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Departure shines light on problem with county commissioners board

Board should consider Austin, Malone for vacancy

The departure of Clackamas County Chairwoman Lynn Peterson reminds us - once again - about the flaws in the system for electing commissioners in that county.

As readers may recall, the November general election saw the entire Clackamas County Board of Commissioners swing to representation that lives in the west end of the county. That's because former commissioner Bob Austin of Estacada lost to challenger Paul Savas, who lives in the Oak Grove area near Milwaukie.

That left the board empty of any relevant connection to East Clackamas County - including the communities of Boring, Damascus, Sandy, the Mount Hood villages and Estacada.

That's the problem that arises when commissioners are elected at large, rather than being selected on the basis of specific zones within the county - as they are in Multnomah County.

For Clackamas County, this at-large process of election clearly stacks the deck against electing representation from this area, because population is so much greater in the urbanized west end. As it turns out, it's likely easier for an East Clackamas County resident to be appointed to a vacated position than to actually win an election.

Enter Sandy's Linda Malone (former mayor of Sandy), who has mentioned enthusiastic interest in pursuing the appointment to Peterson's unexpired term. Former commissioner and mayor of Estacada Bob Austin has also expressed some interest in returning.

We think Malone or Austin would make an excellent choice as a replacement for Peterson. Both would add an eastside voice to the board. But just as important, Austin or Malone would bring a vast understanding of the relationships between county and city governments, deep connections within the community and more than enough experience in leadership.

Knowing that the election process is not likely to change, East Clackamas County must be painfully aware that its best chance of entrenching local representation on the board will come down to an appointment of this type. The eastern portion of the county may be less populated, but its impressive geography, tourism industry, timber-replacement revenues and diverse communities are of large importance to the county as a whole.

We hope Malone and Austin submit applications once that process gets under way. And then, we strongly encourage the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners to move one of these two east county residents into a front-runner position.