Gustafson eyes vacant seat on Clackamas Count Commission
Former Lake Oswego city councilor says he's 'not content to sit on the sidelines'
Former Lake Oswego City Councilor Jon Gustafson has applied to fill the Clackamas County Commission seat vacated by newly elected board Chair Jim Bernard.
Gustafson announced his decision in a Facebook post on Dec. 5 and confirmed his intentions in a phone call to The Review, saying that while he had intended to return to his private business after losing a bid for mayor in November, the election of Donald Trump as president prompted him to reconsider.
"Like many of you, Trump's impending presidency (and his expected appointments) has fueled a fire in me," he wrote in a post addressed to his supporters. "I've discovered I am not content to sit on the sidelines, or even to be a booster from the stands. My heart is compelling me toward more direct action."
Gustafson was elected to the Lake Oswego City Council in 2012 and finished his term at the end of 2016. Instead of seeking a second term, he opted to run for mayor in the 2016 general election, saying it would give him an opportunity to have the greatest impact. But he finished second in the election behind incumbent Mayor Kent Studebaker.
"I really thought that after the mayor's race I would go back to focusing on my professional life," Gustafson told The Review. "But I did have multiple people suggest or encourage me to consider the vacancy. So I started thinking about that.
"There is important, exciting and challenging work to be done at the county level," he wrote in his Facebook post, "and just the prospect of working on these issues has given me renewed hope and energy."
Bernard was elected to the Chair position in November 2016, leaving his Position 5 seat vacant for the remaining two years of his term. Gustafson is the third person to publicly declare a candidacy for the job; Steve Bates, who ran unsuccessfully for the Position 5 seat in 2014, and former Damascus Mayor Steve Spinnett both announced in recent news releases that they submitted applications before the Jan. 3 deadline.
Altogether, county records show a total of 77 applicants, including former West Linn City Councilors Jenni Tan and Jody Carson. Others include Charles Ormsby, who chairs the Birdshill Neighborhood Association, and Michael Kohlhoff, a retired Wilsonville city attorney and husband of newly elected Lake Oswego City Councilor Theresa Kohlhoff.
The position pays $89,542 annually. All five seats are nonpartisan and are elected at-large rather than by individual districts.
According to county officials, only nine applicants are likely to be interviewed by the other commissioners at public board meetings during the week of Jan. 23. According to a procedure adopted this week, each commissioner will submit a list of preferred candidates to county staff by Jan. 17; staff will then compile five names common on all lists, and each commissioner will be allowed to add one name not on the common list.
The target date for a final vote is Jan. 31.
The eventual appointee will serve out the remaining two years of Bernard's term, leaving the seat open in the 2018 election. Gustafson said last week that if he is appointed, he is "committed" to running for election to a full term in 2018.
"It did take a big degree of soul-searching to make the final decision," he said, "because I do feel like the decision was not just to fill the remainder of Jim's seat. It really was a commitment to run for county commissioner in two years. I wanted to make sure it was the right decision."
Gustafson said the county position would give him the opportunity to continue working on the same issues he advocated as a city councilor, including land use, transportation and sustainability. He also pointed to additional county-level issues where he says he wants to contribute, such as health care access, social services and protecting immigrant and LGBT rights.
"It doesn't just matter who the president is or who the congressmen is," he said. "There's a place for all of us to be involved and make a difference at the state level, county level and local level. For me, this felt like the right time and the right place."