Four years as Clackamas County chair filled with political turbulence and public achievement
John Ludlow was known during his years as Clackamas County board chairman for his outspoken opposition to regional policies favoring compact population growth and alternatives to highways.
But as he makes way Jan. 3 for Commissioner Jim Bernard, who unseated him in the Nov. 8 election, Ludlow exits on a note of grace toward Bernard and his own years of community service.
Ludlow was saluted (Dec. 19) at the board's final meeting of 2016 — also his last as chairman — and made additional observations in a post-election concession statement.
Ludlow, now 68, returned to elective politics in 2012 after being on the Wilsonville City Council and mayor in the 1980s. His earliest public office was in 1971, when he joined the governing board of Clackamas Community College at age 23.
"Politics is a contact sport and you have to maintain a thick skin to play," he said election night after Bernard beat him, 53 percent to 47 percent. "I have a couple of scars, but I have many more great memories."
Toward the end, Ludlow took issue with some criticisms over words that Bernard said resulted in public embarrassment to the county — and in one case, a monetary settlement with a former employee.
Their main disagreements, however, were over policy — particularly a dispute with the Metro regional agency over the urban growth boundary.
"Although we disagreed on several matters of policy, we worked together over common ground and strived to never be disagreeable with one another," Ludlow said.
Bernard, who has been a commissioner eight years, responded in kind.
"I sometimes took criticism for my comments about what a great meeting he ran and how many issues we have come to consensus on," he said. "I just want to say how thankful I am for the many good things you have done for Clackamas County."
Bernard led Ludlow in a four-way primary May 17, 36 percent to 29 percent. The others were Commissioner Paul Savas and Oregon City Mayor Dan Holladay.
Although Ludlow held strong views on an array of issues, he acknowledged that so did the four other commissioners and the public — and he tried to accommodate them with more extensive discussions and explanations at meetings.
"Our meetings were far more open than prior years and I was pleased to see Commissioner Bernard embrace this attitude as much as any other member of the board," Ludlow said. "I do hope he continues this practice."
When the previous county administrator left in 2013 after Ludlow and Commissioner Tootie Smith took office, the board hired Don Krupp from Thurston County (Olympia), Washington. A few months afterward, assistant weighmaster Grady Waxenfelter was shot dead in 2014 near Damascus.
"What most people do not know, but I do, is the quiet compassion and leadership that Chair Ludlow provided during that critical period for our organization," Krupp recalled.
The county eventually paid the family $700,000. The suspect engaged in a shootout with Los Angeles police later in 2014 and was convicted in 2016.
Also during Ludlow's tenure as chairman, the board adopted the Performance Clackamas plan in 2014 to establish goals for the county and measures to track progress.
With Ludlow's strong support, the board also funded A Safe Place, a one-stop center for services to survivors of domestic violence that opened in 2013 in Oregon City.
His support for some social programs, he once joked, earned him a label as a "bleeding-heart Republican."
But Ludlow also has been named twice as Wilsonville Citizen of the Year — once in 1989, and again in 2005, the latter for a partnership between the Wilsonville Rotary Club and Coffee Creek Correctional Facility, where he has been honored for volunteer work. The partnership, "Through a Child's Eyes," promotes bonding between inmate mothers and children.
At the conclusion of a hearing Nov. 3 over the county's consolidation of wastewater treatment services by two county-governed districts — a move denounced by Oregon City Mayor Dan Holladay as "a political coup to steal assets" — Ludlow quoted from the Nobel Prize lecture by the Dalai Lama in 1989.
"If you have inner peace, the external problems do not affect your deep sense of peace and tranquility," said Ludlow, who was the county representative on the regional committee that attempted to negotiate an agreement.
Oregon City has gone to court in an attempt to overturn the county action, which affects 165,000 customers.
Still, Ludlow is unapologetic for ballot measures — two of which voters approved before he was elected county chair — that were aimed at what he termed "Portland creep."
In 2011, voters overturned board approval of a $5 vehicle registration fee to help pay for a new Sellwood Bridge in Multnomah County, adjoining Clackamas County.
In 2012, voters approved a ban on new urban renewal districts outside cities without their approval. The county has four such districts, two of which — Clackamas Town Center, and the Clackamas industrial warehouse area — have returned excess money back to schools and other local governments.
In 2013, voters required public approval of future county participation in regional light-rail lines. However, a judge ruled in a 2013 lawsuit by TriMet that the county remained obligated to pay its share of the Portland-Milwaukie line, which opened in September 2015.
"Clackamas County cannot be so easily re-engineered to fit Metro's image," Ludlow said.
"The next board will be pressured to give up some of the ground that we won and those who remain may be less inclined to defend it, but that doesn't mean they won't listen to reason. They do not want to repeat the mistake of thwarting Clackamas voters."
Yet one of the sharpest election divisions between Ludlow and Bernard was over the region's unresolved urban growth boundary, particularly the possibility that land south of the Willamette River could be open to development one day. Ludlow said that possibility was years away, but Bernard said the boundary dispute with Metro would remain unresolved unless that door was shut.
Ludlow, a real estate broker, said he intends to stay active in his community. He has been the public address announcer for Wilsonville High School football and basketball games for 22 years.
Ludlow closed his final board meeting by quoting from a "Dear John" letter by Don and Shirley Gilman, two supporters from Oregon City, who in turn quoted from syndicated columnist Ellen Goodman about endings.
He quoted: "It means leaving what's over without denying its validity or its past importance to our lives. It involves a sense of future — a belief that every exit line is an entry, that we are moving up, rather than out."