Featured Stories

Other Pamplin Media Group sites

Who voted for MHCC bond? It failed in distant precincts

The recently defeated $125 million Mt. Hood Community College bond would have passed handily if only the votes closest to the campus counted.

A precinct-by-precinct analysis of voting in the May 17 election shows the bond generally had weaker support in areas farther away from the main Gresham campus or the Maywood Park satellite campus and stronger support closer to the college. Overall, 43 percent of voters said yes to the bond, while 56 percent voted against it.

“We won in Gresham, Troutdale, Wood Village and Fairview and lost in Portland, with the exception of Maywood Park,” said Al Sigala, head of the MHCC Foundation. The MHCC bond did not win a single precinct in Clackamas County.

Voter Cassy Gemelli, who lives near the Maywood Park campus, said she and her husband both voted for the bond.

“I’ve always been an East County girl,” the social worker and mother of a middle school student said. “I have a fondness for the college. I went there (MHCC) for a quarter and took a psychology class, loved it, and that launched my career in mental health.”

The votes may have reflected that sort of identification with the college. For example, in precinct 4909, which is where the college is located, 57 percent of the 1,849 voters said yes. In contrast, only 38 percent of the voters in 4806 precinct, which is just south of the intersection of Foster Road and 122nd Avenue, approved the bond. Only 40.2 percent gave thumbs up to the bond in the 4701 precinct, which is north of I-84 and largely west of 162nd Avenue.

“We don’t know why that is. We’re talking about going out and surveying the voters,” Sigala said.

That information on the no votes might help the MHCC board decide what to do now. The board is discussing whether to put another, possibly smaller bond, on a future ballot, perhaps with the November presidential election. They also could decide to do nothing. The board will likely decide during its July meeting whether to put a bond on the November ballot.

Mt. Hood asked voters for $125 million, which would have built a new Workforce and Applied Technology Center and replaced the college’s 80-year-old Maywood campus building. It would have been the first bond passed for the district in 43 years. But the voters said no dice.

Of course, MHCC was not alone. Taxpayers in East Multnomah and North Clackamas County soundly defeated the three school bond measures. Centennial School District sought $85 million, primarily for a new middle school and additions to other buildings. Corbett School District asked for $11.9 million, also for a new middle school. And, all the bonds would have paid for safety and other upgrades.

These districts are also trying to craft backup plans after the defeats.

Sigala said MHCC volunteers reached out evenly to all voters in the district, so a bigger push with closer voters is not the reason for the difference in votes.

The MHCC district is a vast 950-square miles that reaches from Mount Hood, south into Clackamas County and west into the eastern part of Portland.

“I think that might be familiarity,” said Gemelli, reflecting on the results. “People in Portland are more familiar with Portland Community College and voters in Clackamas County with Clackamas Community College.”

It is possible the no votes were purely an economic decision. The college plans to delve more deeply into the demographics of the precincts, but a cursory look shows that some of the precincts that voted no are also lower-income areas.

Some voters, especially in Sandy, might also have felt a pinch from school-related taxes.

“It is possible that voters in Sandy are still experiencing sticker shock from the local school bond,” Sigala said.

In 2008, voters in Sandy’s Oregon Trail School District passed a $114.9 million bond, which cost $470 every year for a home assessed at $200,000. The two Sandy precincts voted 769 yes to 1,564 no on the MHCC bond, only a 33-percent approval.

For her part, Gemelli said that like others, she didn’t particularly relish an increase in her property taxes, but said, “I thought it was worth it.”

In voting for the bond, Gemelli took a broad view. “I thought it was very important to the community, for the health of the economy and to make the community more vibrant.”