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What I learned in my first seven months

I want to share the experiences I’ve had in my first seven months in office as chair of the Clackamas County Commission as well as identify several issues that I see ahead for Clackamas County and the region.

One of the first things I found is that we have talented staff at Clackamas County. It has been a great pleasure to work with such a dedicated group of public servants.

Our five county commissioners have a broad spectrum of experience and passions. I am very pleased with the work load and overall results that the commission has accomplished this calendar year.

During my campaign for this office I was a staunch advocate for letting county voters weigh in on multi-million dollar expenditures and obligations considered by the jurisdictions that service them. In the past several years, thanks to a citizen referendum (Sellwood Bridge) and two voter initiatives (urban renewal and light rail), my beliefs were confirmed that voters want a voice in these financial matters.

Clackamas County commissioners, and others, learned important lessons from these votes, but there are still more threats to taxpayers’ wallets out there.

The Columbia River Crossing is a failure that just won’t seem to go away. Perhaps it’s time for voters to have the opportunity to weigh in on that project. As former Clackamas County Commission Chair Lynn Peterson said on behalf of the Commission in a letter dated May 10, 2010: “these mega-projects do not reflect the priorities of the communities we are elected to serve.” Nothing has changed. I couldn’t agree more with her statement.

Metro is the planning authority for the Portland metropolitan area. This includes a great deal of Clackamas County. The Clackamas County of the future must ask for and receive flexibility in regards to Urban Growth Boundary expansion areas and the availability of job-producing industrial lands. These future lands must not be marginal, challenging or expensive in order to serve with infrastructure.

Metro is squandering their federal transportation dollars by chasing light rail instead of funding the expansion and enhancement of our important roadways. They’ve already burned through $10 million studying the Southwest Corridor. How about a public vote on that transit project too? And this time let’s vote before we spend millions more on a plan voters may not support.

I have learned to trust Clackamas County voters. I am very confident in Clackamas County voters’ ability to make wise financial decisions on these major projects. After all, it’s their money.

I have learned that the word stakeholder does not necessarily mean voter, let alone taxpayer. Often stakeholders are assembled by governmental entities in order to come to conclusions that would guide them to the expenditure of millions of dollars of taxpayer funds. Rarely are these spending actions sent to the voters for their approval or denial. Too often I have heard that the taxpayer “doesn’t see the big picture” or “needs to be educated.”

I’ve learned a great deal about TriMet. This public entity is over $1.2 billion in debt, has drastically cut bus services, and tells everyone that they’re going to be just fine. Really? Who but the public will pay this debt?

Wilsonville was the first city to withdraw from TriMet and subsequently build a cheaper, better and faster model transit system. Other transit models have been initiated by cities like Canby and Sandy. Why should Clackamas County businesses continue to send their transit taxes to downtown Portland when we could develop an award winning transit program on our own?

I’ve been impressed with the dedication, outreach and advocacy of the Clackamas County Business Alliance and the Westside Economic Alliance. Strong and thriving businesses are primary to the health of Clackamas County and the region.

The three counties that comprise Metro are all very different. Clackamas County will continue to partner with those who recognize that all three Portland metropolitan counties have different needs and our voters have different opinions and desires. The metro area can and should accommodate these diverse opinions and lifestyle preferences.

My plan is to keep listening and learning, and to keep trusting Clackamas County voters to make smart choices about their future. Stay tuned and watch Clackamas County to see how we hold ourselves accountable to the public we serve.

John Ludlow is Clackamas County Commission chairman.



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