Candidates face off for a seat on Clackamas County Board of Commissioners

Why should I care: The County Board has recently been making decisions for transportation and education in the area.  What the outcome of these decisions should be is viewed differently by the candidates, and these issues may not only result in drastic changes to the transportation system, but also relations between urban and rural communities, job availability and educational opportunities.

The race for the fourth position on the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners is nearing its close as the general elections near. On Nov. 6 one of the two candidates, Tootie Smith or Jamie Damon, will be elected into the Board of Commissioners. As a part of the board, the candidates must work with the other four members to “set policies, enact ordinances and establish budgets to perform the services that state law and citizens of the country require.”

Both candidates hope to bring their experience and views to the board, and each have different views for what needs to be done.
The candidates

Although Jamie Damon has been on the Board of Commissioners for over a year, she is facing Smith this year for re-election into a full term. Prior to this position, she worked as a public mediator for many years and she believes these skills have defined her for the role.

“I’ve been a mediator for 25 years, and I started out working for the city of Portland as a neighborhood mediator,” Damon said.  “And so I worked on neighborhood disputes— so things like barking dogs and unkempt yards, border issues, like ‘where’s the fence gonna go?’ and ‘your tree’s hanging into my yard,’ all that kind of stuff.”

Tootie Smith is running for her first time for a position on the Clackamas County Board of Commissions, but Smith was a former state legislator and has received a Distinguished Legislative Service Award. She is a fourth generation Oregonian, born and raised in Clackamas County.

Smith says with two other conservatives in the race, she felt she had to distinguish herself with new policies, former experience and connecting the officials to the citizens.

Smith cites that she will bring her experience and accomplishments as a small business owner and family farmer to the position as an advocate for issues like agri-tourism, outdoor and recreational activities. She believes that including more industrial and commercial areas within the County encourages job growth, economic vitality and a healthy future for all of Clackamas County.

“The combination of my experience as a legislator and business builder will better represent Clackamas county citizens,” she said.  “I understand the challenges of starting and maintaining a small business in the county. As a legislator, my ability to bring people together, to find common ground is proven.”

Damon, on the other hand, is a resident to Eagle Creek, and because of this distant location is attentive towards the needs of rural (and urban) communities.

“In some ways we all want the same things,” she said.  “We want high-quality life, we want jobs for our families that pay well, we want housing at different points of our lives.  And so it’s important for us to support the aspirations of our cities regardless of whether they’re Sandy or Estacada or Wilsonville or Lake Oswego.  And so they’re all really different.”

The biggest problem that is faced in Clackamas County, according to Damon, is a lack of cumulative revenue.  Lack of revenue originates from low home values, indecent property taxes, and insufficient amounts of money produced by the county.  She proposes that as a whole, we need “to tighten our belts on all fronts… it will be a real challenge to keep some of the basic services that people expect.”

When confronted by the revenue deficit, Damon sees that one approach is finding ways to generate additional revenue.  This can be done by taking advantage of agricultural and forest land.

“We manage about 3000 acres of county-owned land, and we’ve stopped managing that land for any revenue prior to me coming on board,” Damon said.  “The year I came on board, I helped to turn that around so that the full commission supports that harvest.  That brings in about a half a million dollars a year to our parks programs, and so it’s really a significant source of revenue.”

For Smith, the main issues in Clackamas County are to ensure voter participation, create jobs, improve the economy and stop tax increases. Smith wants voter participation “especially on major high-cost issues.” She believes that, although current commissioners have “obstructed citizen votes,” she will not have any issues with citizen votes.

Smith plans on creating jobs and improving the economy by “removing government obstacles interfering with manufacturing and natural resource jobs and adding employment lands to county  inventory.”

Smith plans on stopping tax increases for projects like the light rail and Sellwood Bridge by borrowing and bonding into the future.

Also, eliminating backroom deals by using transparency is an important task to Smith.  She wishes that the interaction between government officials and citizens was better because she knows that the communication in a community is important for making decisions and implementing new ideas.

“I have experience that government can either support people’s goals or block them,” she said.  “For me, that requires making it easier for citizens to engage their elected officials, and more important, I require officials who will listen to their neighbors and act accordingly.  Politics is the art of compromise.  And compromise can only occur if everyone is at the table. In Clackamas County citizens haven’t had a seat when decisions were made.  Or their voices were ignored.”

Damon directs attention towards building the economy and education.  She also advocates for a system called “Smart Growth,” which Damon defines as “maximizing the infrastructure investments that you’ve made… so that all the land is used in a maximum potential.”

Smart Growth proposes that the largest amount of people possible should live in one area with the exception of a “buffer-zoning” around farms.”  However, it also attempts to optimize the use of land.

“I am supportive of [Smart Growth] because we don’t have as much money on the federal side and the state side to invest in more and more infrastructure for new roads. And so because of [projects around road production], we’ll be doing the best we can with the roads that we have and the lands around those roads,” Damon said.

Schools are important to Smith, and having graduated from Molalla River High, Mt. Hood Community College and Concordia University, she knows how education affects the overall status of the community.

Around Estacada, where Damon’s kids attend school, an elementary school has recently closed, while in the past eight years, Happy Valley has opened up five new schools.  Damon links the educational success of an area directly to job availability, saying that while Estacada has few jobs, Happy Valley “can afford homes and [is] close to jobs.”

“You gotta have families because the more kids you have in the district, the more money the district gets, the more investments in the schools,” said Damon. “And so when the enrollment goes down because the families are moving away, that money goes with the kids– and so that’s probably the biggest thing that we can do, is bring jobs back to our communities.

The county board has no authority to distribute the wealth in schools across the county, but it can attempt to distribute information on drug and alcohol awareness.  Recently, it has been trying to partner with local businesses to provide students with educational opportunities.  Workforce development, Damon sees, is important to the school system but appears to be missing.

“It’s becoming more challenging for schools to meet the needs of students to be ready to enter the workforce,” Damon said.  “Entering college is one thing, but entering into the workforce is really what our employers need.  And so the most we can do to partner with businesses, to create opportunities in businesses for high schools students, for community college students to get real work experience in whatever field they’re interested in.  That’s really where we really need to be putting a lot of emphasis.”