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County board will soon change ways

The bewildering behavior of three Multnomah County commissioners is all the more frustrating for East County residents because they have no control over the trio's actions.

Lisa Naito, Serena Cruz Walsh and Maria Rojo de Steffey represent the interests of Portland, and many of their recent decisions will cause disproportionate harm to East County's cities and citizens.

East County's list of grievances against the three commissioners grows longer by the week. The commissioners' latest ideas include $1 million in cutbacks to Sheriff Bernie Giusto's investigations unit - a reduction that would harm the sheriff's ability to combat East County's methamphetamine labs. At the same time, the three commissioners want Gresham, Troutdale and Fairview to repay the county for cases that the sheriff investigates within those cities' boundaries - an insult to local taxpayers who fork over more in county taxes than they do for the cities.

These budget decisions are disturbing, and the trend is telling. Just last month, commissioners took aim at the popular Schools Uniting Neighborhoods program, which has a strong East County presence, and they also put the four East County cities on notice that in two years they no longer will receive their fair share of the county's business income tax.

As they are confronted with such provocative actions, East County residents could huff, puff and shake a powerless fist in the air, or they can reassure themselves with the knowledge that this is a temporary situation. The period of control for the three Portland commissioners is fast coming to a close.

Naito, Cruz Walsh and Rojo de Steffey proclaimed themselves the county chair after their falling out with Diane Linn, who was the person elected four years ago to assume that role. However, Ted Wheeler will take over in January as the real county chair. He was elected with the support of the Portland commissioners, who presumably will allow him to do his job. But Wheeler also campaigned hard in East County, where expectations are high for an even-handed performance.

Also in January, Cruz Walsh will leave the board and be replaced with either Jeffrey Cogen or Lew Frederick. And in two years, Naito must depart due to term limits. Because of East County's rapid population growth, Naito's district now extends to 148th Avenue. Anyone who hopes to succeed her will have to display a greater understanding of East County's needs.

All of that adds up to a vastly different county board of commissioners in two short years. Many of the ill-advised decisions being made today will be reversed. And as East County continues to add population at a faster rate than Portland, political power will begin to equalize. Within a few years, the damage of the present will be diminished - although probably not entirely forgotten.