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Activist stirs the county pot

Food carts are only beginning of issues for local developer

What started with some food carts on Southeast 82nd Avenue has become a knockdown, drag-out political divide at the county level.

What started with Richard Langdon regularly criticizing county commissioners at each Thursday's regular meeting has ballooned into dozens of similar three-minute speeches from other citizens in the weeks leading up to the election.

Langdon, a Portland resident, and his partners own a little less than $10 million in real estate in urban unincorporated Clackamas County. He also owns acreage in Happy Valley, but his beef is with the county even there because of its influence on road planning.

About four months ago it became clear to Langdon that the county wasn't going to directly answer his questions about its lack of a countywide food cart code. He felt that it was reasonable for elected officials to address his concerns and those of any citizen with a grievance.

'It was through my experience over the last year with mobile foods carts that I came to the conclusion that the commissioners aren't being held accountable,' Langdon said. 'The problem is that it's escalated way beyond that so that these freedom of speech issues are an outgrowth of the county's dragging its heels on the food cart code.'

The straw broke last week when the county's legal counsel told citizens that Commissioner Ann Lininger's advocacy of an urban renewal measure was scrubbed from public meeting transcripts at the advice of the secretary of state's office. Elected officials may personally advocate election issues at any time, but Oregon statutes prohibit a public employee from advocating a political position during working hours, including, as determined in this case, the rebroadcast of political advocacy materials on the county's public access channel.

'To say that 'we can't put it in because a staff person can't put it in' is stretching the limits of censorship,' Langdon said. 'It would make much more sense for staff member to continue to do what he or she already does rather than spend extra time and money redacting the tapes.'

Disappointed with the county's measure out-fundraising its competition 10 to 1, Langdon recently donated $1,000 to the citizen's initiative for a countywide vote on urban renewal districts.

Langdon declined to predict the election's outcome, but said he was hopeful.