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R. Kent Squires: County commissioner offers a 'smoke screen' to cover up for multiple failures while in office.

I found the "Parks district finds 'energy' through direct democracy" article on the front page of the April 21 Clackamas Review troubling, to say the least. The article and headline are misleading, as are the comments provided by County Commissioner Paul Savas.

COURTESY PHOTO - Clackamas County officials are eyeing the former Concord School in Oak Grove as a site for a new library and park.Either Savas doesn't understand the concept of direct democracy or he is deliberately misleading and disingenuous. Savas touts the voters within the unincorporated areas of the North Clackamas Parks & Recreation District (NCPRD), recommending District Advisory Committee members as "direct democracy." The definition of "direct democracy" is one where all those governed decide on policy issues directly. The only difference between the previous advisory committee and this new advisory committee is how the committee members are recommended for appointment to the county commissioners. The advisory committee still has no official governance function as that rests with the county commissioners, who are the governing body of the NCPRD. And, the county commissioners are not obligated to appoint those recommended by the voters, nor are they obligated to accept any recommendations from the advisory committee. NCPRD remains a representative democracy governed by county commissioners.

Savas has been a county commissioner for about 10 years. During that time the NCPRD failed in its obligations to the city of Happy Valley, resulting in the city's withdrawal from the district and recovery of some $14.1 million in development fees the parks district had garnered from the city. During this time the NCPRD has also failed in developing a park in Jennings Lodge on property that has since been developed as residential housing. These and other missteps by the NCPRD, governed by Savas and the rest of the county commissioners, resulted in citizen activism. Now, Savas is attempting to sell this extremely minor change in how advisory committee members are recommended to the county commissioners as "historic." This all seems like a smoke screen to cover up for multiple failures while in office and avoid the potential for a taxpayer revolt similar to that which occurred in Happy Valley.

If Savas was genuinely interested in moving the NCPRD closer to the people and more direct involvement, he would consider changing the organizational structure from a county service district, governed by the county commissioners, to a park and recreations district under ORS 266 with its own directly elected Board of Directors.

The citizens of the NCPRD should not be fooled by Savas' hyperbole.

R. Kent Squires, a resident of the Oatfield Ridge area in unincorporated Clackamas County, was the general manager of Oak Lodge Sanitary District from 1981-2008. He also served as director of Clackamas County's Water Environment Services for three years in the early 2000s.


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