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Brown: Leaders need to be more accountable

Continuous elections wouldn't solve county's problems
by: raymond rendleman Oregon Secretary of State Kate Brown (right) joins Susan Lehr, the North Clackamas Chamber’s executive director, after an Oct. 26 chamber-sponsored keynote address at the Monarch Hotel.

Oregon Secretary of State Kate Brown gave an earful to Clackamas County leaders on developing consensus just about the time a polarized local electorate was mailing in ballots on the issue of urban renewal financing.

In an Oct. 26 keynote address to members of the North Clackamas Chamber of Commerce at the Monarch Hotel, Brown seemed to be speaking to the possibility of a Nov. 8 mandate by Clackamas County citizens that future urban renewal decisions would face approval on the ballot rather than just by five elected commissioners. Brown, who was majority leader of the Oregon Senate prior to her election to the statewide office in 2008, argued that there was a reason voters elect representatives.

'We could essentially hold continuous elections, but that wouldn't solve all the problems we have,' she told local leaders and business people at the gathering.

Brown suggested that officials hold more informal meetings so that they can listen to concerns and get a pulse of popular opinion. Watching the dance floor from the balcony was helpful in putting school dances into perspective, Brown recalled.

'When you go into a meeting or a room and there's a discussion going on, I challenge you to step back and really watch what's going on,' she said.

Audience members pressed Brown for specifics. Verne Duncan, former state senator and school superintendent, asked, 'How in the world do I discern who is a bad guy and who is the good guy in a situation where everyone looks like the bad guy?'

'The power is really in the hands of the people in terms of the ballot box,' Brown replied. 'Negative campaigning has been used since this country has become a nation. And why is it used? Because it works.'

Brown argued that leaders would take greater responsibility for the problems facing society if they stopped tackling problems with technical solutions, like the 'accounting tricks' of the Oregon Legislature between 2001 and '03. Brown praised the collaboration forced on the Oregon House by the 30-30 party-line split in the last session that balanced the budget and drew new district lines without her help.

'I would argue that Microsoft does technical work and Apple, at least in their recent string, does adaptive work,' Brown said. 'It's too easy to do it the way that you've always done it, and in government risk taking is really, really scary.'

Brown's speech was in honor of the Young Leaders Project, a Clackamas County program aimed at developing youth into strong leaders.

'It's an amazing program that really makes a difference for all of us in our area,' said Susan Lehr, the North Clackamas Chamber's executive director.

Brown suggested that youthful technologies may help leaders transition to a new political reality.

'Facebook and Twitter are changing the nature of leadership,' she said. 'It enables it to be a ground-up rather than top-down movement.'