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It's about time for another major BCC shake-up

As chair of the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners (BCC) since January 2013, it seems a bit early to watch history repeat itself, but that’s exactly what’s happening in this May 2014 election.

A series of serious mistakes by previous commissioners inspired a majority of voters to change leadership in 2012. Now commissioners Savas and Bernard, both up for re-election, are repeating those mistakes. As BCC chair, I am committed to supporting the will of the voters, and because of that and their excellent qualifications, I will offer my wholehearted endorsement to their challengers, Karen Bowerman and Steve Bates.

In Commissioner Jim Bernard’s case, he played an instrumental role in the “big three” mistakes made by the BCC in recent years. He voted to commit county taxes or fees to:

1) rebuild a Portland bridge,

2) expand urban-renewal spending and

3) pay for a controversial new light-rail line.

All without seeking voter approval.

The voters “schooled” the commission on all three of those issues, demonstrating exactly how far out of step those commissioners had become. Throughout this period, Commissioner Bernard consistently maintained that in a “representative form of government” county taxpayers need not weigh in such matters. I am amazed that he hasn’t learned anything from the voter uprisings over the last three years. As the longest serving commissioner on this board, Commissioner Bernard has overstayed his welcome.

Commissioner Paul Savas on the other hand is a frequently confused and ineffective commissioner. Commissioner Savas refused to take a position on assessing new county vehicle registration fees to pay for Portland’s Sellwood Bridge, stating (inexplicably) that it was not appropriate for a commissioner to do that. When the public vote came, he was unable to make a decision and ultimately left his ballot blank. On the BCC he carries the dubious honor of being the commissioner most likely to abstain on an issue. Too often, Commissioner Savas is unable to make up his mind about important county issues, and when he does, he frequently comes up with the wrong answers. For example, Commissioner Savas voted against the citizen’s initiative to increase public oversight on urban renewal spending. Despite his opposition, the measure passed with over 70 percent support from county voters. That election result should have been a wakeup call for Commissioner Savas, but he failed to grasp the message.

Urban renewal is a program that diverts property taxes from police, schools, fire districts, parks and libraries to pay for unrelated county development debts. The taxpayer money collected through urban renewal currently subsidizes construction projects preferred by a majority of Board of County Commissioners (Bernard, Savas, Schrader). Over $40 million of urban-renewal money was withdrawn from the taxing districts to fund the first light-rail line into Clackamas (without a public vote).

Tootie Smith and I were elected, in large part, because county voters wanted an opportunity to weigh in before more reckless spending occurred. Twice in the last year we were outvoted by Commissioners Savas, Bernard and Schrader. We wanted county voters to help determine whether $48 million of left over urban-renewal funds should be returned to fund police, fire, schools and libraries. Bernard and Savas preferred to find new projects to fund, rather than letting the voters weigh in first. They prevented county voters from returning millions to the districts: Clackamas Fire District No. 1 — $6.9 million; Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office — $4 million; Oregon schools — $20 million; Clackamas County General Fund — $7.8 million; North Clackamas Parks & Recreation District — $2.2 million; and county libraries — $466,000. Twice we moved to send this decision to the voters. Each time, we were defeated.

With Bernard and Savas the policy is “Spend first, and ask the voters...never.”

The reason these commissioners, like their predecessors, did not want to hear from voters is because they were afraid of what voters would say. But now, once again, you can have your say about what you pay — when you make your choice for new commissioners.

It’s time to replace incumbent Commissioners Savas and Bernard. Both have failed to listen to the taxpayers and voters. Twice in the past year they have taken steps to prevent county residents from exercising a right to vote on their taxes.

Yes, we have a “representative” form of government. You entrust us with the budget and operation of a vast county. But that doesn’t mean voters should be shut off from voting on multi-million dollar projects that go above and beyond basic county services.

This May, vote for Steve Bates and Karen Bowerman. Bates and Bowerman get it. They voted with the majority on the Sellwood Bridge, urban renewal and light rail. Bates and Bowerman will bring better listening ears to the commission. They will be prudent and effective stewards of the county’s tax dollars and are unafraid of asking county voters to weigh in on huge county commitments.

Please join me. Vote for Karen Bowerman and Steve Bates, for a commission that will be more responsive to the directions that voters have given us.

John Ludlow is chairman of the Clackamas County Board of

Commissioners.



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