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Clackamas County commission chair contest echoes four-way race of 2012

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 of Wilsonville was opposed by two incumbent commissioners and a prominent official from outside Clackamas County government in their contest for board chairman.

In the May 17 primary, Ludlow again faces two incumbent commissioners and a prominent official from outside county government.

But this time, Ludlow is the incumbent chairman, having unseated Charlotte Lehan of Wilsonville in 2012 from the county’s top elected office.

This time, Ludlow faces Commissioners Jim Bernard of Canby and Paul Savas of Oak Grove — Savas finished third four years ago and did not make the runoff — and Oregon City Mayor Dan Holladay, who also made bids for the county board in 2010 (against Bernard) and 2012.

The contest for Position 1 makes for an unusual situation in which all five commissioners are seeking office in the same election. Bernard and Savas are in mid-term; Martha Schrader of Canby and Tootie Smith of Molalla seek re-election to their own seats.

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

According to filings with the Oregon secretary of state, Bernard leads in fundraising 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 this campaign.

If either Bernard or Savas were elected chairman, the four members would have to appoint someone to complete the two years remaining in the term.

Clackamas County’s population is approaching the 400,000 mark, up from the 2010 Census of 375,992.

Four years ago, Ludlow and Tootie 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 the committee has raised no money this election cycle after incumbents Bernard and Savas defeated project-backed candidates in 2014.

Though the candidates have some differences on issues — Ludlow and Smith 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.

Even though Ludlow is a Republican and Bernard is a Democrat, both say the sole commissioner often on the outside is Savas, also a Republican — though differences on the nonpartisan board rarely run along party lines.

Meanwhile, Holladay — who has had his political tangles with the county during a public career that dates back two decades — has said it will take an outsider to resolve some of the problems.

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 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 presides over meetings, but Ludlow said he has let commissioners and the public have their say — and often there is plenty of comment.

“We are diverse, 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?” he said.

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

He 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, ultimately up to the voters, 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 said. “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 its 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 said.

Although Martha 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 said the county weatherized well.

“We have always worked well together — except for one,” Bernard said 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 said, he and Ludlow 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 said that urban expansion south of Wilsonville — and south of the Willamette River into the French Prairie rural reserve — should be off the table.

“Metro is not going to go away,” Bernard said.

“What is broken is that we have an urban-rural reserve issue that has not been resolved. 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, 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 said. “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 elected commissioner in 2010. He finished out of the runoff in his first bid for board chairman in 2012.

Savas said he agrees that some Metro policies may result in reshaping Clackamas County in ways he does not like. But he also said 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,” said Savas, who is the county representative on a joint regional advisory committee on transportation funding.

At the same time, Savas said, with the pending disincorporation of Damascus as a city in the May 17 election — 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,” said Savas 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 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 said.

As mayor of Oregon City, he said, he helped resolve a dispute over wastewater treatment — although that 2015 dispute pitted Oregon City and Gladstone against the county and West Linn. It stemmed from sewage pumped by Clackamas County Service District No. 1 — governed by the county — from booming Happy Valley to the 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, 55, 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.

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