Savas takes lead on sewer talks

MILWAUKIE: Commissioner has experience on Oak Lodge Sanitary District board; talks on hold as leaders are away

March has been a period of transition and delay for sewer-rate negotiations between Milwaukie and Clackamas County, which is not a sign of an impending return to animosity, according to leaders on each side.

About a week after former County Chair Lynn Peterson left the negotiating table to take a job at the governor's office March 14, Commissioner Ann Lininger announced she was stepping back from her role as the other elected official representing the county's bargaining interests.

On the other side, Milwaukie Mayor Jeremy Ferguson was on a humanitarian mission to Haiti for much of this month. The city will pay a wholesale rate of $26 per equivalent dwelling unit through June of 2012, which was the result of a two-year agreement last May.

To replace her spot at the negotiating table, Lininger and her fellow board members agreed to appoint Commissioner Paul Savas to be the county's lead negotiator. Savas served on the board of the Oak Lodge Sanitary District starting in 2003.

'It makes a lot of sense, and it's a great use of his (Savas') interest and expertise,' Lininger said.

Lininger promised to remain available as a resource to Savas, and even return to the negotiating table if necessary.

'There's been a lot of heavy lifting that's already occurred, so it's not as if I'm coming in and solving an impasse,' Savas said.

Councilor Greg Chaimov, Milwaukie's other elected representative at the negotiating table, hoped that Savas would more naturally understand the city's position.

'Ann has been an outstanding representative of the county's position who's willing to listen and very thoughtful of our concerns, but as with any elected official without a specific background in her area of service, she had to rely very heavily on her staff for information,' Chaimov said.

Savas agreed that his background may help him avoid misinterpretations of language, but he added that he won't avoid soliciting advice.

'I'll probably rely on staff for some of the facts, figures and complex nomenclature,' Savas said.

Another reason the two are looking forward to working together: They were Oak Grove neighbors for about 20 years before Chaimov moved to Milwaukie.

'A number of us have developed good relationships with Paul over the years,' he said.

Seeing the negotiation process as an opportunity to reach out to another elected official, Savas emphasized what he saw as an opportunity for the city and county to come together.

'We're really neighbors mostly because I don't see the borders,' Savas said. 'It's going to be a community-building and positive experience.'