County candidates discuss growth, business at forum

The 11 candidates on hand kept their tone cordial; the same can't be said for the forum's moderator
by: Anthony Roberts, Candidates for Position 5, from left, Jim Bernard, Ron Adams, Kami Kehoe, Lori DeRemer, and Trent Tidwell.

What Milwaukie city councilor Greg Chaimov referred to as a 'cavalcade of candidates' for open county commission seats appeared at a forum last week at which each tried to distinguish him or herself from the crowd of 11 present.

'I think cavalcade is a fitting term,' Chaimov said in his opening remarks. 'I looked it up before coming here and it originates from a Greek term meaning a group that sacks and pillages a town.'

Chaimov's incisive whit, levied not only against all the candidates in turn, but also against the county's creation of yet another wastewater task force, Oregon City's loan to the Black Point Inn and other regional policy issues set the mood for the North Clackamas Chamber of Commerce-sponsored event.

Three candidates, Ray Nelson, Emil Hnidey and Matthew Silva did not attend the forum, and Lynn Peterson, though in attendance, did not participate because she is running unopposed for the chair position.

County residents in November voted to expand the Board of County Commissioners from three seats to five, also making all seats non-partisan and countywide rather than splitting them into districts. The new seats have attracted a large field of candidates, with seven running for seat five and four running for seat four. Incumbent Martha Schrader will also defend her seat, position three, against two contenders. A runoff election for seats three, four and five will be held May 20 to narrow each down to two candidates for the November election.

Each candidate was given two minutes for an opening remark to the packed room at the Oregon Institute of Technology on Harmony Road, followed by questions from Chaimov and a one-minute wrap-up each. While the county's growth and how to deal with it dominated the forum, most of the candidates also wrestled to portray themselves as business friendly to the audience - the forum was sponsored by the North Clackamas Chamber of Commerce.

Seat five

Kami Kehoe, who lives in unincorporated Clackamas outside of Oregon City and is chair of the Holcomb-Outlook Community Planning Organization, said that if outside institutions are going to require growth, the county must demand they provide resources to assist with that.

'Growth is not paying for itself - the legislature, they put growth on cities, but they don't give them the tools to deal with it,' she said. 'Happy Valley is built out, they don't even have a library. That is wrong.'

Happy Valley councilwoman Lori Deremer also urged pressing higher levels of government for financial assistance.

'We have to pay for the maintenance of our roads,' she said. 'Again the question is do we prioritize our taxes? Do we impose them all at once? I don't think so. We're going to have to push the state and federal legislators to [help with that funding].

'We don't want to see our businesses close, we don't want to see our roads unable to move goods. What we need to see in Clackamas County is not going to happen if we don't have a vision.'

Milwaukie Mayor James Bernard said that, along with a vision, a leader must have the connections to get that help for the county, connections he said he'd built while serving on Metro's Joint Policy Advisory Committee on Transportation (JPACT).

'One of the reasons I'm running is I think having built those partnerships was really important,' he said. 'The reason I jumped in so late is because I didn't see those relationships {among other candidates] … The only way to get money for your communities is to have those relationships.'

When asked about supporting high taxes, Bernard countered that infrastructure must be maintained while the area grows.

'I don't think I support high taxes,' he said. 'I supported a conversation of how we're going to support our infrastructure in Milwaukie … Our roads are going to be repaired - soon I hope.'

Ron Adams, a former state representative from West Linn, said he doesn't have a strong background in local government, but he also doesn't have a set idea of how things should be done.

'I'm not a local government guru, I don't pretend to be. I consider this a job, not a position,' he said. 'One of the reasons I would be a good leader is because I don't bring a lock-step idea of how things should be done.'

He also said that while supporting growth the commission must be mindful of making sure it's done responsibly, mentioning the presence of pesticides in the Clackamas River.

'We've got a responsibility to the earth to manage those resources effectively,' he said.

Trent Tidwell said he saw the vote to expand the commission as a vote for leadership, change and communication between representatives and the represented.

'[The voters] sent a message for cohesive visionary change,' he said. 'It's going to take someone who really understands and listens … The kind of leadership that thinks progressive with their ideas but is fiscally responsible.'

Seat three

Incumbent Commissioner Martha Schrader pointed to the leadership she's shown and the progress she's made for the county on the current board. She spoke of the strength of not just attracting, but keeping businesses in the area.

'Anyone who knows about economic development knows it's not about recruitment, it's about retention and expansion,' she said, mentioning Oregon Iron Works and Nutraceutical as two large businesses the county helped to expand.

'[Nutraceutical is] a key component of our health care industry today.'

Schrader also said she helped establish Clackamas as a major regional player.

'I believe in my leadership in the past six years we have seen things happen that no one could've thought done,' she said mentioning working with the defense coalition and expanding Clackamas Community College.

'I also think how we have established who we are in the regional economic landscape.'

Patrick Reed, a grocery clerk from unincorporated Clackamas County near Sherwood, said he has a knack for seeing what's important to people and that he wants to work with county residents toward their goals.

He said maintenance of the county's roads is one of his main concerns, and that without funding, the county's roads would be inadequate within 20 years.

When asked whether unincorporated portions of the county should incorporate or join cities, he said that must be looked at on a case-by-case basis.

'Cities and neighborhoods are like people, each unique in their own way,' he said. 'The benefits or disadvantages have to be weighed in each instance.'

Seat four

As the mayor of Wilsonville, which lies in both Clackamas and Washington counties, Charlotte Lehan said she's been dealing with growth successfully for years.

'It's because of the challenges we have before us in growth management and infrastructure that I've decided to run,' she said. 'I think that one of the things we've done in Wilsonville despite growth every year is we have kept pace with the infrastructure and protected the quality of life [in the city].'

When Chaimov questioned her about two recall attempts, one of which garnered 48 percent of the vote, Lehan said they'd come because of risky but ultimately beneficial political moves.

'Both recall attempts had to do with us tapping the Willamette River for water. It was a controversial move but we had no water to support the business community we serve … we now have more water than we could ever want … It cost us politically but we overcame it in the end.'

Dave Mowry, a political consultant and business owner from Clackamas, said he would focus on transportation and approaches government decisions as a businessman.

'Congestion is going to cost $1.7 billion over the next few years,' he said. 'I support public transportation, but public transportation is only part of the equation. You can't move goods via light rail.'

He said he would support vehicle registration fees and street fees so long as they don't disproportionately charge businesses, but he's against levying a gas tax.

He said when the county looks to provide services, it should ask three questions: 'Does it compete with private services, is it effective and is it efficient?'

Matthew Green-Hite, an accountant and financial manager from Gladstone, said he has been heavily involved in sewer and water issues in the county.

He said he would support the county move away from providing urban services 'to a large degree,' but that the county needs to be consistent one way or the other. He said currently the county is getting out of services like the library, but expanding other services it oversees, like the North Clackamas Parks District.

He also mentioned improving transparency on the board.

'One of the big problems with the county is transparency,' he said. 'You've got a sewer district you don't get to vote on, you've got a park district you don't get to vote on … They just keep trying to ram this stuff through,' he said of the potential sewer district consolidation and park district annexations.

Craig Gingerich, of Aurora, who works with the Clackamas County Housing Authority and who was a city manager in Booker, Texas, said he would bring leadership to the board and would represent the rural population of the county.

'I think we have a lot of common interests in the rural areas,' he said.

He said the job growth seen in the northern part of the county is important, but leaders should recognize that the rural areas need jobs, too.

And he said protecting the county's infrastructure was of paramount concern. He said by putting off maintenance, the costs are just going to grow. He supports utility fees for services like road repair, but said a dialogue with residents should be held to determine the best way to pay for those services.

Position 3 candidate Ray Nelson; and Position 5 candidates Emil Hnidey and Matthew Silva could not attend.