Malinowski: 'I learned a lot'
Greg Malinowski had hoped to be part of a new majority on the Washington County Board of Commissioners — and a change in its direction.
Three new commissioners were elected last year, including a new board chair, but Malinowski is no longer on the board. He lost a re-election bid in the May 15 primary to Pam Treece of Beaverton, executive director of the Westside Economic Alliance, by 58 percent to 42 percent.
Malinowski was the first incumbent commissioner to lose in the past three decades, since Wes Myllenbeck lost to Bonnie Hays for board chair in 1986.
He did attend Treece's swearing-in Jan. 8 to the District 2 seat Malinowski held for eight years. And Treece took note of his cooperation during the past six months.
"He has worked to help me transition to this role," she said at the ceremony. "I plan to talk with him frequently as we move forward. It is my hope that our shared belief in civility and respect can serve as a model to politicians at all levels of government."
Malinowski, in a December interview, reflected on what the 2018 election might bring to county government. In addition to Treece, voters elected Metro Councilor Kathryn Harrington of Beaverton as county board chair — Malinowski endorsed her — and former Mayor Jerry Willey of Hillsboro won the District 4 seat vacated by Bob Terry in his losing bid for chair.
"You are still dealing with the fact that three of them were elected with a lot of money from the development community," Malinowski said, referring to Treece, Willey and Commissioner Roy Rogers, who was not up for election in 2018. "That has not changed.
"But you do not have that ideology where people say if you do not work hard enough for a half-million-dollar home, you do not deserve to live in this county."
For most of his tenure, Malinowski often found himself against Rogers, Terry and Chairman Andy Duyck. With himself and Commissioner Dick Schouten, the board consisted of five older white men.
""It's hard to push something ahead when there are three votes already against you," Malinowski said. "There was not a lot of room for discussion. But I have a lot of hope in the new board."
Rogers acknowledged his differences with Malinowski, but said of him at his final meeting Dec. 18: "You have a tremendous capacity to care about people."
Malinowski, now 61, won the open District 2 (northeast) seat in 2010. He was a high-tech worker for 30 years until he lost his job at Tektronix in 2008, and had been working in a furniture store. He was re-elected by a greater than two-thirds majority in 2014.
He and his wife, Jonella, run a 60-acre family farm in North Bethany near the Multnomah County line.
"I am still young enough that I have to get a job," he said.
"I have not found it yet. I have to tie up loose ends.
"But I still would like to empower people to help themselves. That means clearing roadblocks. I used to tell the others, when we were concerned about who we were putting on advisory boards and commissions, that we are not the five smartest guys in the county. That's why we have advisory boards — and we have a huge amount of human capital out there, people who know all kinds of things we have never thought about."
Ups and downs
Malinowski got involved in government initially through the county's network of community participation organizations (CPOs). He said he plans to remain involved.
"I sure have enjoyed the opportunity to try to change things and make a difference. There has been some shifting of things," he said. "For somebody who has always encouraged public involvement, I had a ball. I did not get everything I wanted, but I learned a lot."
Kevin O'Donnell is a vice chairman of CPO 7, Malinowski's home CPO, and praised Malinowski's support of a system whose administrative support shifted in 2016 from the Oregon State University Extension Service to the county itself. Some worried that the county would pre-empt the system.
"The CPO system speaks volumes to what the county can do together," O'Donnell said of Malinowski's support.
Malinowski would like to have had more sway in changing development policies he said favor single-family homes on large lots with streets that do not adequately accommodate pedestrians and bicyclists. Unincorporated urban communities account for about one-third of the county's 600,000 population — particularly in District 2, which takes in Bethany, Cedar Hills, Cedar Mill, Raleigh Hills and Rock Creek, plus small parts of Beaverton and Hillsboro.
According to a 2016 report by Portland State University, Washington County lacks 14,000 housing units affordable for people who earn 50 percent or less of median household income. (The American Community Survey pegged median household income in the county at $75,634 that year. The 2018 value of the average residential property, according to county assessment and taxation officials, was $434,705.)
Malinowski has said the real shortage is closer to 23,000 units, based on an estimated 72,000 people who commute to jobs in the county but live elsewhere.
Malinowski has been an advocate of rezoning to allow a mix of residential and commercial uses along high-traffic corridors, some of them weaving in and out of cities, with frequent (15-minute) bus service. (TriMet Line 57 now provides 24-hour service between Beaverton and Forest Grove, largely along Tualatin Valley Highway.)
He rejected an argument by growth advocates that more land should be open to development simply by expanding the regional urban growth boundary. The Metro Council voted Dec. 13 to expand the boundary to include 2,200 acres — most of them in Beaverton, Hillsboro and King City — but only after a lengthy process.
"We need to step up and let's (re)zone this now," Malinowski said.
He said it would be easier to rezone land already served by streets, water and sewer lines than to rely on a drawn-out expansion.
"Otherwise you are perpetuating a shortage of affordable housing and putting people more out on a limb to get a house they can afford," he said. "We ought to be a little less worried about those guys (developers) and a little more concerned about people working down the street and living elsewhere."
He said he is heartened by similar comments that Harrington made during her winning campaign for county board chair.
He also said rezoning is a more practical solution than expanding the road network in a county where traffic congestion is singled out.
"You are not going to resolve the housing crisis by putting in a freeway," he said. "I am not against a freeway per se. I am concerned about what we would not do as a result — all the little things for neighborhood streets and intersections."
Malinowski said the county has a list of such improvements topping $2 billion.
He said developers shift costs onto the county — even though they pay transportation development taxes, which are passed on to home buyers but fall short of covering costs — and there should be more transparency.
"The key things are to educate the public about what their rights are, what the tradeoffs are and what the cost is," he said. "They will figure out what to do."
Malinowski said he was happy when he made a difference on smaller things.
He intervened when an older couple complained that townhouses being built on an upper lot was causing drainage problems for them below, in spite of a condition that drainage mitigation was to precede construction.
He said the developer, who he did not name, call him to complain about a stop-work order from the county.
"In the end, he put the drainage in as he was supposed to do. I was not sure why we let it slip," he said.
"That was an instance where I made a difference for an older retired couple who were being victimized by somebody who thought he was important enough. It was a big deal for me."
Malinowski has prided himself on speaking up when no other elected official would, such as when businessman Jerry Jones resigned from the boards of the Tualatin Hills Park and Recreation District and the Beaverton Area Chamber of Commerce amid allegations of sexual misconduct and harassment in late 2017.
Malinowski did so earlier in 2017, when someone left a flier at a CPO meeting he attended that purported to criticized Gov. Kate Brown, but also disparaged racial and sexual minorities and espoused white supremacy. (Another county official asked the distributor of the filers to leave, and he did.)
Malinowski traded comments the next day with Board Chairman Duyck, who also decried the sentiments on the fliers, but said the person who left the fliers had a right to free expression.
Malinowski said later that his forebears came from Poland to Canada after World War I — his parents eventually came to Washington County — and he views such issues from his family experiences.
"Once you say there is a hierarchy in which some people are better than others based on racial or cultural issues, you end up allowing yourself to be put on a list, too. You may not be on a list today, but you are saying it's OK to rank people — and you run the risk that your group may be next."
While non-Hispanic whites are still two-thirds of its population, Washington County is now Oregon's most diverse. No one of color has been elected to the board yet, but Malinowski said it's a matter of time.
"It's very hard to get the first generation to do anything other than being successful, growing a family and staying out of trouble. But their kids are going to be Americans," he said.
"But I feel the county is turning a corner. I think it will be a good thing and it will bring some new life into the county. For too long, it's been the same guys, the same families and groups running things."
Time for a change?
Greg Malinowski says it's time for Washington County to consider raising the pay of the four district commissioners or making them full-time positions.
The county charter links the pay of the board chair, who is elected countywide, to 80 percent of a circuit judge's salary — about $100,000 in 2018. The pay of the others is 40 percent of the chair's salary, about $40,000. All qualify for some other benefits.
For the eight years Malinowski was a commissioner, the five board members — including Chairman Andy Duyck, who owns a machine shop in Verboort — held other jobs or were retired.
"If you want talent, you shouldn't rely on people who can afford to pay their bills besides what you are paying them to do this job," Malinowski said. "You do not need independently wealthy people to serve."
Any change would require a charter review. Commissioners in Multnomah and Clackamas counties, both with five-member boards, are considered full-time positions. Board chairs, who are elected countywide, earn slightly more than the other members.
— Peter Wong