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Commissioner hopefuls share vision for Rockwood

The three hopefuls vying for the District 4 spot on the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners presented their views on a variety topics pertaining to Rockwood this week in the first debate of its kind in at least a decade.

One of the three candidates — Gresham Councilor Lori Stegmann, Portland resident Amanda Schroeder and Wood Village Planning Commissioner Stan Dirks — would need to get more than 50 percent of the vote on May 17 or face a two-person runoff in the November general election. The winner will replace Commissioner Diane McKeel, who serves East Multnomah County. After three full terms, McKeel is no longer eligible to run.

Multnomah County commissioners are paid $99,945 a year with an additional $21,747 in fringe benefits and insurance.

The candidate forum, which was sparsely attended, was hosted by the Rockwood Community Development Corporation at the Sunrise Center, 18901 E. Burnside St.

Gresham resident Vince Jones moderating the approximately hour-long event. Each candidate pulled from his or her vastly different backgrounds to answer questions about their priorities for the board of commissioners and what they would like to see tackled on the county level.

When asked about a five-year vision for Rockwood, Dirks said he would like to see more resources put toward education and programs for children. Schroeder said she hopes to strengthen the connections between the groups already serving Rockwood and residents to build a sense of community.

Stegmann talked mostly about the work of the Gresham Redevelopment Commission (GRDC) in Rockwood and the success the group has had drawing organizations such as the Boys & Girls Club and Friends of the Children to Rockwood. The GRDC is the body responsible for handling urban renewal in Rockwood.

“Rockwood can be a shining example of what urban renewal is supposed to be and can be,” Stegmann said.

Another big issue for the entire county is affordable housing. Dirks talked about building relationships with developers to draw them to Rockwood to build housing.

Stegmann said she’d like to see organizations take a “housing first” model to development — where the priority is to get those who need housing in a permanent dwelling rather than a shelter.

All three candidates agreed that money needed to be invested in more mental health services in East County to address the growing homeless population.

“We have to find dollars to repurpose a building (in Rockwood) for health care facilities,” Dirks said. “We need someplace secure here in Rockwood where they can be heard and get some help.”

Schroeder said, “I think that it’s absolutely imperative that we bring those services out here. I’m going to be one of five people, and I don’t determine the agenda, but I will fight very, very hard to bring services out here.”

Another hot-button issue right now in Mutlnomah County is what to do about illegal campers. Unlike Portland to the west, Gresham does not allow camping on city property.

“We’re not Portland. We don’t allow people to pitch tents, and I don’t think that’s the right solution,” Stegmann said.

Dirks agreed.

“You do not want to establish permanent homeless camps, because once you establish them, you can’t get rid of it,” he said. “This is America. Every person has a right to have a roof over their head. Allowing people to camp outside is just not acceptable.”