as seen in mid-November 2021.

Next year’s Kelso City Council will bear some striking similarities to how it looked three years ago and could see a matching shift in its actions.

After Jim Hill is sworn in to rejoin the council in December, the group will have four of the same members that it did in 2018 with Mike Karnofski, Kim Lefebvre and Mayor Nancy Malone. Larry Alexander, who served on the council at that time, has been replaced by his wife, Lisa Alexander.

Jeffrey McAllister, one of two outgoing members of the City Council, said the new council likely will swing back to the political makeup of that council next year.

“For the past couple of years, it’s been leaning more in a conservative direction. I think it will make more of a progressive bent now,” McAllister said.

McAllister added he doesn’t view the shift as a bad change because “going too far to either side is not good.”

Hill has received 50.8% of the votes in his race against Rowan Kelsall and a fairly strong write-in campaign by Kirsten Markstrom. Hill said he doesn’t identify with either political party, but the election results were a political message by voters.

“Kelso is not a completely conservative city,” Hill said. “This says that people want a council that acts on Kelso issues.”

COVID shift shows possible difference

The biggest story from the recent Kelso City Council meetings shows how next year’s council may differ. Five of the council members walked out of a September meeting after the Kelso Police Department began removing unmasked visitors from the audience. That action led to the next three City Council meetings being held at Tam O’Shanter Park while the city launched a virtual attendance option.

A repeat of that walkout next year appears unlikely to work. Hill and Brian Wood both publicly have shared their disagreements with the City Council walkout. Karnofski and Lefebvre, the two who remained in the chambers during that meeting, won their re-election campaigns.

The two council members said they are looking forward to moving away from COVID discussions to focus on water, roads and infrastructure.

“I would expect the council to maybe focus on things that are more specific to Kelso, that are under the city’s authority to control,” Karnofski said.

Mayor Nancy Malone said she expects things to go well once the new council members are brought on board, even if there are a “few ups and downs” in the first few meetings.

“Not everyone is always going to agree and I truly believe that is the sign of working together to create a good end result,” Malone said.

Jim Hill’s return

Hill’s return to the City Council also will see the return of his notedly outspoken approach.

Lefebvre said that Hill “roared like a bear” to support the issues he was passionate about, most notably fireworks and funding for youth projects. McAllister said he has been uncomfortable at points by how forceful Hill can be in getting other council members on board with him.

A few days after the City Council walkout, Hill emailed the entire City Council and several local politicians, including Sen. Jeff Wilson, to share his displeasure. Hill said the walkout was “childish irresponsible behavior” and said that forgoing some of the discussions planned for that meeting showed “these Council Members care so little for our kids.”

Earlier this week, Hill said he wants to have an amicable agreement with the rest of the City Council in order to vote unanimously next year. He has reached out to several council members he disagreed with to talk out past issues.

“I want everything from more than 24 hours ago to be in the rearview window,” Hill said.

Hill will be sworn into his council seat in early December and Wood will be sworn in during the first meeting in January. The early January meeting also will be when the council votes on retaining Malone as the city’s mayor.

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