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Elected officials and business organizations push back against combining them with Multnomah County for reopening decisions

PMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Gov. Kate Brown, masked for social distancing, begins a Thursday, May 7, press conference in Portland.Oregon Gov. Kate Brown offically combined Multnomah, Clackamas and Washington counties into one region last Thursday for deciding whether and when they can continue reopening their economies. Not everyone is happy about it.

The Clackamas County Commission expressed concern about the decision the next day. It effectively prevents the county from moving to Phase 2 reopening for 21 days following the decision. The commission voted 3-to-2 to submit the county's application to move to the next phase anyway.

"I'm stunned that the goal post would be move," Commissioner Paul Savas said at the Friday meeting. "(We) have been working in good faith with the rules put in place, but to have the rules change is completely unfair."

The commission also voted to send a letter to Brown expressing the board's "consternation" over the guidelines and criteria set by the state.

"We have a whole heck of a lot of folks that don't have the luxury (of being able to weather this storm at home). They need to work in order to pay their bills, and they're not getting enough money from any kind of stimulus package to be able to pay their bills," said Commissioner Humberston, who voted to submit the application and send the letter along with Commissioner Martha Schrader. "There has to be a balance between how we protect the public health, and how we don't completely destroy the economy, which isn't going to make things better in the long run."

Board Chair Jim Bernard and Commissioner Sonya Fischer voted no.

"Look at Union County," said Bernard, referring to the Eastern Oregon county that voluntarily went back to Phase 1 reopening after COVID-19 cases spiked there.. "This virus has no boundaries. The absolute worst thing we could do is check this up so high that we have to shut down again."

The Washington County Commission took a similar vote last week, too.

Thirteen business organizations in Washington and Clackamas counties have also sent a letter to Gov. Kate Brown urging her to reverse the decision to tether Clackamas, Washington and Multnomah counties in the reopening of Oregon.

Brown allowed Multnomah County to enter into Phase 1 reopening on Friday, but the chambers of commerce pointed out that Clackamas and Washington counties have been preparing for weeks to enter Phase 2.

"The thousands of businesses that we represent in Clackamas and Washington counties understand the significance of the virus and are making great sacrifices to comply with the guidance," the June 19 letter said. "The sudden (tethering) rule change leaves them with wasted staffing and inventory expenses that may result in more lost jobs and more families struggling for survival."

In pushing for the autonomous progression of each county into Phase 2, the business groups said both Clackamas and Washington counties have larger geographic areas without the population density of the larger Multnomah County cities.

You can read the letter from the business organizations here.

Reporter Sam Stiles contributed to this story.

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