Often, the May special district elections elicit as much reaction from the general population as does the dull hum of distant highway traffic; we’re dimly aware it exists, but without any marquee attractions — a crash, the squeal of tires on blacktop, a honking horn — we’re not likely to pay it much attention.

Imagine all the noisy money initiatives contending at the ballot box when there is a major draw, such as a presidential or the midterm congressional election.

Today, Friday, May 3, county election offices across Oregon mailed ballots to registered voters for the May 21 special election. Despite a toned-down presence (there is not, in fact, a government-issued voters pamphlet available for Columbia County candidates and initiatives), one tax initiative and several races should command your attention.

This week, we’ll focus on two of the easier calls: The Columbia 911 operations levy and the Port of St. Helens position 4 commission seat race. Next week we’ll tackle the Scappoose and St. Helens school board races.

Columbia 911 Operating Levy Renewal (Measure 5-232) — If there is a no-brainer when it comes to the question of tax expenditure for government-provided services, this is it.

We encourage approval of the 911 levy. Without it, Columbia County residents will likely have to rely on emergency services from neighboring districts, such as those in Washington or Multnomah counties, which we believe would result in a host of inefficiencies and, likely, declines in service due to less coordinated efforts between 911 and the responding agencies. For further incentive, the rate being asked for today — 29 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value — is actually less than the rate first approved in 1998. And, the call volume of people using Columbia 911 Emergency Communications District services is continually on the rise.

Passage of the five-year operating levy, captured on your ballot under Measure 5-232, maintains the current level of service and functions of the 911 call center, including 24-hour staffing, training and coordination with local emergency service providers. It also sets a path for improvements needed to match pace with technological advancement. Two improvements in the works, for example, are texting services for 911 and wireless caller location identification on maps that link with the closest responder. Good stuff.

We strongly recommend approval of Measure 5-232.

Port of St. Helens - Position 4 race — Michael Clarke of Scappoose is challenging incumbent Terry Luttrell of St. Helens for the Position 4 seat on the port commission. One of Clarke’s dominant campaign themes has been to improve transparency on the Port of St. Helens Commission and public access to information about Port plans and developments that affect residents living — and businesses operating — within the Port district and Columbia County in general.

We couldn’t be more on board with this line of thinking. Too often the current port commission has demonstrated a secretive, hold-the-public-at-bay approach in its operations. A perfect case in point was the late-night, post-executive session approval of lease options for two controversial coal transloading facilities proposed for Port Westward. The current port commission, as records show, created the lease option agreements for the coal transloading facilities before ever bringing the discussion forward to the public. Then, after approving the lease options, the commissioners attempted to absolve themselves of the opaque dealings, telling critics the fate of the coal project was no longer in their hands. The Port of St. Helens’ actions in the lead up to the lease option approvals have drawn widespread criticism, including from existing local businesses who feel their interests were stepped on in the port’s pursuit of coal cash.

Clarke is the best choice in this election. Equally, we believe each current port commissioner, barring a change that indicates they value their constituents’ right to information, should be voted off the board. Their negligence in failing to adequately review the potential impact of coal facilities in Columbia County prior to making their behind-the-scenes decisions is reason enough. The commission and the port staff cite statistics based on outdated studies in a weak attempt to justify their position, and continue to this day to disregard or even consider how their actions could negatively affect existing businesses.

Choose Clarke.

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