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Metro needs to hear from all the mayors

The situation has gotten so bad that some mayors are talking about withdrawing from Metro.

Call it the Boondock Rebellion of 2011, an uprising of sorts staged by suburban mayors against the Metro regional government and, by extension, the City of Portland.

At first glance, it might seem like a case of mayors just being mayors, exercising their independence and being a bit cantankerous and provincial, as mayors are wont to do.

But a closer look at the issue reveals that the mayors' dissatisfaction with some of Metro's practices is really a symptom of a deeper fracture - one that separates suburban communities from the values and goals advanced by leaders at Metro and in Portland.

Tensions have been simmering since before Metro was formed in 1979, creating the nation's first regionally elected body charged with coordinating a host of metro-area activities, from transportation and development to garbage collection and the zoo.

Two years ago this week, the News-Times helped put the conflict on the front burner when it hosted, along with OPB's 'Think Out Loud,' a debate between Portland Mayor Sam Adams and then-Washington County Chair Tom Brian.

Billed as a choice between 'Up or Out?' Adams chose up, saying that all new homes and businesses could be accommodated within the current metro area boundaries.

He returned to that theme this fall, proposing all new housing developments in the region to have a minimum of 20 units per acre.

It was a curious suggestion coming from a guy in city where a typical residential block has an average of about 12 units per acre. And, it's unrealistic in the suburbs, where many people have come in search of larger yards.

Beyond Adams' politically unpalatable calculus, cities in Washington County - particularly Forest Grove and Cornelius - are still steaming over Metro's decision to allow only a very limited expansion in the west side's urban growth boundary.

The situation has gotten so bad that suburban mayors have started monthly meetings to discuss Metro's decisions and elected officials on either end of its boundary (Forest Grove to the west and Damascus to the east) are openly talking about withdrawing from the regional government.

We think there's a better solution: Revamp the Metro Policy Advisory Committee. This unwieldy panel, which goes by 'M-PAC,' currently includes a handful of mayors, county officials and representatives of regional and state agencies, such as TriMet.

The problem is that while every mayor must deal with the political fallout of Metro decisions, only a fourth of them have a seat on MPAC. Even those who are on the panel say that at times it seems like officials at the Portland-based regional government (who once left the city of Forest Grove off a Metro map) view any place outside the I-205/405 ring as backwaters that need to be kept in line for the greater good of more enlightened city dwellers.

Some of that sentiment may be a bit misplaced. Portland, after all, does contain 40 percent of the region's population. To argue that they shouldn't have a big say in the region is silly.

But, 40 percent is not a majority, and it's a number that will shrink as the suburbs are growing at twice the rate of the Rose City.

Regardless of what ratio you choose, the decision by most mayors to meet on their own, indicates a need for that group to have a forum where everyone can be heard, even though not everyone will get their way. Metro should consider making it official with an advisory panel of mayors (including the mayor of Vancouver) and a separate advisory panel of counties and regional and state government officials.

That would go a long way to quelling the rebellion in the Boondocks.