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Change will do the county good

The current state of dysfunction among Multnomah County commissioners needs to be addressed. Voters should take on that responsibility in the May 16 primary by electing Ted Wheeler as the county's new chairman.

We recognize that current county Chairwoman Diane Linn is hardly the sole cause of problems affecting the county. But we do believe that her departure from office will provide greater hope that the five commissioners again can begin behaving and working as a team.

Over the past two years, relationships among commissioners have deteriorated to the point where the most basic forms of professional courtesy are routinely ignored. We witness Linn being publicly snubbed by three commissioners who once were her closest allies. And we watch Linn attempt to impose unilateral decisions on countywide issues without laying the proper groundwork by building consensus among other commissioners.

Splintered leadership is unhealthy in any organization. It is especially damaging in a county government that is unmanageably large and provides a wide range of unrelated services Ñ social programs, health care, bridges and roads, corrections, taxation and assessment, law enforcement and libraries, to name a few.

We believe that Wheeler is the right choice to make a positive difference. Yes, he has much to learn Ñ despite what he claims in his own campaign oratory Ñ about running a large government.

That learning curve will be a challenge. But the discovery process should benefit him and the county.

We are impressed by Wheeler's business experience, extensive volunteer service, his pledge to improve relationships and his positions on major issues. These attributes should help right the ship of Multnomah County governance.

Politically, Wheeler isn't all that different from Linn. He supported the temporary county income tax. He is liberal on social issues such as same-sex marriage although critical of the process used by county commissioners to allow gay nuptials in 2004. Wheeler has laid out his positions on issues ranging from jail beds to schoolkids. The two candidates' approaches often differ, but the goals they express are similar.

Ultimately, voters must ask themselves: Will the county be better off, starting next January, with the tattered veteran we know or the untested candidate we don't?

We recognize that evaluation is made more difficult because of Linn's persona as a warrior for worthy causes, such as providing more jail beds and aiding Portland Public Schools.

But Linn makes too many mistakes. She was a major player in the secretive process leading to the county's gay marriage decision. Other Linn blunders are even more troubling. They include providing paid snow days for county employees and giving a large, untimely salary increase to the incoming county library director.

The ultimate test of leadership is whether the county chair can build consensus around common goals and consistently lead the county forward in achieving successful outcomes. Linn has not been able to do that for nearly two years.

In the May 16 primary, voters should elect Ted Wheeler. He offers greater promise of a fresh perspective and a new start.

We believe he has the needed ability to build consensus and achieve needed county outcomes.