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Three men hoping to replace Ludlow as county chairman

Incumbent says he has earned re-election, but challengers question his leadership style


REVIEW PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Four candidates will compete in the May 17 primary for chair of the Clackamas County Commission (from left): John Ludlow, Dan Holladay, Paul Savas and Jim Bernard.Four years ago, John Ludlow faced two incumbent commissioners and a prominent official from outside Clackamas County government in the contest for board chairman. In the May 17 primary, he is again being challenged by two incumbent commissioners and a prominent official from outside county government.

But this time, it’s Ludlow’s job that the candidates want.

Ludlow is the incumbent chairman, having unseated Charlotte Lehan in 2012. Next week, he’ll ask voters to return him to the county’s top elected office, saying he thinks “we have accomplished a great deal as a team. I believe I have earned my position.”

Not everyone agrees.

Commissioners Jim Bernard and Paul Savas are challenging Ludlow for his job, and both have been critical of the chairman’s performance. Savas in particular has questioned Ludlow’s leadership style, saying “hostile rhetoric and innuendo are not the ingredients of teamwork.”

Oregon City Mayor Dan Holladay, who made two previously unsuccessful bids for the county board — in 2010 (against Bernard) and in 2012 — also wants to unseat Ludlow. He says it may take an outsider with experience to restore harmony to the commission.

The contest for Position 1 makes for an unusual situation in that all five commissioners are seeking office in the same election. Bernard and Savas are in the middle of their terms, while Martha Schrader (Position 3) and Tootie Smith (Position 4) are both seeking re-election to their own seats. If either Bernard or Savas are elected chairman, the other members of the board would have to appoint someone to complete the two years remaining in the winner’s current term.

If no candidate wins a majority of the votes cast for the nonpartisan offices May 17, the top two finishers in each race would advance to the general election Nov. 8.

According to filings with the Oregon Secretary of State’s Office, Bernard leads in fundraising for Position 1 with almost $45,000 this year, followed by Ludlow with $28,000 and Savas with $19,000. Holladay has raised and spent no money for the campaign, state records show.

Four years ago, Ludlow and Smith were backed by the Oregon Transformation Project, a conservative political action committee based in Lake Oswego and led by Dennis Richardson, the 2014 Republican nominee for governor and current candidate for secretary of state. But Bernard and Savas both defeated project-backed candidates in 2014, and the group has raised no money during this election cycle.

Though the candidates have some differences on issues — Ludlow campaigned in 2012 on a platform of “stop Portland creep,” critical of land use and transportation policies of the Metro regional agency — the campaign may turn more on public perceptions of how the five commissioners get along.

“One of the reasons I put myself into this race is that I can bring people together and get people to work together,” says Holladay, who has had his political tangles with the county during a public career that dates back two decades. “If you have people sitting down and talking to each other, even if they are from opposite sides, you start to feel those folks are human and you can talk to them and make results happen.”

John Ludlow

LUDLOWLudlow, 67, is a real estate broker who got back into the political arena after more than a decade as a Wilsonville city councilor and a two-year term as mayor.

Although the county administrator was forced out and someone else hired after Ludlow and Smith took office in 2013, Ludlow takes pride in the subsequent implementation of Performance Clackamas, a set of goals to which the county aspires and that links outcomes with the budgets of county agencies.

As chairman, Ludlow works with the county staff and other commissioners to set agendas. But unlike in other counties, he has no separate executive authority. He does preside over meetings, though, and he says he has always let other commissioners and the public have their say.

“We are diverse," he says. "I think that is healthy, and probably we reflect all of Clackamas County in our decisions. What is broken with this commission as far as the chairman’s position goes?

“All of us are leaders, or we wouldn’t be here," he adds. "So what chair would you need to occupy in order to lead from? I think things are going along quite well.”

Ludlow has made no secret of his disagreement with Metro policies that he says favor higher population density and public transit over road construction.

He has been a vigorous advocate of finding a local source of money to add to the county’s shares of state fuel and truck taxes and vehicle registration fees for road work.

Though Ludlow and Bernard have had differences, Ludlow has singled out Savas as the lone commissioner who often dissents from the board majority.

“There is tremendous teamwork already,” Ludlow says. “In fact, there is just one commissioner who says there is not — only one — and that is him.”

Jim Bernard

BERNARDBernard, 62, now lives outside of Canby. But he has had a long association with Milwaukie — initially as the third-generation owner of Bernard’s Garage, founded in 1925, and then as the city's mayor from 2001 until his election as a county commissioner in 2008.

“I did what my dad always taught me: Watch the money, and make sure it’s going where it is supposed to go,” he says.

Although Schrader has served more years as a commissioner, Bernard has the longest unbroken tenure on the current board, dating back to the economic downturn, which he says the county weathered well.

“We have always worked well together — except for one,” Bernard says in a reference to Savas. “The problem is that I know where everyone is — but with one of those commissioners, I do not know where he is at. We will negotiate, and when we come down to the end, it’s 4-1.”

Still, he says, he and Ludlow do disagree about how to resolve the apparent impasse over an urban-reserve designation that would open up the 6,230-acre Stafford area for future development in the next 50 years. Although the Metro Council reaffirmed that designation last year, a majority of the county board said it will not act until the county completes a study of whether other land should be added for potential business and industrial development.

Bernard went along with the study, but he says urban expansion south of Wilsonville — and south of the Willamette River into the French Prairie rural reserve — should be off the table.

“What is broken is that we have an urban-rural reserve issue that has not been resolved," Bernard says. "I can work with Metro and resolve that. That is one of the biggest reasons I am running.”

Paul Savas

SAVASSavas, 59, also owns an auto-related business — Savas Tuning and Automotive, which he moved from Eugene to Jennings Lodge around 1990. He got involved in the public arena about 15 years ago, first on the Oak Lodge Water Board and then the Oak Lodge Sanitary Board as they successfully figured out how to expand capacity.

“Having different opinions and different ideas is fine. Having different votes is fine, too,” he says. “But at the end of the day, when the vote is taken, you move forward and you work together as a team. That’s what I want to bring to Clackamas County.”

The current race is Savas’ fourth countywide bid since he was first elected commissioner in 2010. He finished out of the runoff in his first bid for board chairman in 2012.

Savas says he agrees that some Metro policies may result in reshaping Clackamas County in ways he does not like. But he also says that what Ludlow as chairman is doing amounts to a “poke in the eye,” which wins few allies for the county.

“I am not afraid to go to Metro and argue — not in a mean way, but intelligently — to persuade them why Clackamas County is different,” says Savas, who is the county representative on a joint regional advisory committee on transportation funding.

At the same time, Savas says, with the pending disincorporation of Damascus as a city on the May 17 ballot — and the probable loss of thousands of acres of developable land within the region’s urban growth boundary — “we have a lot of work to do” to identify other areas for residential and business growth.

“I am a big Tom McCall fan,” Savas says of the Oregon governor who championed the current land-use planning process. “I value what he did. The only problem is that there is no control on population growth. People can still move here.”

Dan Holladay

HOLLADAYHolladay, 55, jumped into the contest for board chairman just before the close of filing March 8.

“What I bring to this position is the idea that sitting down and talking with people like human beings gets you to a place where you understand who they are, instead of fighting or calling names,” he says.

As mayor of Oregon City, he says, he helped resolve a dispute over wastewater treatment — a dispute that pitted Oregon City and Gladstone against the county and West Linn in 2015. It stemmed from sewage pumped by Clackamas County Service District No. 1 — governed by the county — from booming Happy Valley to a plant in Oregon City, bypassing CCSD’s overloaded plant in Milwaukie.

The county also sued Oregon City in 2014 for charging right-of-way fees to the Tri-City Sanitary District, which serves Oregon City, Gladstone and West Linn. A 2015 Oregon Supreme Court decision in a related case negated the county’s position, and a judge subsequently awarded legal fees to Oregon City.

Holladay is an electrician who was elected to the Oregon City Commission in 1998 and the Oregon City School Board in 2003. He was elected mayor for a four-year term on his third try in 2014.

He also ran for county commissioner twice, losing to Bernard in 2010 and failing to make a runoff in 2012. Later in 2012, he launched a recall effort against Bernard, alleging a conflict of interest between Bernard’s advocacy of the Portland-Milwaukie light rail line and Bernard’s auto repair business in downtown Milwaukie. The effort failed to muster enough signatures to force an election.

Holladay also led a successful referendum in 2011 to overturn a vote by county commissioners, including Bernard, to impose a $5 annual fee on vehicle registrations to raise $22 million for a replacement for the Sellwood Bridge in Multnomah County. The replacement bridge, which serves Clackamas County commuters, opened earlier this year.

Contact Peter Wong at 503- 580-0266 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

MORE ONLINE

• Pamplin Media Group moderates a debate for Clackamas County chair candidates. See the video at bit.ly/1W6nyCG

• Steve Bates and Jenifer Valley are challenging incumbent Martha Schrader for her Position 3 seat on the county commission. Go to bit.ly/1X6S3az

• Ken Humberston and Bill King are challenging incumbent Tootie Smith for her Position 4 seat on the county commission. Go to bit.ly/1XhbUDV

• Voters will decide whether to spend almost $59 million to upgrade an aging emergency communications system. Go to bit.ly/1pY8lF4

• Voters also will advise county commissioners about whether to pursue a local source of money to pay for road repairs. Go to bit.ly/1YdLmBL