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County should modify process of electing commissioners

For three years the Sandy Post has occasionally resurrected its rant over the process by which Clackamas County elects its Board of Commissioners.

But we have good cause to rant. In the November 2010 election, our worst fears - and our predictions - came true. In that election, the last remaining East County voice on the board was silenced when Commissioner Bob Austin of Estacada was defeated by Paul Savas of Oak Grove, an unincorporated portion of the county near Milwaukie.

With that decision by voters, the entire board - in terms of residency - swung full tilt to the highly populated west end of the county.

And there is no reason to believe that the situation will change. Simply consider the advantages a west-county candidate holds over an east-county candidate by virtue of higher population densities and voter base.

Then add to that cocktail the political and cultural differences between the east and west ends, and you quickly come to understand that an East County candidate faces an inequitable challenge, regardless of qualifications.

Which brings us to the central point of today's rant.

The following quote appears in a news story printed on Page 4A of today's edition regarding the selection process for a new commissioner.

'The disadvantage of districting is that you have a smaller pool from which to draw qualified applicants,' said Charlotte Lehan, who was recently appointed chairwoman of the commission as departing chairwoman Lynn Peterson resigned to take a job with Gov. John Kitzhaber.

It sounds as if Lehan is saying that if Clackamas County elected its commissioners based on districts, the county would somehow struggle to find smart, prepared and connected individuals to occupy the board.

We believe there are highly qualified individuals in every corner of the county. And we don't believe for a moment that there would be a lack of smart and talented people ready to take on the challenge.

And like most issues, there's more than one way to view Lehan's statement.

So we'd like to offer the reverse spin of Lehan's statement.

'The advantage of districting is that you would have a larger pool from which to draw candidates who understand and advocate for your community and neighbors.'

Districting takes on new relevance as we learn that a county task force has determined there is more support for districts the farther east and south you travel in the county.

The Board of Commissioners is expected to decide by the end of April whether it will continue with the current process for electing commissioners, or whether modifications are warranted.

We are convinced by the home addresses of the sitting commissioners that a change is needed. The Post is not saying all commissioners must be elected to represent districts. Perhaps two could be elected at-large. Perhaps the county could be divided into three zones - east, west and south - with representatives to each of those areas.

We would support such a move, which would return equity to the election process, and take some of the sting out of watching a highly qualified candidate go down in flames simply by virtue of living outside the Interstate 5 corridor.