My View: Metro councilor says citizens must shape city's future

by: TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO - Metro Councilor Rex Burkholder, who is leaving his position at the regional government at the end of this year, says the Portland area needs more citizen support to meet coming challenges.It was almost 12 years ago that I first took the oath of office as a Metro councilor. I’ve reached my three-term limit and I want to say goodbye and thank you.

I’ve had a great time working to make this an even better place to live and make Metro a better agency, proudly serving the more than 5 million people every year through the Oregon Zoo, the Oregon Convention Center, Regional Parks, solid waste services and more. As policy director of the Bicycle Transportation Alliance, I saw how Metro helps our region become a more sustainable, affordable, safer and friendlier place.

I ran for the Metro Council because I saw how the decisions Metro makes on transportation profoundly affect our lives. Communities where people feel safe on the street — whether walking, biking or driving — are just plain better places to live.

Plus, I love to ride my bike for my own health and sanity.

As a member (and chairman) of the Joint Policy Advisory Committee on Transportation, I was able to make good things happen. Good things like safer streets, more bike lanes and sidewalks and faster transit. People are walking and cycling more than they have in decades, helping us become slimmer, happier and more prosperous.

Telling Portland’s story

Planning can seem wonkish and removed from daily life, but what we build and where we build affects our lives profoundly. Good planning can advance our shared values, like family, health, strong neighborhoods, clean air and water. At Metro, I created a transparent, values-based process focused on people, not politics, re-directing hundreds of millions of dollars toward making our communities safer places for our families and providing real options for getting around.

I put the same principles of transparency, accountability and innovation into my oversight of Metro. Working with my colleagues, we professionalized management and made big changes at the Oregon Zoo as well as the Oregon Convention Center, the Expo Center and the Portland Center for Performing Arts. We overhauled our budget processes, winning awards for transparency and ease of understanding from national groups. Metro’s AAA bond rating — the best in the state — is testimony to the hard work of Metro staff and the attentiveness of the council to sound practices.

I’m also proud of my efforts that:

Convinced voters to reject a ballot measure (26-11 in 2002) that would have destroyed this region’s ability to plan for growth;

Brought together regional conservation educators, resulting in Metro re-thinking its own education around recycling, habitat protection and smart commuting. Another great result is a new $10 million regional conservation education center to be built at the Oregon Zoo;

Kept Outdoor School programs operating for kids throughout the region with a small fee on landfilled waste;

Made preparing for and helping prevent climate change a key part of our growth management and transportation work;

Changed the conversation about growth in this region to one about community aspirations and opportunity (“what do we want to be when we grow up”) instead of about government mandates;

Helped launch The Intertwine, a new regional organization bringing nonprofits and businesses together to protect our nature and encourage citizens to enjoy it more;

Brought together elected leaders from the other five metropolitan areas in Oregon to solve the challenges of urban growth and transportation;

Led Metro’s efforts to engage an increasingly diverse community through new hiring and engagement practices, leading to a substantial commitment to new equity strategies;

Banned smoking on all Metro properties; and

Provided a voice to citizens who had an idea or a concern, from toxic substances in the air to coal trains to getting Metro Paint for a community project.

I remain amazed by all the opportunities that have been part of my Metro experience, whether planting trees along Interstate 205 with Friends of Trees or speaking in Quito, Guadalajara or Malaysia on the “Portland Story.”

If we are to keep this place a good one — for living, working, raising a family — we must continue to work hard. We face many challenges, not least the wide gap between those that have and those that don’t. I will keep working on these issues as Citizen Rex.

I urge you to pick an issue and do what you can to change this world for the better.

Rex Burkholder has served since 2001 on the Metro Council, representing District 5, which includes much of Central Portland.

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