Commissioners mull rural district
Clackamas County is exploring the legality of hybrid districting for the Board of County Commissioners to guarantee that a representative would reside in the county's vast eastern rural area.
Unlike the traditional districts where only voters within the constituency lines choose their representatives, the elected leaders supported the idea of the entire county voting on all five commission seats. The two to four districted representatives would still have to live within areas divided by the county's population distribution.
Clackamas County Chairwoman Charlotte Lehan worried about the potential to 'exacerbate the urban-rural divide' if representatives from west or east county were only answerable to their neighbors at the ballot box. As little as four years ago, Bill Kennemer, Larry Sowa and Martha Schrader all hailed from rural areas as county commissioners, but the single rural representative currently, Jamie Damon, was recently appointed.
If county attorneys come back this month finding that residency requirements pass legal muster, commissioners plan to form a committee to discuss the details and feasibility of the idea.
After meeting 10 times over a two-month period, a previous task force recommended that the commission go to its current full-time five nonpartisan positions. Not wanting to change county governance too radically in 2007, the task force punted the issue of districting until this year.
'We didn't think we had a ghost of a chance of even accomplishing anything, because first of all, we were asking for more government,' said Verne Duncan, who had served as the task force chair.
At the special election on Nov. 6, 2007, Clackamas County voted by a 63 percent margin to increase its number of representatives from three to five. Commissioners voted unanimously last week to keep their positions at a full-time, rather than a part-time, level.
Both the task force and the community members it informally polled were divided on the issue of districting. Duncan, a resident of Oak Grove, was against the concept of traditional districts.
'I personally would like to get to vote on all five of you folks,' Duncan said.
Greg Chaimov was one of the task force members who supported traditional districts.
'I think there is great value to having a small constituency; you get to know the people you represent better; they get to know you better,' said Chaimov, who is now a Milwaukie city councilor.
Even if community leaders could agree on the hybrid district concept, there could be voters who would not want to share representation with other communities.
Chaimov said the problem with choosing districts is that not everyone agreed on where to draw the lines.
Any possible solution in drawing districts of equal population would have to take in some cities. The more at-large seats that remain besides the chair seat, the more urban areas would have to be included in the seat representing east county.