After an at-times bitter battle among Clackamas County commissioners, voters in the western part of the county will get to decide whether to create an independent parks district this November.

The Board of County Commissioners voted unanimously Aug. 7 on ballot language that includes a rate hike of 35 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value and an at-large independently elected board. The North Clackamas Parks and Recreation District has been governed by the Board of County Commissioners since its inception in 1990.

Voters will also decide who gets to be on the five-member board during the same Nov. 4 election that might create the district. That means those interested in running need to submit an application to the county clerk by Aug. 26. The top five vote-getters win a seat.

That was a point of contention among some at the public hearing, who believed that the commission should appoint a board, giving people more time to decide if they wanted to run for the parks district in a May election.

“I think there are a lot of strong community advocates out there that may not have this issue on their radar at this moment,” said Renee King, a member of the parks district advisory board.

“I agree,” said NCPRD Advisory Board Chair David Noble. “I think there’s more people out there who would want to be engaged.”

Milwaukie City Manager Bill Monahan came to represent the perspective of his City Council, who also urged the commission to appoint temporary board members.

“There may be some individuals who may be hesitant to put their names forward not knowing if this is going to be approved by voters,” Monahan said.

In the end, Commissioner Paul Savas’ hardline stance swayed the other four commissioners who were looking for a unanimous resolution to a yearlong battle.

“My support could be lost today if there is a move to change this,” Savas said.

Commissioner Jim Bernard said once he realized that the temporarily appointed board would have the same powers to restructure the district or commit to debt that the permanent board would have, he wanted them to be elected by the people.

“Commissioner Savas, we worked really hard to come up with something we could all support,” Bernard said. “I want this to be unanimous, so I’m willing to stick with the current motion and move forward.”

Commissioner Martha Schrader said the timing might not make much of a difference.

“I suspect a lot of those same folks are going to file and run in May,” she said.

Also at issue during the hearing was creating a rate of 89 cents instead of 54 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value.

Thelma Haggenmiller of Oak Grove said she worries the tax increase will torpedo the whole ballot measure.

“Send parks back to the drawing board with their aspirational increase by voting no on this proposed ballot measure,” Haggenmiller said in a statement to commissioners.

Les Poole of Gladstone agreed: “If you can’t sell that, then the whole thing goes down in flames.”

Park sparks

Commissioner Paul Savas, who has strongly advocated for the new parks district as a way to increase the number of parks in parts of Milwaukie and unincorporated areas south of Milwaukie, abstained from the July 17 vote, drawing ire from Commissioners Tootie Smith and John Ludlow.

The second vote to refer the ballot measure was Aug. 7. Voters will get to decide on the new parks plan, at a increased rate of 35 cents per $1,000 of assessed property values, in November.

A transcript of the argument during the July 17 evening business meeting follows:

Savas: Abstain.

Smith: What?

Clerk: Commissioner Bernard ...

Bernard: Aye.

Clerk: Chair Ludlow ...

Ludlow: Aye. Passes 4-0-1.

Savas: Commissioner Smith, excuse me but ...

Smith: Excuse you.

Ludlow: Let’s let it go. It’s late, folks.

Savas: As I mentioned, I’m going to hold out for equity.

Ludlow: Paul, you’re not going to vote for this. Ever.

Smith: You’re not going to vote for this. Don’t pretend like you’re going to come back Aug. 7 and vote for this.

Ludlow: And now ...

Savas: Shame on you both for saying that.

Ludlow: ... as we have uh ...

Smith: Oh, I’m scared.

Ludlow: ... it has been decided and the motion is approved. ...

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