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Put Metros focus on economy

Our Opinion

A piece of unfinished business from the Nov. 2 election was finally resolved late last week as former Hillsboro Mayor Tom Hughes emerged with an extremely narrow victory in the Metro president's race.

Hughes' election may be seen by some as a triumph for suburban values. That would be far too simple of an election analysis.

Hughes did, in fact, win a majority of votes in Washington and Clackamas counties - and presumably in East Multnomah County - while his opponent Bob Stacey carried the city of Portland. But it would be unwise to make too much of this apparent urban-suburban divide. Both candidates had significant support across all three counties. Both had emphasized the need to move forward as a region, without pitting the central city against the edges.

With Hughes at the helm, though, we do expect Metro to change in significant ways. Hughes ran on an economic-development platform - which was a common political theme this year. But in Hughes' case, his background as a previous champion for the highly diversified Hillsboro economy lent greater credibility to the idea that Metro can concentrate less on planning and more on focused strategies and timely outcomes.

Places to improve

Under previous Metro President David Bragdon, the regional government did some things very well. It was able to build consensus on difficult and contentious issues. It excelled at promoting the value of environmentally sensitive spaces and passing bond measures to allow the purchase and preservation of those natural areas. Metro also has done a competent job of managing regional services such as the Oregon Zoo, the Oregon Convention Center and solid waste disposal.

However, as the Metro auditor recently pointed out, the regional government seemingly is more adept at informing the public than it is at engaging citizens in developing solutions to regional problems. In part, that might be because Metro relies heavily on locally elected officials and stakeholder and special interest groups to be a conduit to the public.

But change must occur. Looking ahead, the largest problem facing the Portland area is a poor regional economy - one that not only has suffered in the aftermath of a global recession, but also has lagged behind what's been achieved in other metropolitan areas of comparable size or characteristics.

Defining a path for growth

Hughes' election must bring a sharper focus at Metro. The agency must lead the way in promoting a public-sector environment that encourages private-sector investments, appropriate development and much-needed job creation.

Metro's role as the transportation planner for the region will be a major factor in economic growth. Metro also will determine how much land will be available for development. And it needs to become more involved in identifying ways to fund the streets, sewers, water lines and other infrastructure needed before new development - and redevelopment within the urban growth boundary - can occur. All of these efforts must be done effectively, accountably and within much shorter time frames than is presently the case.

Hughes' charge is to create that needed change with an emphasis on results - and with a focus on economic success that extends to both urban and suburban communities.

This change will require partnerships among public and private sector leaders. And in an era of tight resources, Metro-area residents should be treated as consumers requiring real benefits and excellent customer service from Metro as well as other governments.

Certainly, the future will not be determined by Hughes alone. The region's next president can set a new tone with members of the Metro Council and Metro staff - one that's more business-minded and more intent on producing positive economic outcomes in timely ways.