Clackamas County candidates diverge on regional role
Ken Humberston and Mark Shull had the opportunity to earn votes for Clackamas County commissioner as they took to the virtual debate stage on Oct. 16.
As voters begin to make their selections and return their ballots via mail and at ballot boxes located throughout the county, the Clackamas County Business Alliance's goal Friday was to give voters a forum to better understand the candidates' platforms. Those who tuned in to the debate heard two dissimilar visions for the future of Clackamas County.
Humberston, the one-term incumbent and retired law-enforcement agent, asked voters to consider what he's provided them the past four years. Humberston points to his support of local veterans, efforts to bring jobs to the county in the timber sector and how he and his colleagues adapted on the fly to protect county citizens in the face of major emergencies. He's also promising to continue building on the county's relationships to solve problems on behalf of its citizens.
"We don't get in fights if we can avoid it with our cities, with Metro, our neighboring counties or state legislature," Humberston said. "Instead we work together with them, and that has benefitted us financially as a county."
Shull, a retired residential developer and military officer, is offering to be a guardian of taxpayer dollars and to withdraw from relationships he views have removed the county's autonomy from the hands of its citizens. He wants to see local transportation projects prioritized for the benefit of local mobility and commerce. Shull is promising to work with businesses to solve problems within the county to achieve goals without leaning on taxpayers.
"We've seen some unnecessary spending, not just in the county, but in the state, as well," Shull said. "We've also seen agendas of special interests outside the county often take precedence over the concern of our 430,000 citizens."
After some brief introductions, the two candidates were each given turns to respond to a set of questions from Nelli DeVries, executive director of CCBA, and Nina Carlson, CCBA president and government-affairs rep for NW Natural.
Shull and Humberston were asked to name programs within the county they think are doing well and those they feel need most improvement.
Humberston said he's proud of the work done by the county's transportation department with the resources they have. He stands by the board's decision last year to implement a fee increase for vehicle registration in order keep the county from falling behind on its long list of projects. The decision raised double the county's vehicle registration fee from $30 every two years to $60.
"At some point you have to make the responsible decision," Humberston said. "There are 25 new projects on the books that are being worked on as we speak as a result of that vehicle registration fee."
On areas that require more improvement, Humberston told debate viewers that he'd like to see increased investment in the county's economic development sector, particularly with regard to recruiting international trade.
"(Oregon does) about $30 billion a year of business with international companies, about $6.2 billion of that right here (in Clackamas County)," Humberston said. "There's tremendous opportunity for us and our workers and our businesses to have industries active on the international stage and to continue developing our economy."
Shull said he believes that public safety is one arena which he and the Clackamas County community are particularly proud of, however, both the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office and Clackamas Fire District No. 1 are headed by elected officials outside the board of county commissioners though they receive dollars from county funds.
"I never want to see the Multnomah County mayhem creep into Clackamas County," Shull said. "That's going to take a very strong, 24/7, 365, public-safety focus to ensure law and order is always maintained in Clackamas County."
On improvements, Shull said he'd like to see the county ease fees and regulations on housing development in order to unburden those who are looking to build here. Shull claimed that while permits and fees only seem to total about $3,500 for an average home, it costs somewhere near 10 times as much to actually develop.
"All these add-ons we've seen for all sorts of different costs needs to be fixed because now just getting to the point where you can get a permit is really difficult, and I'd like to see that improved," he said.
Shull and Humberston were also asked about what solutions they'd like the county to pursue to help businesses get through the pandemic and post recession.
Shull said he believes that businesses are currently encumbered by the mandates laid out by Gov. Kate Brown aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19.
"I understand COVID is a problem, but I don't want to have what we're doing to fight COVID be more of a problem than COVID itself," Shull said.
Shull said that as commissioner, he'd direct the county to look at what can be done to improve air filtration to make it safer for people to gather in high concentration as a way to get businesses back to full strength. He said he'd also advocate for less regulation in general so they're free to operate.
Humberston's plan to get the economy restarted includes continued capital infusion into local businesses. He points to the $450,000 in small business grants already doled out this year to help jumpstart Clackamas County's economy as it struggles to meet goals laid out by the state for reopening. He expects another $1 million to be made available to local businesses in the coming weeks, as well as Federal Emergency Management Agency funds available and being connected to victims via a temporary facility in Molalla.
Humberston also explained that he'd like to see a revolving small business development fund set up by the county as a long-term solution to helping get more small businesses off the ground or supported in a pinch.
The debate was eventually opened up to questions from the audience which included further detail about county spending, transportation, the county's regional relationships, equity and inclusion and other detailed topics. Voters who weren't able to tune in live can watch the debate in its entirety here.
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