A choice of opposites for county board chair
Voters will face a choice Nov. 6 between seemingly polar opposites in electing who will lead the Washington County Board of Commissioners.
Kathryn Harrington of Beaverton is completing her third and final term on the Metro Council from District 4, which extends from northwest Beaverton to Hillsboro, Cornelius and Forest Grove. She is a former high-tech worker, first for Central Point Software and then Intel.
Bob Terry lives south of Hillsboro in the Bald Peak area and is completing his second term as a county commissioner from District 4, which covers the west. For 14 years before then, he was a public member of the county budget committee. He is a retired nursery owner, having run Fisher Farms for about 20 years until foreclosure proceedings in 2015.
Not surprisingly, Harrington has been a critic and Terry a defender of county government on such issues as housing and transportation — although both support the Southwest Corridor light-rail extension from downtown Portland to Tigard and Tualatin.
"I think the next chair is going to have to ensure that the board shapes opportunities for the benefit of all, but navigates challenges so that no one is left behind," Harrington said.
"I am proud of our county," Terry said. "It works very well, it's well managed, and it's run like a government business."
The county position is technically "at large" and nonpartisan, although Harrington is a registered Democrat and Terry a registered Republican.
During the four-way May 15 primary, voters split right down the middle on the county map. Harrington won pluralities in the east to finish first with 37.5 percent, Terry won pluralities in the west for second with 30 percent, followed by former state legislator and business association executive Ryan Deckert and telecommunications sales representative Shabba Woodley.
But unlike Andy Duyck — who is leaving after 24 years on the board, the past eight as the elected chairman — neither Harrington nor Terry is a Washington County native.
Both came to Washington County in the 1980s, as its economy was evolving from agriculture to technology and trade.
The county was already home to sportswear giant Nike and chip-maker Intel, the California company that now employs 19,000. But today it is described as Oregon's economic engine — and Oregon's most diverse with one-third of its 600,000 residents from racial and ethnic minorities.
Harrington, 58, came to Washington County in the mid-1980s with her husband — Marc San Soucie, a Beaverton city councilor for the past decade — to work in software. Having grown up in a military family, she said, there was no previous place she called home.
"There are few places where physical beauty meets business success, where historic family farms and nurseries rub elbows with cutting-edge tech companies — and Washington County is one of these places," she said.
But after 20 years, 10 of them at Intel and often on the road, Harrington said she decided to change careers and was elected to the first of three terms on the Metro Council in 2006.
Terry, 72, came to Washington County in 1987 on a job assignment from the Midwest to turn around a failing business. After a stint in the Navy aboard the supercarrier America, he also had lived in several states.
"As soon as I came to Oregon, I got involved in politics and the civic organizations, such as the (Hillsboro) chamber of commerce," he said.
Among his other activities: Co-founder of the Oregon International Air Show and A Child's Place, a preschool program that preceded Head Start, before he joined the county budget committee as a public member in 1996.
Terry succeeded Duyck as District 4 commissioner in 2010, when Duyck was elected board chairman.
Harrington has raised more than Terry during the 2017-18 election cycle — $383,822 to $224,050 — and spent slightly more, $256,315 to $231,666. Her campaign has more cash on hand, $127,428 to $10,400 as of Monday, Oct. 15.
The candidates disagree on key issues:
Harrington supports and Terry opposes Measure 26-199, which the Metro Council proposed to raise $652.8 million for housing. Washington County's projected share is $188 million.
Harrington said the lack of housing alternatives, coupled with slow growth in wages, compels people to spend more of their incomes on housing — the federal definition of "affordable" is 30 percent — or to live outside the county and commute to their jobs.
"I want to make sure we are not a victim of our own success," she said. "It will make a big dent in the problem. It will help improve living conditions in Washington County."
Harrington also has criticized the current board for passing up potential action. The board weighed a recommendation for a local-option levy for housing, workforce training and early childhood education, but shelved it after polling indicated potential support for the tax was weak.
Terry said approval of the bond would inject Metro into something already done by housing authorities in the three counties and Portland. (Beaverton, Gresham and Hillsboro also would be eligible because they administer their own federal block grants for housing and community development.)
Terry has endorsed the county board's current approach for public-private partnerships to build lower-cost housing. The county has donated land, but has left it to nonprofit agencies to work with developers without direct cash contributions.
"We are doing it cheaper," he said.
Harrington said the resulting number of units falls far short of meeting demand.
Terry said the key problem is the availability of land — and the Metro Council should be more willing to expand the regional urban growth boundary to allow for more housing. The council is headed toward approval of 2,181 acres in separate requests by Beaverton, Hillsboro, King City and Wilsonville that could accommodate 9,200 more homes.
"We are getting some more land now, but we need more," Terry said. "When you have 28 people per day moving into your county, housing is going to be a problem."
Harrington argued that expansion requests should undergo scrutiny.
"It's easy enough to say we don't have enough (land) and we need more," she said. "But we have to base those plans on facts."
Terry and Harrington agree on the Southwest Corridor, more improvements for bicyclists and pedestrians, and an ongoing program of synchronized signals for smoother traffic flows.
But they disagree on the concept of a Westside Bypass to add north-south routes in the county.
Terry favors an alternate "northern connector" that would link the Sunset Highway, which skirts the northern fringes of Beaverton and Hillsboro, with U.S. 30 and a possible linkage across the Columbia River with Interstate 5. A second highway would connect Hillsboro with I-5 and I-205.
"We talk about congestion relief, but we don't want to bite the big bullet of congestion relief," he said. "A westside bypass does make sense. It does not mean you have to do the whole thing at one time."
But it would mean highway routes through rural reserves that are off-limits to development for 50 years, though Terry said he would oppose such development.
Harrington said either route would divert money from other projects already on the drawing boards.
"We would just take something drawn on a map that has not gone through any corridor planning at all, and does not show up on anyone's transportation plan, because it hasn't gotten through the planning that is necessary," she said.
Harrington said county officials must work on efforts to secure more money, such as the successful $5.3 billion transportation plan passed by the 2017 Legislature — and a pending regional bond measure in 2020 to raise money for the Southwest Corridor and other projects yet to be determined.
She also said more roads are not the only answer to moving people and goods: "You can have a lot of roads and still have congestion."
The county and the chair
Washington County's five-member board appoints an administrator to oversee a government with 2,000 employees and an annual budget topping $1 billion.
But the board chair plays a major role in representing the county with a salary to match — 80 percent of a circuit judge's pay, according to the county charter, or about $106,000 this year. The other commissioners earn 40 percent of the chair's salary, about $42,000.
County government runs some services that apply to everyone, such as health and human services, prosecution and supervision of criminals in jail or on probation.
For people who live outside cities, the county is responsible for planning, road maintenance and sheriff's patrols. Those in urban unincorporated communities pay for the latter two through special districts.
For people who live within cities, the county shares some services, such as libraries and maintenance of designated major streets.
— Peter Wong
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