North Clackamas parks not insulated from county politics
UPDATE: In light of state recommendations to slow the transmission of COVID-19, Clackamas County has canceled the March 16 meeting.
Recently the governor of Oregon signed legislation that withdraws the city of Happy Valley from the North Clackamas Parks & Recreation District (NCPRD). This follows years of political battles that were fought in the courts, the media and closed-door executive sessions of both Happy Valley and the NCPRD Board of Directors, aka the Board of County Commissioners (BCC). The dispute centered on the interpretation of an agreement between the city and district.
Agreements between a city and a district are not the norm. When the voters elect to form districts, the purpose is to provide a service to all residents as fairly as possible. When special agreements benefit one party, they are likely to be at the detriment of others.
Political battles are no more welcome than court battles, especially when tax dollars to build parks and ball fields are lost in legal disputes, and the courtrooms become the battlefields in play.
Districts are usually insulated from the politics of cities and counties. Clackamas Fire District #1 delivers excellent service, as does our school districts. However, Clackamas County has not managed to insulate its districts from politics.
Over the last several months the NCPRD District Advisory Board (DAB) has been working on revisions to the bylaws in anticipation of the Happy Valley withdrawal. The aforementioned Happy Valley experience generated some serious concerns from the unincorporated citizens with regards to fairness, lack of investments in the severely underserved areas and impacts of city influence. In response, the commissioners charged the NCPRD DAB with balancing the membership to allow the unincorporated areas proportional representation.
However, the complication of an existing agreement with the city of Milwaukie has resulted in political interference compromising the work of a presumed citizen advisory board. The city of Milwaukie would like to continue to have a city councilor or mayor sit on the DAB and have a vote, but they don't support the unincorporated areas (80% of the district population) to have an equivalent elected voice such as a county commissioner who resides in the district.
The other side of the argument, from district residents, is that there should be no elected officials on a citizen advisory board; otherwise, it would not allow balance or proportional representation. (I tend to agree). This basic principle of balanced citizen representation free of politics is long overdue. The unincorporated citizens have endured a lot and received little, other than the annual sting of their property-tax statement.
I will be recommending an accounting and audit of all the district's expenditures for parks that were within or adjacent to a city, compared to parks in the remainder of the district. The audit should take into account the number of parks, the quality of those parks and the ratio of citizens served to establish current service levels. For example, there are only two parks in the district with quality regulation ball fields, one in Milwaukie and one adjacent to Happy Valley.
While I am the only county commissioner who lives in the NCPRD district, your input is needed more than ever.
At 6 p.m. this Monday, March 16, at Concord Elementary, 3811 S.E. Concord Road, county commissioners, sitting as the NCPRD Board of Directors, will be taking up these issues. Please attend and share your thoughts and ideas during the public-comment period. This is a rare opportunity, and your voice will be invaluable.
It is important we maintain good relationships with our cities, but strive for fairness that assures a level playing field for all.
Paul Savas is a Clackamas County commissioner.
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