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Local control and local decision making paramount to improving livability

Since announcing last month that I will not be seeking re-election to my county commission seat, I’ve been amazed at the number of people who have contacted me to express their surprise, disbelief and disappointment at my decision. It is quite humbling and I appreciate the support; but remember, I am still your county commissioner for another 15 months, and I’m hard at work on your behalf.

Much of my time continues to be devoted to fighting for local control and local decision making, which are both paramount to improving livability and growing local economies. I’ve shared before my concerns about attacks on local government. Efforts to circumvent, undermine, usurp and even disregard the vital role local governments play continue. The attacks come primarily through the federal government and state government via legislation, rules, regulations and mandates imposed on counties and cities that are baited with funding.

With tight budgets, cities and counties are finding it more and more difficult to respond to the unique needs and goals of individual communities. Administrators and managers who are responsible for budgets are in the tough position of balancing the budget however they can. Accepting “strings-attached monies” often appears an easier solution then cutting a pet project, program or service, any of which may be backed by one of their elected officials or a special interest group.

Elected officials, wanting to deliver on campaign promises, are also drawn to “strings-attached monies.” Even the general public can be enticed to take the money. But, money is not free and often comes with a steep price tag that affects credibility, public relations and ultimately livability. We all want better health care, improved education and increased public safety, but these issues are becoming more complicated and solutions more convoluted.

The only reason Oregon got millions of dollars for Oregon’s Heath Care Transformation is because Governor Kitzhaber pledged his support to implement the Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as Obamacare. The federal money only comes as long as Governor Kitzhaber’s Coordinated Care Organizations (CCOs) and Oregon’s health care exchanges follow the directives of Obamacare.

Sometimes couched as cost-effective and more efficient, health care transformation and education reform were designed to go hand in hand. Intentionally, however, health care and education bureaucracies can now share individuals’ personal information in order to “prescribe” what is best for a child and the child’s family. Often sold as providing services to “at risk,” vulnerable, low-income people, the truth is Governor Kitzhaber’s goal is to have every Oregonian in the Oregon health care system and every Oregonian age 0-24 in the Oregon education system, all under centralized government-controlled programs.

Evidence of this is a September 2013 report prepared by a subcommittee of the joint Early Learning Council and the Oregon Health Policy Board that lays out how this scheme will be implemented.

For example, this subcommittee has already identified “recommendations to align early learning and health system transformation.” One of several recommendations already adopted is to “establish cross governance between CCOs and Early Learning Hubs.” Transformation Centers, which have already been created within the Oregon Health Authority, are responsible “to ensure alignment between health and early learning transformation efforts.”

Despite any rhetoric to the contrary, these federal and state mandates do not respect local decision making, citizen involvement, nor do they consider community needs and community goals.

The same is true in the area of public safety. Federal and state legislative changes, particularly those related to funding, influence how cities and counties approach keeping citizens safe while imposing appropriate sanctions on offenders.

Once again, I urge you to learn more about government at all levels. Ask questions of government officials at all levels. Contact your elected officials at all levels and ask for explanations and information on legislation and ordinances.

Again, local control and local decision making are paramount to improving livability and growing local economies. It is up to us, the citizenry, to have the government we want. Please call me any time with questions, ideas and comments at 503-588-5212.