County commission addresses light rail, other pending issues

by: PHOTO BY RAYMOND RENDLEMAN - Speaking at the Abernethy Center in Oregon City are Commissioner Ann Lininger (from left), Commission Vice-Chairman Paul Savas, Commissioner Jamie Damon, Commissioner Jim Bernard and Chairwoman Charlotte Lehan.Elections were on the minds of hundreds of Clackamas County leaders gathered in Oregon City’s Abernethy Center for the Wednesday, Sept. 26, Business in the County Forum Luncheon hosted by the North Clackamas County Chamber of Commerce, whose chairman-elect, former Happy Valley Mayor Rob Wheeler, moderated the event.

“What a year we’ve had in Clackamas County — so challenging, so inspiring,” Commissioner Jamie Damon said. “We are anything but apathetic here.”

County Chairwoman Charlotte Lehan said the Sept. 18 special election results on future light-rail votes have raised a number of questions about the county’s contractual obligations with TriMet.

“We are doing the best we can to look at the measure and look at what the impacts are, and we want to respect the will of the voters, especially with regard to future light-rail projects,” she said.

State law overrides county law, and that eliminates a lot of what’s in question, Commissioner Jim Bernard said, because the county has to process light-rail permits. But one thing that the county won’t be able to do, he lamented, is participate in the current discussion with Oregon’s Department of Transportation.

“High-speed rail coming through our communities will have a huge impact, and we won’t be able to sit at that table, and that’s a bad thing,” Bernard said.

In reflecting on her decision not to run for re-election, Commissioner Ann Lininger said she saw the county as almost evenly split among various political viewpoints.

“It’s been a really full and rich time on the board and a time when the community has really struggled about where it wants to be,” Lininger said.

Damon said the issues playing out in Clackamas County reflect the problems before the entire country. She said that commissioners must do more to improve the county’s image by interacting more directly with the community.

“Our relationship with our county is broken, and we need to work harder to maintain that relationship,” Damon said.

Although commissioners spent a lot of time addressing the perception of the board amid the September vote, there was also a good bit of discussion about other economic priorities.

Agreeing that the commission “doesn’t always agree on things,” Commissioner Paul Savas said that in his 20 months on the board he’s tried to bring his background as a business owner to the board, since both business and governments serve as backbones to the economy.

“Granted, we’re in a better place than we were a few years ago, but we still have a long way to go,” Savas said.

Points of agreement

In opening remarks, Lehan said the board was strongly focused on creating and fostering initiatives for a vibrant economy.

Despite the statewide economic downturn, Lehan said, Clackamas County has fared “slightly better” due to strong financial stewardship. While identifying available economic development assets, Lehan said, the county has developed broadband, local bridges and even overcome obstacles with TriMet’s Orange Line.

Given that 90 percent of world markets are overseas, the county hosted a class to get local business owners to find opportunities.

“We just held Export 101,” she said, “and then there’s our emerging film and media production program.”

Bernard, chairman of the county’s audit committee, said he was “proud” of how the county spends its money.

“Those investments that we spent in the Tri-City (sewage) plant were very important,” Bernard said.

Lininger and Savas are working together with the sheriff’s office and Clackamas Women’s Services to develop plans for a Family Justice Center. Highway 212 and Sunrise Corridor plans also have general support, Savas noted.

“There’s no doubt that my fellow commissioners recognize there are transportation challenges with funding,” he said.

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