After months of expressing concern about Multnomah County Sheriff Dan Staton and the allegations swirling around him, board Chair Deborah Kafoury’s support of keeping the sheriff an elected office appeared to take people by surprise last week.

In remarks to the charter review committee that is exploring potential changes to county government, Kafoury noted that the Portland police chief’s job has been no stranger to controversy either, evidenced most recently in the investigation of the recently replaced chief Larry O’Dea.

“All you have to do is look across the river at the appointed police chief to see that elected versus appointed is not necessarily going to give you a better person,” she said. Changing it from elected, she added, “is just going to make sure that that appointed person does not have the will of the voters behind him or her.”

Now it’s up to the 13-member committee to sort through Kafoury’s input as well as other arguments on not just the appointed sheriff idea, but several other potential charter changes as well.

The elected versus appointed sheriff has been the highest-profile issue before the committee, in part because of Staton’s troubles as well as his concerns that the committee was stacked in favor of making his position appointed.

But other issues are drawing their share of attention as well.

At the meeting last week, several community members, activists and politicians spoke in favor of a proposal to adopt a limit on campaign contribution for county races of $500 per person per cycle.

Secretary of State candidate Brad Avakian urged the committee to pass the contribution limits, which he said could be used to secure favorable court rulings that could help spread reforms nationwide.

But the committee heard spirited opposition from county Commissioner Loretta Smith, who worried that contribution limits would discourage elected Multnomah commissioners from maintaining the relationships needed to gain higher office. The county, she said, has historically elected women and minorities to a greater degree than the rest of Oregon, and she relied on campaign contributions in her own race to overcome a lack of name recognition. Contribution limits could “disenfranchise county commissioners,” she said.

The charter review committee has already voted overwhelmingly in favor of letting voters decide whether to install an appointed county manager to oversee county government on behalf of Multnomah’s five elected commissioners. The subcommittee recommended the change, saying it would cut down on politically motivated decision-making and shield public servants from direct intervention by elected officials.

Kafoury, for her part, argued strongly against the idea, saying that the county is working well right now. She said rewriting county rules to reflect such a change would not get rid of politics, and would be a “huge, monumental effort. To what end?”

Meeting set for Wednesday

On July 6, the committee will vote on whether to put a new county manager position on the Nov. 8 ballot as well as campaign finance reform and a relaxation on term limits, among other items.

The meeting starts at 5:30 p.m. in the Multnomah Building at 501 S.E. Hawthorne Blvd.

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