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What I learned in my first seven months

by: SUBMITTED - John LudlowI want to share the experiences I’ve had in my first seven months in office as chairman of the Clackamas County Commission as well as identify several issues that I see ahead for Clackamas County and the region.

One of the first things I found is that we have talented staff at Clackamas County. It has been a great pleasure to work with such a dedicated group of public servants.

Our five county commissioners have a broad spectrum of experience and passions. I am pleased with the workload and overall results the commission has accomplished this year.

During my campaign I was a staunch advocate for letting voters weigh in on multimillion dollar expenditures and obligations considered by the jurisdictions that service them. In the past several years, thanks to a citizen referendum (Sellwood Bridge) and two voter initiatives (urban renewal and light rail), my beliefs were confirmed that voters want a voice in these financial matters.

County commissioners learned important lessons from these votes, but there are still more threats to taxpayers’ wallets out there.

The Columbia River Crossing (CRC) is a failure that just won’t to go away. It’s time for voters to weigh in on that project. As former Commission Chairwoman Lynn Peterson said on behalf of the commission in a May 10, 2010, letter, “These mega-projects do not reflect the priorities of the communities we are elected to serve.” I couldn’t agree more with her statement.

Metro is the planning authority for the Portland metropolitan area. This includes a great deal of Clackamas County. The Clackamas County of the future must ask for and receive flexibility in regard to urban growth boundary expansion areas and the availability of job-producing industrial lands. These future lands must not be marginal, challenging or expensive to serve with infrastructure.

Metro is squandering their federal transportation dollars by chasing light rail instead of funding the expansion and enhancement of our important roadways. They’ve already burned through $10 million studying the Southwest Corridor. How about a public vote on that transit project too? And this time let’s vote before we spend millions more on a plan voters may not support.

I have learned to trust Clackamas County voters. I am confident in Clackamas County voters’ ability to make wise financial decisions on major projects.

I have learned that the word stakeholder does not necessarily mean voter, let alone taxpayer. Often stakeholders are assembled by governmental entities to come to conclusions that would guide them to the expenditure of millions of dollars of taxpayer funds. Rarely are these spending actions sent to the voters for their approval or denial. Too often I have heard that the taxpayer “doesn’t see the big picture” or “needs to be educated.”

I’ve learned a great deal about TriMet. This public entity is over $1.2 billion in debt, has drastically cut bus services and tells everyone that they’re going to be just fine. Who but the public will pay this debt?

Wilsonville was the first city to withdraw from TriMet and subsequently build a cheaper, better and faster model transit system. Other transit models have been initiated by cities like Canby and Sandy. Why should Clackamas County businesses continue to send their transit taxes to downtown Portland when we could develop a transit program on our own?

I’ve been impressed with the dedication, outreach and advocacy of the Clackamas County Business Alliance and the Westside Economic Alliance. Strong and thriving businesses are primary to the health of Clackamas County.

The three counties that comprise Metro are all different. Clackamas County will continue to partner with those who recognize that all three Portland metropolitan counties have different needs and our voters have different opinions and desires. The metro area can and should accommodate these diverse opinions and lifestyle preferences.

My plan is to keep listening and learning and to keep trusting voters to make smart choices about their future. Stay tuned and watch Clackamas County to see how we hold ourselves accountable to the public we serve.

John Ludlow is chairman of the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners and lives in Wilsonville.




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