There's no longer any doubt that Clackamas County needs to expand its board of commissioners.
It's a difficult task to serve a geographically massive county with a diverse landscape that includes urban, suburban and rural concerns. Now that the county is experiencing unprecedented growth that will to continue in the coming decades, the task has shifted from difficult to nearly impossible.
An expanded board would not only mean greater representation for citizens, it would help ensure that a Clackamas commissioner is always at the table when local counties jockey for limited state and federal funds.
The question is not whether Clackamas needs more commissioners, but whether Ballot Measure 3-272 adequately addresses that need.
Concerns about districts, cost
Ballot Measure 3-272 would expand the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners to five members - up from three - each serving staggered, four-year terms.
The new positions would be non-partisan, and elected in an open primary.
Voters would also select the commission president, a position currently decided by the board.
The primary concern voiced to a task force that helped draft the measure this summer was representation. The farther task force members traveled from the Willamette River, the greater the support for carving the county into districts, said local attorney Greg Chaimov, a member of the task force. Residents in rural towns like Estacada and Government Camp were concerned about getting sufficient representation. In contrast, voters in the wealthier communities like Lake Oswego and West Linn rely on the county for fewer services than communities like Oregon City and Milwaukie.
Opponents, which include critics from the county's Democratic and Republican committees, also pointed out the increased cost of the measure.
The move would boost costs by an estimated $260,000. Critics are also concerned about the potential spending involved in five at-large elections. Commissioner Lynn Peterson, a former Lake Oswego City Councilor, spent $280,000 to win her seat in 2006. Even task force members contend that running a countywide election is a more expensive prospect than running in a smaller district.
Task force recommendations
While voters in rural areas of the county have a legitimate concern, the task force has asked commissioners to revisit the district concept in four years to see if the plan is working. We believe an ideal situation would be to split the commission up into three districts with two commissioners elected at-large. We believe it would be better to do that immediately rather than revisit the issue in four years, when county commissioners could potentially be more concerned in preserving their own seats.
As for the move to a non-partisan commission, task force members said that was about the only decision that came easily, and it is one we support.
It's impossible to keep money and party politics out of races, but we believe there is some truth to the task force's claims that a non-partisan race won't cost as much as a major-party contest.
The move to five commissioners would also allow two members of the board to discuss county business outside of a meeting. Due to public information rules regarding quorums, two members of a three-member board cannot discuss any governmental business outside of a public meeting. While we strongly support these regulations, we realize there are realities to doing business that occasionally require a face-to-face conversation. With a three-member board, a commissioner is breaking the law by simply stopping by another commissioner's office to ask a simple question about a piece of legislation.
While residents in rural areas of the county have a legitimate concern about districts, we believe that the advantages in securing funding and better representing the residents of Clackamas County far outweigh the disadvantages of the measure.
Vote yes on Measure 3-272.