After 25 years working in conflict resolution, Jamie Damon says she's ready to take on countywide issues

Jamie Damon, who lives in rural Eagle Creek, believes her 25 years in conflict resolution will enable her to help Clackamas County settle the issues that divide its residents.

Damon was appointed last week as the newest county commissioner. She will take the seat formerly held by Charlotte Lehan, who stepped up to the position of chairwoman of the commission when former chairwoman Lynn Peterson was tapped by the governor for a state position.

Damon works as a mediator at the National Policy Consensus Center in the Hatfield School of Government at Portland State University.

Since both positions are full-time, she will leave her post at PSU after a transition period when she will have to attend to duties at both institutions and train her replacement at PSU.

Damon says she has learned much while working in three Western states as a public policy mediator on challenging issues.

'I am excited to bring that background here to my own county,' she said Saturday in an interview at Philip Foster Farm, where she is president of the board of directors of the Jacknife Zion Horse Heaven Historical Society, which owns and manages the historic farm.

Damon has worked on a myriad of issues all over Oregon, Washington and Alaska - issues that also are typical to Clackamas County.

'I have worked on land-use and management, water, urbanization, transportation, infrastructure and siting of controversial structures such as homeless shelters, fire stations, methadone clinics and sewage treatment plants,' she said.

Although the roles of commissioner and mediator are different (advocate vs. neutral), Damon said the skills she learned and applied to her job as mediator will be helpful while serving as a county commissioner.

'As a commissioner I need to take a position,' she said. 'I have to be an advocate for the county. The skill that is most transferrable is my ability to bridge the divide. I'm a consensus builder; that's all I've done.

'My job is to be sure diverse voices are at the table as a part of creating a solution that will work for everybody.'

Damon says it is a responsibility of government to ensure a variety of attitudes are present when any matter is discussed.

'It isn't just a matter of having a meeting, crossing our fingers and hoping somebody comes to the meeting,' she said. 'We need to go into the community where people meet, provide clear information in advance of decisions and work with community leaders having differing opinions.'

Damon admits going out to talk with people personally is more difficult in the rural areas of Clackamas County because many of those residents are too far away to attend meetings in Oregon City, they don't have computers, don't have good access to the Internet and they're not connected with their government's choices; but they are affected by its decisions.

She predicts having a voice on the county's governing body from the rural east county should make a difference.

'But just because I live in rural Clackamas County,' she said, 'doesn't mean I automatically can speak for everybody on the east side. But most of the work I have done has been in rural communities. That has been my niche.'

The way she takes on the responsibility of advocating for everyone's interests might not be traditional. She doesn't speak for rural residents because she lives there and understands their views. Instead, she focuses on ways to get those voices to the decision-making table.

'It isn't so much about me being a voice (for rural folk),' she said, 'It's more about me making sure that there are opportunities for rural voices to be in the mix.'

A 15-year resident of rural Eagle Creek, Damon doesn't want anyone to feel left out. She knows, for example, that county residents on Mount Hood are responsible for a large portion of the county's economy, with the tourism industry.

'We need to work together for mutual gain,' she said.

Damon studied speech communication at Portland State University and earned a master's degree in conflict transformation from the School for International Training in Brattleboro, Vt.

The commission has yet to determine the exact day Damon will assume her role as commissioner, but she says she will be working with the commission on budget issues in early June while transitioning away from her PSU position.

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