When this year began, many local residents were looking forward to the promise of fresh leadership both for the city of Gresham and for Multnomah County.
In January, Gresham Mayor Shane T. Bemis came into office with the hope that he could invigorate city government with new ideas and energy. At almost the same time, the newly elected county chairman, Ted Wheeler, was vowing to restore respect for a board of commissioners that had been in a state of dysfunction for several years.
Too often, such wishes for a new beginning end up being just that - mere hopes that go largely unfulfilled. But in this case, we have to say that both Bemis and Wheeler have largely delivered on the promises they made.
It's been rather remarkable, in fact, to see just how much of an impact two individuals can have in a short period of time. Bemis has rapidly developed into a strong voice for Gresham, representing the city well at the regional level while simultaneously taking on the tough community issues of crime, transit safety and the deplorable condition of some of Gresham's rental housing.
For his part, Wheeler has established good working relationships on a county board that previously was known for acrimony and duplicity. Wheeler has shown a particular devotion to issues of concern to East County residents. He helped push through the soon-to-be-built East County justice center; he supported plans for a new county library branch in Troutdale; and he championed reform of the county's business income tax.
We hope Bemis and Wheeler are able to build on the momentum they've created. We believe their success so far is based on their common approach to government: Both have been highly practical problem solvers.
Bemis and Wheeler have wasted no breath on ideology, or on issues that are likely to create cultural divides. Instead, they identified real problems, called public attention to those problems and then - with a minimum of bureaucratic process - drove toward solutions.
The coming year is likely to be tougher for the mayor and the county chairman as their next initiatives push them into the unpopular territory of tax or fee increases. To address crime and its effect on Gresham's quality of life, Bemis and the City Council will place a five-year police levy on the November ballot that is certain to be contentious. And Wheeler already is trying to sell local officials and voters on a countywide vehicle-registration fee that would be used, for the most part, to help replace the aged Sellwood Bridge.
But even as they move into the more difficult middle years of their still-young terms of office, Bemis and Wheeler can continue to build trust in local government by sticking with the strategies that have worked well for them so far. And that means addressing issues that are of pressing concern to the public in a straight-forward manner.