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County chairman responds to two recent letters

On April 24, the Clackamas Review published two letters that caught my eye. One was from Luana Luther, president of the League of Women Voters of Clackamas County and the other from County Commissioner Paul Savas.

Ms. Luther took issue with my desire to see the county administrator replaced: “While we might understand the desire of newly elected officials to hire their own people, we disapprove of the lack of transparency and disregard for Oregon’s public meetings law in this instance.”

Oregon’s Open Meeting Laws generally require that meetings where government bodies are assembled for public business be open to the public. However, local governing bodies are permitted to take a limited range of special actions in an executive session that is not open to the public. The use of executive session to consider the employment, dismissal or discipline of a public employee is one of the exceptions commonly used in Oregon (for as long as anyone can remember).

The Clackamas Board of County Commissioners (“BCC”) lawfully held an executive session relating to the resignation of the county administrator. How then, as alleged by Ms. Luther, was there a “lack of transparency and disregard for Oregon’s public meetings law in this instance.”?

I expect that our county counsel would have informed us if we had violated Oregon’s Open Public Meeting Laws during this process. He did not, nor has anyone to my knowledge filed a complaint alleging such a violation. Every member of the BCC has the individual right to express his or her desire to replace an “at will” employee working for the board. I did so several months ago. I had good reason and do not apologize for it. I only regret that unfounded allegations of Open Meetings law violations still persist.

In the second letter, Commissioner Paul Savas attempted to clarify his abstention vote on the proposed I-5/light-rail toll bridge (aka the “CRC”). On Feb. 7 I asked the BCC to oppose the CRC project because of negative traffic and funding consequences for Clackamas County. As with many measures in the Legislature, time was of the essence.

That day, four of the five commissioners had enough information about the project to cast a vote. One commissioner joined me to oppose the CRC, while two others supported it. Commissioner Savas could have cast the deciding vote but, according to him, he was unable to cast an informed vote. Instead he offered a motion at a board work session to give the BCC an opportunity to gather more information. Since no other commissioner required extra time for staff or ODOT presentations, the motion died on a vote of 4-1. I let it be known afterward that Commissioner Savas could put the matter back on the agenda whenever he had done his research and was ready to vote. Anyone can go to ODOT’s website or Google and get voluminous information on the CRC.

A month later the CRC funding bill was approved by the Oregon Legislature. On April 9, the BCC held a “State of the County” forum where a citizen challenged us to finally take a stand on the CRC. In response Commissioner Savas said, “...right now we are not moving forward on taking a position, I would like to.” Unfortunately, three more weeks of inaction passed after the only abstaining commissioner made that statement. As I write this (three months later), Washington’s share of the CRC project funding is being fiercely debated and finalized in Olympia.

There are many important priorities facing Clackamas County right now.  Let’s work together to take decisive and timely action with the information we have available on matters that affect our community.

John Ludlow is chairman of the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners.




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