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Standing Up for Our Essential Workers

As chair of the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners, I take much responsibility for what happens with the county, its residents and its employees.

The governor’s most recent COVID related mandates drew my attention because of their potential impacts on the hard-working people who help us provide services to every man, woman and child in Clackamas County. Of particular concern was the impacts on our brave public safety employees and our heroes in the health care sector.

I wanted to have a strong resolution from the Board of County Commissioners to present to the governor at a meeting she had scheduled with county board chairs from throughout the state. Our board spent two weeks working on it and we came up with a draft resolution.

Having received input from my fellow commissioners, I put the draft resolution on the agenda for the Board of County Commissioners’ Business Meeting held on September 23. My fellow commissioners had ample opportunities to submit any changes they wanted to see well in advance of that meeting.

The resolution simply and clearly stated the county’s determination to continue having its public health department offer free and accessible COVID vaccinations to anyone who wants them. It also requested that the state reevaluate the terms of the vaccine mandate to consider all options that could prevent further exhaustion and departure of core public service providers. That includes an extension of the deadline for those employees to be fully vaccinated, regular COVID tested, religious and medical exemptions and recognition of effective, proven technologies in the workplace.

It also states the board’s determination to advocate the state legislature to allow for the easy transferrable licensure agreements between sates for healthcare providers. The resolution also urged the governor to engage in listening sessions with the business community and public to hear directly about these workforce issues.

In short, the intention of those resolution was to express the board’s support for policies that can keep first responders and medical personnel on the job.

Commissioner Paul Savas had offered up the language in the revised draft. On the day of the meeting, I stated my support for the resolution and the reasons why it is necessary. Some sectors of our workforce are feeling overwhelmed, and we need to do everything we can to keep those professionals from leaving their positions. They’ve been our heroes for the last year and a half, and we must offer solutions to mitigate the impacts on our service delivery system.

I felt, and still feel, that extending the deadline was reasonable. A similar extension was given to state employees, so it made sense to me that county workers should receive the same courtesy. It was also important to me that the sheriff’s office deputies who work at our jail have basic workplace protections.

The audience members in attendance expressed their clear support for the resolution.

A motion was made to adopt the resolution, and it was seconded. But even though they had weeks to make any changes they wanted to see, some of my fellow commissioners backed down from supporting it at the last minute.

One objected to the use of the word “mandate.” Another said that he couldn’t support the resolution, which he himself largely wrote, unless the vote would be unanimous. This was nothing but a pure political cop out.

I stated that throughout the process, I gave in and compromised and didn’t see the willingness of other commissioners to do the same.

The resolution didn’t pass, and the board lost a critical opportunity to stand up for its most essential workers.

However, this disappointing setback will not deter me from seeking ways to continue doing so as the board’s chair.

Honoring our Health Care Heroes

There’s no doubt that the past year and a half has been a challenging time. Countless families around the world have either fought off illness or had relatives succumb to the deadly COVID virus.

Health care professionals like nurses have been on the front lines of that battle nonstop since the pandemic first hit the United States in the spring of 2020. They put on their scrubs for every shift they’ve worked, knowing full well that they could be exposed through direct contact with COVID positive patients.

Even prior to the pandemic hitting, the health care industry had struggled filling positions in key areas, including nursing. Because of the long shifts and demanding physical tasks that nursing entails, it takes a particular type of dedicated individual to devote themselves to this line of work.

The general public has heavily praised our brave nurses for their work during the pandemic. There has never been any doubt that they are absolutely essential.

So imagine the surprise of nurses everywhere when they were told that they would be fired from their jobs if they weren’t vaccinated by a certain date. Many felt understandably betrayed, and several have decided to leave the health care field altogether.

Nurses aren’t alone in being targeted by top-down mandates that threaten their livelihoods and abilities to continue providing for their families.

Like nurses, police officers have one of the most difficult jobs imaginable. Maintaining law and order, while protecting peoples’ due process, property and other rights, takes a specific type of person. That’s especially the case in the current environment, in which activists have seen fit to demonize police as Oregon’s lawmakers and legislators move the state closer to the full legalization of homelessness and drug use.

Public employees of all stripes were browbeaten into compliance with vaccine mandates. Many of the people putting them in that position were the same ones that received huge campaign contributions from the unions that represent those employees.

Even though those same unions opposed my candidacy for chair of the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners last year, I never waivered in my support for their members’ rights. I stand by each and every one of them and their ability to make their own private, informed medical decisions.

Nurses have been risking their own lives this whole time in the service of others. They’re obviously aware of the risks being either vaccinated or unvaccinated. I refuse to second guess the personal determinations of health care professionals.

Our brave police officers have put up with so much since the summer of 2020. Literally the entire world has seen what happened after Portland politicians foolishly decided to defund the police there. Violent crime is through the roof and rarely does a night go by without a shooting taking place. Given those circumstances, who on earth would anybody want to do anything to discourage anyone from waking up in the morning and putting on their police uniform?

Nurses, police officers and public employees deserve better than to be cajoled into following edicts issued by people who base all of their decisions on political calculations. I will continue to stand with them and fight for their rights, as well as yours.  

WHAT HAPPENED TO OUR BELOVED OREGON?

“THERE’S A TRICKY BALANCE BETWEEN WHAT IS GOOD FOR THE OVERALL PUBLIC HEALTH OF SOCIETY VERSUS AN AUTHORITARIAN GOVERNMENT TO IMPOSE ITS WILL ON ALL OF US.”

For many of us, it seems like the last year and a half has come straight out of a science fiction novel. That particular literary genre is filled with books describing a dystopian future. Most of those works have served a cautionary tales to anyone who can make the connection between the events depicted in their pages and the real world around them.

A big fear that many of us have had all along is that the COVID-19 virus and its resulting public health crisis would be used as an excuse for a handful of government elites to exercise power and control over every aspect of our daily lives. And that’s exactly what has happened.

Historically, the general public is usually willing to go along with whatever is suggested by authority figures to get through whatever emergency has arisen. The average person tends to be pretty understanding about these kinds of edicts. But once those in charge see how easy it is to get people to comply with their wishes, they start pushing the envelope further and further. It only ever stops because some people look around, see the bigger picture and begin to question what is happening and why. Others then realize they’ve had the same suspicions and also start to stand up.

As this contagion began, most people were fine with wearing masks and social distancing, and even accepted the government-mandated closure of small businesses and gatherings. We were all told that if we adopted these temporary measures, the curve would be flattened and everything would be allowed to return to normal. Weeks turned into months. Meanwhile, people noticed some inconsistencies coming from the policies adopted by the authorities.

Independent, family-owned businesses were forcibly closed, yet large, publicly traded corporations somehow managed to maintain their operations. Families were told they couldn’t have backyard barbeques, yet riots were allowed to take place for 100 consecutive days in downtown Portland.

Mask mandates morphed into contact tracing. Then, a vaccine was developed and made available for distribution. The expectation was that everything would open back up again once enough of the population was vaccinated and herd immunity was achieved.

Incentives were offered for people to take the vaccine. That approach then became a license to threaten anyone who decided not to take the shot, for whatever reason they might have.

We’re at the point where vaccine passports are being widely discussed. If government hierarchy has its way, you will need to show your papers to buy groceries, gas for your car, attendance at school and engage in employment.  This is not the America we know and love. WHAT HAPPENED TO OUR BELOVED OREGON? Even worse, some are stating their desire to essentially discriminate against unvaccinated people through any means necessary.

Luckily, some of us are starting to push back. The arbitrary, capricious and constantly changing edicts coming down from on high have failed to protect the public up to this point. If all of these heavy-handed measures had been effective in the first place, we wouldn’t be where we are right now.

I will continue to fight to protect the rights of my constituents, the people of Clackamas County, because that is what they have asked me to do. Nurses, doctors, firefighters, police, and teachers have all reached out to me in disbelief that they could lose their jobs, their beloved careers should they reject the jab. Vaccines should remain a choice and I oppose mandatory edicts by government to impose it. I do support public health to make available the vaccination to all who willingly choose to get it. THERE’S A TRICKY BALANCE BETWEEN WHAT IS GOOD FOR THE OVERALL PUBLIC HEALTH OF SOCIETY VERSUS AN AUTHORITARIAN GOVERNMENT TO IMPOSE ITS WILL ON ALL OF US. If we don’t resist this slippery slope towards authoritarianism while we still can, we will quickly lose our ability to do so in the future.

What’s next? What’s the next fear induced crisis?

Local Control and the Consent of the Governed

The last year and a half since the COVID-19 pandemic first hit have taught us a lot about ourselves, each other and the true intentions of many people entrusted with leadership positions.

Elected officials throughout Oregon and the United States have had the chance to apply their particular political philosophies to direct action in this time. And the results have been telling.

Overall, my stances and statements have been consistent with those that I took when running for chair of the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners in early 2020. I’m a firm believer in the consent of the governed. The people of this county voted for the commissioners to represent them, and we need to listen to what they have to say. We must remember that we’re accountable to them. They are who we work for.

I’ve also long been a proponent of local control. Heavy-handed, top-down governance is a recipe for tyranny. That’s exactly why our representative system of government grants authority to cities and counties to make their own decisions. If the citizens of those jurisdictions are unhappy with what’s being done, they can easily go down to city hall or the county courthouse to make themselves heard. It’s a whole lot easier than driving several hours across the state to testify for a few minutes at a legislative hearing or flying to Washington D.C. to address the members of a Congressional committee. And that’s how it should be.

I also believe that there has to be a source for authority within the law. We’ve slowly become conditioned, over time, to accept executive and administrative fiat as being more legitimate than they actually are.

But every action taken by a governing body or administrator should be traced back to a decision made by a vote of the peoples’ elected representatives. Those officials, or bodies of officials, vote to direct staff to carry out actions consistent with policies that have been adopted in accordance with proper policies, procedures and public processes.

Conducting government business in any other way undermines that body’s authority in the public’s eye.

Part of the problem we’ve seen this whole time is the perception that “leaders” are making things up as they go along. There’s a growing sense that the goalposts keep being moved. Different tactics have been used to pressure individuals and the general public into complying with mandates. We’ve seen everything from financial incentives for receiving vaccinations to threats of exclusion from basic activities for opting not to get them.

People have now been subjected to over a year and a half of fearmongering, guilt-shaming and every other kind of tactic imaginable. But that fear and coercion still haven’t worked. In fact, they’ve resulted in pushback. All this has done is strengthen the resolve of countless citizens who want the freedom to make their own decisions and have that be respected.

I don’t think that’s too much to ask and will continue to stand with the residents of Clackamas County who believe in such concepts as local control and the consent of the governed.

Finding the Right Balance

Having completely failed to address the homeless crisis in any meaningful way, Portland politicians have concocted another way of dealing with it. This mostly involves passing legislation telling every other city throughout Oregon to take care of the problem while simultaneously limiting what they actually can do.

Before the Oregon Legislature adjourned on June 26, it passed House Bill 3115. This contentious measure passed the House and Senate on largely party-line votes and was signed by the governor June 23.

It’s based on the 2018 decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in the Martin v. City of Boise case. That ruling essentially stated that the homeless can’t be punished for sleeping outside on public property if there are adequate alternatives or the local law includes reasonable time, place and manner restrictions.

Even though the Ninth Circuit Court is frequently overturned, the Supreme Court of the United States declined to hear an appeal of the Martin v. Boise decision in 2019. Ever since, municipalities have been examining their options for addressing the homeless crisis while remaining in compliance with the ruling.

The first section of House Bill 3115 requires any local law regulating sitting, laying, sleeping or keeping warm and dry outside on public property to be objectively reasonable to the homeless.

If it’s felt that the local ordinance has limitations that aren’t reasonable and are in violation of HB 3115, a homeless person can have a right of action for relief or as a defense to the ordinance. And even though monetary damages are not allowed under the new law, attorney fees are. This will incentivize activist attorneys and organizations to take up cases against local governments attempting to solve their homelessness issues.

An emergency clause was added to the end of HB 3115 so local governments can start reviewing their ordinances to ensure compliance with the new law. The full implementation of HB 3115 is delayed until July 1, 2023 so local governments can develop a plan of how to comply with it.

Back when I served in the Legislature, I always made it a point to vote against any bills that would create unfunded mandates for local governments. Many local governments are small towns with limited tax bases and simply don’t have the time and resources to clean up messes sent to them from bureaucrats and politicians in Salem. Yet that is exactly what has happened here with HB 3115.

We’ve all seen these problems get worse over the last few years. My fear is that the passage of HB 3115, combined with Oregon’s further moves towards the complete decriminalization of drugs, is going to continue this trend.

I’m also fully aware that in politics, there is a pendulum that swings back and forth. And every time it swings too far in one direction, it comes right back.

Oregon’s voters and politicians have decided to take a permissive approach to drugs and homelessness. The results will likely prove disastrous to the average person in this state. However, I remain confident that once that happens, citizens will demand solutions that find the right balance and that properly addresses these problems once and for all.

Blindsides, Broken Promises and Burning Bridges

Anyone who is even the least bit familiar with my public political stances knows that I’ve traditionally had a tough time trusting Metro and its officials.

This position comes from years of watching this agency chronically waste tax dollars and fail to properly perform its duties and functions. It comes from my dual perspectives as a longtime Clackamas County resident and from my previous stint as commissioner.

When I ran for chair of the board of commissioners last year, one of my platform planks was holding Metro accountable. That agency’s budget has ballooned over time, accompanied by promises of solving more problems. Despite its poor track record of delivering results, voters have given Metro the benefit of the doubt. To me, that means that it should also be receiving more scrutiny.

Despite my reservations about Metro’s effectiveness, I also recognized the need to work with its board of directors and staff on issues involving Clackamas County and its citizens.

Then I found out that Metro was overcharging residents for trash collection services. In the spirit of fulfilling my campaign pledge of increased oversight for Metro, I scheduled a public policy session to discuss this tipping fee issue.

The session was held May 4. And it began with a Metro official alleging that there had been a noose placed at a facility in Oregon City.

I had no advanced knowledge that this was going to be divulged in such a public setting. Neither did any of my fellow commissioners.

It’s also important to note that the facility in question was not, and is not, owned by the county. You know who owns it? Metro. Who is responsible for the employees who work there? Is it Clackamas County? No. It’s Metro.

This all gives the appearance that a Metro official ambushed the entire Clackamas County Board of Commissioners in a public meeting to announce something that allegedly happened at a facility owned and overseen by Metro, in order to divert attention from that agency’s behavior on the tipping fee issue.

The following day, Metro’s president attacked me in the press about my reaction to the apparently politically motivated blindside conducted by a member of her staff. Again, this was in regards to an incident that apparently took place on a property owned and operated by Metro.

To its credit, Metro did an internal investigation. I was informed, via a June 29 email, that the investigation was inconclusive.

In the meantime, there have been other developments that have served to strain the relationship between the county and Metro. A ballot measure was passed to support housing services. Under that measure, Metro promised the county $24 million by July 1. After all, our citizens are being taxed to fund this program, even though they overwhelmingly voted against it.

We have since been informed that we’ll be receiving $150,000, a mere fraction of what we were told would be coming.

All of this is a reminder of why so many of the people I represent do not trust Metro, its elected board or its many bureaucrats. And it’s only strengthened my personal resolve to fulfill my campaign pledge of putting the people of Clackamas County ahead of Metro and its constant desire for more of your hard-earned tax dollars.

Another Attack on Rural Oregon

One of the biggest problems we face in Oregon is the growing divide between those in the urban and rural areas. And despite all that they might have in common, public policy issues often come up that remind them that they live in completely different worlds.

The most recent example of this is IP-13. It’s an initiative petition that’s being circulated in an attempt to gather enough signatures to get it on the ballot for the November 2022 general election. Its sponsors are calling it the “Abuse, Neglect and Assault Exemption Modification and Improvement Act.” But what rural Oregonians already know is that this kind of misguided measure could devastate some of this state’s most critical industries. The fact that these industries are mostly located in rural areas is certainly not lost upon those who live there.

The worst part of this proposal is that its proponents admit in their own materials that it will deliberately damage agricultural, farming and ranching operations throughout this state. The website promoting the measure states that “this would impact many industries that currently involve animals.”

“Although IP-13 does not ban any particular industry, it does criminalize many of the common practices that currently exist in these industries,” the website states.

If passed, IP-13 would “remove the exemption for hunting, fishing and trapping from our cruelty laws.”

“Animals being raised for their meat would have to be processed after they die of natural causes, such as old age,” the website states. “This would certainly increase the cost to raise animals.”

What do Oregon’s agricultural producers think of this proposal? Well, the Oregon Farm Bureau (OFB) is taking a strong stance in opposition.

On its website, www.oregonfb.org, the bureau states that the measure “would criminalize good animal husbandry practices, hunting and fishing, animal breeding of both pets and livestock, and even home rodent control. It also would create a new felony category for teachers, advisors, or parents who show children how to care for animals.”

The OFB says that IP-13 would effectively make it a sex crime to artificially inseminate animals and potentially targeting preg-checking and even planned breeding of animals.

So where do I stand on this issue? Not surprisingly, I’m right there with our farmers and ranchers.

For generations, my family has lived on our farm outside of Molalla. I know what goes into keeping an agricultural operation going, in good years and bad. And I can’t recall a single time when I thought to ask someone from Portland or Eugene for advice on how to run the farm. Nor do I ever see such a thing happening in the future.

During my service in the Legislature, I always made it a point to be a friend to agriculture and all of its related industries. There are many reasons why.

At the end of the day, agriculture is Oregon’s top industry. Cattle contributes nearly $1 billion to the state’s economy, and it is the state’s number one agricultural commodity as a result. Our farmers and ranchers are hard-working, salt-of-the-earth people, who do what they do extremely well. They deserve our support, instead of these constant attempts to undermine their livelihoods.

In the coming weeks and months, you may be approached by petitioners requesting you to sign IP-13 so it qualifies for the ballot. I recommend refusing that request. We need to stand with our agricultural producers and reject this latest attack on rural Oregon.

What We’re Working Toward

In order to truly thrive, an organization needs to have clearly defined goals and objectives in place. Those goals should be agreed upon by the organization’s leaders and employees and be understood by all involved, for the sake of achieving a sense of buy-in.

As chair of the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners, my duties include getting a sense of what the county’s residents want us to accomplish on their behalf. That helps us to identify priorities and figure out the best ways to implement them.

Earlier this year, the board went over what its goals are for the next few years. This was done not too long after I took over as the new chair.

Many of the key goals we worked on involved building public trust through good government. My fellow commissioners agreed that the county’s budget should be structurally sound, sustainable and completely tied to results. The timeline for this to be done was originally left vague, as a range of two to three years, with a specific date left incomplete. Under my leadership, the goal now states that it will be done by 2022. The county has already taken the steps to meet that goal.

Another priority area for the commissioners was growing a vibrant economy. The goals for doing that were originally fairly open-ended; the board wanted to increase the number of businesses operating in a supportive environment over the course of two to three years.

I insisted that there be better benchmarks to measure progress. The board agreed. Now, the goal is to have 75 percent of our county businesses reporting that they’re operating in a supportive environment by the year 2024. Even better is that we’re looking to have a 15 percent increase in jobs that meet the self-sufficiency standard wage by 2026.

The board also wants to build a strong infrastructure. We want to find federal, state and regional funding for the next phase of the Sunrise Gateway Multimodal Corridor by 2024. I’m pleased to report that we appear to be on track in meeting this goal, as the county secured state funding for planning and community engagement for this project during the 2021 legislative session.

All of this proves and demonstrates that it’s much easier to get things done when you know what you’re working towards. In a short period of time, the board of commissioners has been able to state what it is that we want to do, set firm deadlines and taken solid, concrete, measurable steps to getting them done. This is exactly what I meant when I said that I intended to use the position as chair to get the county back on the right track. We obviously have a lot of work ahead of us, but I think we’ve gotten off to a great start this year.

As always, I welcome all comments. Please feel free to contact me by clicking here.

Let’s Salvage and Manage What Remains

Summer is now officially underway. We can all recall last summer, when catastrophic wildfires touched and torched nearly every corner of Oregon. Devastation was literally everywhere, and much of it remains to this very day.

The small town of Gates, in the Santiam Canyon, is gone and has started the long rebuilding process. In Southern Oregon, a fire left a substantial scar throughout downtown Phoenix and Talent, burning and destroying businesses and homes alike.

Locally, we choked on smoke and faced evacuations as many Clackamas County residents were threatened by fires that came far too close for comfort. That was followed, months later, by ice storms that fell countless trees in and beyond our county.

A relatively dry winter, with limited snowpack and not nearly enough accumulated rainfall, are all contributing to the expectation that this fire season could be just as bad and even worse.

There have been some encouraging signs along the way, though.

In years past, the push to salvage burned areas, pull dead timber out and replant new, young, healthy trees has been met with a brick wall of resistance by environmental organizations. They’ve fought ferociously to halt any salvage attempts by filing lawsuits.

Even in the instances when the courts threw those suits out, correctly recognizing them as frivolous, they dragged the process out for long enough that the timber became no longer economically viable.

Now, we seem to know better. Efforts were made to aggressively salvage many of the areas that burned last year. Predictably, the same kind of lawsuits were filed by environmentalists. But they were largely shut down in court and the salvage activity has continued.

Many of us have been saying for years that managing forests in the first place is the best way to prevent these fires from happening. That way of thinking seems to be catching on, as more Oregonians become adversely impacted from the fires and the toxic air conditions that they create.

Obviously, there’s a lot more work that needs to be done, on the forest floor, as well as at our state capitol in Salem and our nation’s capitol Washington D.C. It took decades to get these poor policies in place, and it will take time to replace them with better ones.

But the momentum for change is growing and seems to have reached a critical mass. I just pray that we won’t see more devastation before that happens. I’m not sure how many more fires and close calls this state can afford to have.

As always, I welcome all comments.  Please feel free to contact me by clicking here.

Fighting for Your Vacation Rental Rights

Thanks to modern technology, property owners are able to connect to would-be visitors to rent out unused rooms in their houses. It’s proving to be a win-win for those property owners and their guests alike. However, these kinds of voluntary, mutually beneficial arrangements are being threatened by the heavy hands of government overreach and overregulation.

Many Clackamas County residents stand to benefit from the use of apps like Air BnB, and no doubt some already are. With the click of a few buttons, someone can rent out a room or two to a family on vacation, an individual on a business trip or tourists of all kinds.

But some are asking the county to adopt harsh restrictions on these kinds of transactions. They’ve even gone so far as to ask that the sheriff’s office be used to enforce those regulations.

As the chair of the county board of commissioners, I’m pushing back against this approach. For one, it’s a poor use of our limited law enforcement resources. For another, it runs the risk of violating the property rights of our residents. And that is something I will never support.

One benefit of these accessory short-term rental arrangements is that they could very well be helping people stay in their homes. The COVID outbreak and resulting government shutdowns have devastated businesses, industries, families and individuals throughout the nation and the entire world. Peoples’ pocketbooks have been battered for nearly a year now.

Renting out spare bedrooms has enabled a lot of otherwise vulnerable families to avoid foreclosure. The extra income they earn from serving as hosts has made a huge, positive difference in their lives. This is something I would be extremely reluctant to take away from them.

These kinds of rentals are an efficient use of residential structures. They ensure that a home’s primary use remains residential without taking away from the character of the neighborhood. For visitors, it enables them to stay in a more residential setting. It feels more like home because it is a home. Those who prefer hotel rooms always have that option available to them as well.

Even the City of Portland, not exactly known for defending property rights or being business friendly, has an ordinance in place enabling accessory short-term rentals. The number of bedrooms available for rental to overnight guests can be limited. Detached structure bedrooms can also be rented out.

Any concerns surrounding fire, life and safety can also be met by ensuring that each room available for rental meets building code requirements. The concerns of neighbors are met by ensuring that the property owner provide them a letter of notification and including that documentation in their licensing application. Property owners can also be required to keep a guest log book with relevant information that can be inspected by staff.

Companies like Air BnB work with their customers, hosts and municipalities. They’re proactive about informing would-be hosts about the regulatory requirements, such as licensing and registration. Links to applicable building codes are given to hosts and customers and the information about hosts is passed on to the governing body.

In other words, everyone wins. This is an ideal arrangement for everyone involved and should be free from excessive government involvement. I will continue working to preserve the property rights of Clackamas County residents, when it comes to this and all other matters.