The race for a single seat on the three-man Clackamas County Commission is pitting Lake Oswego City Councilor Lynn Peterson against incumbent commissioner Larry Sowa, a newly minted Republican, and West Linn's former mayor David Dodds.
All three aim to lead Clackamas County through the next four years of population growth and economic challenges. The candidate who garners the most votes Nov. 7 will face regional transportation problems, jail shortages and failing sewer treatment plants.
David Dodds, former mayor of West Linn, is running as an independent candidate for the Clackamas County Commission.
Dodds declined to participate in editorial board meetings for this article and could not otherwise be reached.
He is best known as an anti-growth advocate who ran a successful campaign for mayor of West Linn on that platform in 2000. He served two terms as mayor, leading the city until 2004.
During his tenure, Dodds leadership was marked by controversy. He was accused of - but never charged with - sexual harassment and micro-management of the city's employees. One employee embezzled roughly $1.4 million from West Linn on his watch and he caused a delay to an audit that possibly could have caught those problems.
He later sued the city of West Linn after his predecessors altered one of his decisions.
Lynn Peterson is running as a Democrat for the Clackamas County Commission.
Currently a city councilor in Lake Oswego, Peterson has carved a niche for herself in tackling transportation issues for the region. A consultant on transportation and land use by trade, Peterson is currently the county's urban representative to Metro's JPACT, which coordinates the tri-county's approach to managing roads. Through JPACT, Peterson has worked to balance transportation projects in Clackamas County's urban cities and helped secure funding for those goals.
As a candidate for the county commission, Peterson said she wants that same coordinated planning for growth and transportation countywide. She believes county leaders should be planning for a 12,000-acre expansion of the Urban Growth Boundary, the ring that nets developable land in the tri-county region, anticipated to take place in 2008.
She also wants Clackamas County cities to share a vision for how that growth takes place, and to coordinate a strategy for tackling related transportation and infrastructure problems. To develop that vision, Peterson advocates for a series of countywide meetings in which locals outline what they would protect first in Clackamas County, building a growth strategy around those things residents value most.
Peterson said she became interested in running for the commission when Damascus first became a city, fearing the current county leaders weren't prepared to make needed changes.
'If you just take a look at the impact on Clackamas County… and add on top of that the Urban Growth Boundary expansion in the next two years … we weren't prepared for Damascus and we're not prepared for the UGB expansion,' she said.
Managing expected growth is a major issue in Peterson's campaign. She said the county must raise its profile to advocate for regional dollars and manage growth-oriented projects effectively.
She would also reorganize current projects, including one in the Sunnyside Road area, where a proposal for elevated lanes is projected to cost $600 million. Because that money is not yet available, Peterson said she would look for short-term solutions to the problem of moving freight through that area, including a less expensive bypass and new turn signal.
'If we don't get something on the ground in the next (few months), it is the beginning of the decline of the industrial district,' Peterson said.
She said while job growth has looked steady for Clackamas County in the last year, the county has been adding retail jobs that are not living wage jobs. Peterson believes leaders need to focus on how to maintain and support its major industrial players, like Fred Meyer, and would also advocate for like-type businesses and unions to bulk-buy health care with county support.
She also said a plan to build a new sewage treatment plant in Clackamas County is narrowly focused and would take industrial land out of the region.
Larry Sowa promises to stay the course for voters, having served on the Clackamas County Commission since 1998 when he was elected as a Democrat. Sowa switched parties to Republican just over a year ago, reflecting what he says is an ideological shift in county politics.
In 18 years as an Oregon politician, formerly as a state senator and as a director on the Clackamas Community College Board of Education, Sowa said he's won the biggest margin of votes in races with other Democrats, something he believes illustrates the party's stray from moderate voters.
In eight years on the commission, Sowa said he's helped Clackamas County find new direction, including implementing a growth management plan, tackling transportation problems and building a better economic base.
'Transportation infrastructure is going to be a big issue in the future,' he said.
He has suggested a plan that will elevate lanes in the Sunnyside Road area, offering smoother transportation for freight along Sunnyside Road area where it snarls with the I-205 interchange.
Meanwhile, revamping the county's economic development commission has helped bring new jobs to rural areas of the county, including a new industrial park in Molalla. Clackamas County produced more jobs than any other county in the state last year, Sowa said. If re-elected, he said he would continue to build on job growth.
As an expanding population strains county jails, Sowa is also backing a public safety levy that would re-open jail beds if approved this election cycle. He has also thrown support behind a task force on methamphetamine to help curb crime and, down the line, would advocate for a new jail designed to hold more prisoners without a need for more corrections employees.
As the county's needs change, Sowa said partnerships with its cities would continue to expand public services, like a grant recently given to West Linn to build parks.
'We're always looking for ways that we can help our cities out,' he said.
To tackle problems in the county's sewage treatment plants, Sowa is calling for modernization of the county's Kellogg treatment facility in Milwaukie, which would expand its waste capacity and curb sewage problems while infrastructure is strained. Because federal funds are not available, he advocates for selling bonds against sewer rates for the job.
Ultimately, Sowa said he would like to see the county consolidate its buildings on a campus in Oregon City near Kaen Road.
'We figured out how we can use the rents from various departments to pay off bonds,' he said. 'Our next step is to build a development services building.'
That building would centralize Clackamas County services and follow a master plan Sowa said allows county departments to better coordinate resources and services to the public.
'Through working with the other commissioners, we have some good programs going now and I would hate to see any of those sidelined,' he said. 'Everybody has their own priorities and I think the ones we're working on now are best for the county.'
West Linn Tidings Reporter Jim Hart contributed to this story.