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Districting delay by county gives us pause

We are not enamored with the format the commission is employing to fill a vacancy

Districting delay by county gives us pause

We are not enamored with the format the commission is employing to fill a vacancy

As the Clackamas County Board of County Commissioners considers who it's going to appoint to a vacant seat, you'd think that members would want to hear about geographical representation from Verne Duncan and Greg Chaimov.

The North Clackamas leaders led the successful campaign in 2008 to increase the number of seats on the board from three to five. When Clackamas County voters passed the directive, voters also stipulated in the ordinance that the board 'shall review' before June 1 of this year whether the electorate should be split up into districts to ensure that all areas are being represented.

But this discussion has been delayed past the BBC's consideration of the 63 candidates who have applied for the open seat. Last week, commissioners whittled the list down to 11, and although Chaimov and Duncan were originally scheduled to speak to the board on April 26, county Chair Charlotte Lehan pushed them back more than a month.

Commissioner Paul Savas was understandably upset when he heard about the delay, and he pushed Lehan to bring them in sooner. Chaimov and Duncan are still scheduled for May 31, and board secretary Terry Ferrucci wasn't directed to try to reschedule for an earlier day.

While the discussion set a day before the deadline follows the letter of the law, it doesn't follow its spirit. Board members missed a golden opportunity to give Chaimov and Duncan their ear right before they started making the important appointment.

The board had discussed as early as March 22 bringing in the two community leaders to talk about what constitutes rural and East County. Although commissioners agree that these geographical criteria are important for candidates, none of them can say for sure whether a resident of a southern city like Molalla could also be considered a rural or East County representative.

We'd like to hear from more than just Chaimov and Duncan, neither of whom live in rural areas. Commissioners should have a public process and invite comment from citizens throughout the county, including those in south and east county - and those on the west side of the Willamette River - who may live a substantial distance from the nearest commissioner.

To be fair, it's Lehan's prerogative as chair to make judgment calls about scheduling board discussions. She pointed out that issues took precedence surrounding a $2 million increase in budget for solar power in Wilsonville, as well as the Stafford Hamlet's negotiations with Metro over urbanization.

But we agree with Savas that the BCC could have found time to hear the North Clackamas leaders' expertise earlier than May 31. Once Lehan determined that Clackamas County voters had asked for the districting discussion before June 1, not June 30 as she originally thought, she should have worked to correct the misinterpretation.

Just three years ago county leaders sat with local editorial boards and insisted that they would thoroughly vet the expansion of the board in 2011 to see if districts were indeed necessary. Scheduling a discussion on the topic the day before their deadline to review that expansion makes a mockery of the process and fosters distrust and doubt among voters, particularly those in rural areas.

It's not too late, however, for the county to have a meaningful discussion about districting. We hope to see in the coming weeks and months a discussion taking place in multiple public forums, hopefully with Chaimov, Duncan and county voters in regular attendance.