© 2022 Tootie Smith for Oregon. All Rights Reserved.

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.

Promises Made, Promises Kept

This time last year, I was elected chair of the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners outright in the May 2020 primary election. I accomplished this by winning over 50 percent of the vote, meaning that a runoff in the November general election would not be necessary.

People all over Oregon took notice of my upset win. I had taken on an incumbent with a huge war chest of campaign cash, was heavily outspent and still came out on top.

Many people wondered how I managed to pull it off.

As a longtime resident of this county, I’m keenly aware of the issues that matter the most to my neighbors. I’ve always made it a point to keep in touch with people and hear their concerns about the issues affecting them. And most importantly, I paid attention to what the board of commissioners and its former chair were doing and where those actions and decisions were leading the county.

In the years since I had last served as commissioner, the county went from being responsive to citizen concerns to more worried about the well-being of consultants who provided questionable services to people who never asked for them in the first place.

Instead of being mindful about the way that taxpayer dollars were being spent, the board’s chair was constantly looking for more ways to fund these bogus expenses and unnecessary expansion of non-essential county government operations.

Rather than having a budget that balanced, it was ballooning, bulging and becoming unsustainable.

Perhaps worst of all, the priorities of Clackamas County residents were taking a backseat to those of Metro.

Serving the citizens was less of a priority for the former chair than his own family’s personal financial gain. The Oregon Government Ethics Commission was sufficiently outraged by his actions to find him guilty and impose a fine. The former chair then had the audacity to ask county taxpayers to foot the bill for his related legal expenses. His fellow commissioners went along with it, until public outrage caused them to reverse their position.

I took office in January and hit the ground running to get the county going back in the right direction. When I found out that Metro was charging our constituents too much for garbage pickup service, I lead the charge to hold that agency accountable.

When it was suggested that our commissioners and other elected officials should get pay raises, I voted against it. I also made every effort to repeal a vehicle registration fee that the previous board put in place with no public input.

While we’ve been successful in getting the county’s budget back to being balanced and pushing back on Metro, I’ve also been outvoted on some of these matters. I’ve also had to contend with the constant use of our regular business sessions as soapboxes for activists who are still disgruntled that the commissioners they supported and campaigned for were fired by the county’s voters for doing a bad job.

I’m pleased to report that, after almost half of a year on the job, Clackamas County is back on track.

Reversing years of poor policy decisions and misplaced priorities hasn’t been easy. Nor will it all get done overnight. However, I’m just as committed to the cause as I was last year, when the results of the 2020 May primary election were first announced.

As always, I invite comments by all at any time here…

My Vision for Clackamas County and Its Future

The last few weeks that I’ve spent campaigning in person and online have given me the chance to think about what kind of future I would like to see for Clackamas County and its residents.

It’s important for leaders to have a road map in mind so they can set the right priorities and determine if progress is being made. Goals and benchmarks help guide the path forward.

My top priority right now would be to make sure that the county, and all of its businesses, are re-opened as quickly as safely as possible. The coronavirus crisis has shown how important it is for the county to be prepared for an emergency and have adequate reserve funds. I will help the county plan for those eventualities through my Federal Emergency Management Agency training.

Under my chairmanship, the county will be planning better for tomorrow’s challenges. That way, the next time a recession hits, the county government won’t have to make cuts or sacrifice services.

The county budget should be balanced without the need for additional tax burdens on our property owners, businesses, families and workers. I helped balance the state budget as a member of the Legislature’s Ways and Means Committee as we recovered from recession. This was done by prioritizing programs instead of raising taxes.

Ideally, the county should have a budget surplus. It did the last time I was county commissioner, and I will work to make sure that it does again.

I envision county residents being able to commute to work safely on well-maintained roads with adequate traffic capacity. I see the sheriff’s office funded responsibly enough to be well-staffed so that deputies are able to respond quickly to calls for service.

My vision includes courthouse facilities that the county leases with parking, elevators and Americans with Disabilities Act access already in place and that is easy for public transportation and vehicle traffic to get to.  

I see strong, healthy, vibrant, diverse communities throughout Clackamas County that are independent of Portland and maintain their unique characters. They include everything from suburbs like West Linn, Happy Valley and Lake Oswego to smaller, more rural towns like Molalla, Sandy and Estacada.

I picture thriving main streets where merchants and neighbors know each other. I see small businesses that are locally owned and operated open their doors for tourists, visitors and residents alike. I envision people coming from all over the world to enjoy outdoor recreation in our majestic mountains and on our rivers.

I dream of seeing those same business owners feeling well-served by their county government, instead of constantly being asked to fund its bureaucracy and those of Metro. I see a county government that takes a responsive, proactive, customer service-based approach and puts its residents’ needs before those of itself, Metro and Portland.


This is what I have in mind and why I am running for chair of the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners. I’m asking for your vote and for you to turn in your ballot by May 19.

Public Service Should Be a Sacrifice

I still fondly remember the two terms that I served in the Oregon Legislature. Because I was on the budget-writing Ways and Means Committee, each legislative session meant getting to the capitol early each morning and staying well into the evening for meetings. I would leave my family farm as the sun was rising and make the commute to Salem, perform my legislative duties, drive home, go to bed and repeat that routine until the session was adjourned.

What most people don’t know is that individual legislators have very little power. I was in the Oregon House of Representatives, which meant that mine was only one out of 60 votes in that body. Back then, legislators were paid very little in the way of a salary. Many members were retired or independently wealthy because the body was thought of as a part-time citizen legislature.

So why did I do it? It’s simple: I wanted to serve the public and represent my constituents.

I took a similar approach in the four years I served on the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners from 2013 to 2017. That whole time, I never lost sight of the people I was working for.

One of the biggest reasons I’m running for chair of the Board of Commissioners is I don’t feel that is the approach being taken by Jim Bernard. All indications are that he is putting his own interests before those of the county’s citizens.

Last year, the Oregon Government Ethics Commission (OGEC) found him guilty of ethics violations.

The violation stemmed from the fact that Bernard’s wife worked as the head of a county department. He voted to approve her hiring one year after they got married, instead of recusing himself. In the years since, Bernard has failed to recuse himself from votes to approve pay raises for her.

Bernard got himself in trouble with the OGEC when he used his position as chair of the Board of Commissioners to attempt to obtain documents that his wife could possibly have used in a lawsuit against the county. Her request for information was discussed at a commissioner meeting, and he did not declare a conflict of interest. An executive session was held to discuss the records request. Bernard attended part of that meeting.

What public interest was Bernard serving through all of this? How did his actions benefit the residents of Clackamas County? Well, they didn’t. Situations like this are why the OGEC exists in the first place.

The OGEC launched an investigation and found him to be guilty of ethics violations. State law prohibits public officials from using their positions to benefit themselves, and the OGEC found that Bernard was using his position as chair of the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners to directly benefit he and his wife.

Bernard then had the audacity to ask that the county pay the legal fees he incurred throughout the process. Although his fellow commissioners initially agreed to it, they later changed their minds due to public outcry.

Again, how does having the public pay his personal legal bills serve the public?

Although Bernard has no problem asking county taxpayers to pony up more in property taxes to fund the county and Metro, he isn’t willing to make the same sacrifice. He successfully petitioned the county assessor’s office to reduce his own property taxes by nearly one-third last year.

What’s obvious here is that Jim Bernard is more interested in serving his own needs that he is in serving yours. It is a matter of public record that he has been found guilty of abusing his official elected position for personal gain.

I’ve always viewed public service as exactly that—service to the public. The Clackamas County Board of Commissioners exists to make sure that county residents receive quality services that aren’t already provided by the federal, state or their city governments. It should never be an outlet for any individual commissioner’s individual gain. But that’s exactly what it’s become over the past few years.


Clackamas County residents deserve better than this. They deserve to have their priorities come first, and I intend to honor that commitment, just like I did in the Legislature and during my time on the Board of Commissioners.

The Relationship Between Business and Government

The coronavirus and the resulting shutdown continue to have devastating consequences for businesses and workers alike. An economy that had been growing at a healthy pace has literally come to a halt as storefronts remain shuttered worldwide.

Job creators are becoming increasingly anxious amid uncertainty as to when they can open their doors again. Some may never be able to. Many are still incurring expenses, even though their sources of revenue have dried up.

Having been a small business owner, I’m familiar with the struggles faced by our entrepreneurs. Throughout my years of public service, I always remembered the valuable perspective that I gained from that experience. That’s why I feel that it’s important for government at all levels to create policies that enable businesses to grow and thrive.

But far too often, politicians and bureaucrats take the approach that the needs of government must come first. They seem to forget that the revenues that fund their agencies come out of the pockets and paychecks of people who work for a living and those who employ them.

This current crisis highlights the differences between our leaders who understand how business works and those who do not. Those who do not understand are moving ahead with plans to increase tax burdens on employers, employees, property owners and anyone else who pays into government coffers. They’re already bemoaning the lost revenues that they were already counting on to grow government programs, hire more consultants and add to agency payrolls. I have experience in this area. When I first took office as a State Representative, the nation was reeling from a recession. The state’s budget was out of balance, and there were constant calls for tax increases.

As a member of the budget-writing Ways and Means Committee, I was tasked with figuring out the best way to balance that budget. And I’m proud to say that we got it done, by prioritizing key functions, and without raising taxes.

Despite the difficult circumstances we’re in right now, plans are underway to raise taxes on the residents of Oregon and Clackamas County. Those proposals were developed when the economy was surging. Now, with peoples’ livelihoods in the balance, and families struggling to make ends meet, those demands for higher taxes are unchanged.  

At the state level, businesses are going to be asked to pay the Corporate Activity Tax that was passed by the Legislature last year. That tax is applied to sales instead of profits, meaning that a business will have to pay it, even if it is losing money.

Also being proposed is a tax increase whose proceeds will go to Metro under the guise of providing services for the homeless. Much like the “affordable housing” measure that was passed in 2018, there is no guarantee that the funds will go towards their intended purpose or do anything to solve the problem. What it will do is give Metro more of your hard-earned dollars to grow its bureaucracy while producing little in the way of results.


I’m running for chair of the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners to represent all of the small business owners, families and workers who are the backbone of our economy. Their needs have been ignored for too long by those who would put government first, instead of encouraging our businesses to prosper and thrive.

The Fundamentals of Good Management

There were a lot of things I learned when I served in the Oregon House of Representatives from 2001 to 2005. One of them was how to best prioritize and utilize taxpayer resources to fund critical government services.

I was assigned to the budget-writing Ways and Means Committee. Many of my colleagues were on policy committees and would be able to go home once they were done meeting. Not me. Because Ways and Means has several subcommittees, I would often find myself at the capitol in Salem early in the morning and well into the evening.

All of that time learning the ins and outs of the state budget was very necessary, as the national recession devastated Oregonians’ pocketbooks. Our state government is largely dependent on income tax, so that meant fewer revenues were available. But the budget still needed to be balanced.

The demand for government services outpaced the dollars that were available, so we had to determine which programs provided the best value to the state’s residents. By the time we were done, the budget was balanced without citizens being burdened by more taxes.

I took the same approach when serving on the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners from 2013 to 2017. Not only was the budget balanced, but the county had a surplus of funds.

Sadly, that is no longer the case. Under its current board of commissioners, the county has taken a completely different direction. The result is that the budget has faced a shortfall of $20 million over the past two years.

How did we get here? It’s simple. County government grew beyond its means. More programs were added. Consultants were paid to conduct “special projects,” with no accountability for performance or their value to county residents.

Starting last August, I began to publicly question current Clackamas County Commission Chair Jim Bernard about how and why things have gotten to this point. His response, or lack thereof, helped me conclude something I had long suspected—he’s a huge part of the problem.

Bernard’s lack of leadership results from the fact that he is not a manager. That’s why he doesn’t know how to budget public funds with a proactive approach to preparedness. And it’s one of the main reasons that, instead of planning for the future, the county government is lurching from crisis to crisis.

In that sense, and in terms of basic governing philosophy the contrast between Bernard and myself could not be clearer. Let me elaborate and spell it out.

I have always firmly believed that the government exists to serve the public, and not the other way around. The responsible approach is to work with the revenue that the county has available to it and properly prioritize those resources. Constantly asking citizens for more money just to grow budgets, for the county and for other entities like Metro, is irresponsible.

Instead of telling citizens how the county can help them in this time of crisis, the county’s leaders are choosing to put the government first and ask for more money.

The crisis occurring right now is that companies are losing money and workers are losing their jobs. It isn’t that the county and Metro don’t have enough of other peoples’ money to grow their budgets and bureaucracies as much as they would like to.

My governing philosophy came from years of running private sector businesses. I know what it’s like to manage organizations through good times and bad. Most importantly, I’m proud of the work I’ve done both in the Legislature and on the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners to put good management practices in place. As your next commission chair, I plan to build on those years of experience to get the county government back on the right track.

Getting Back to Basics

All too often, we see what happens when the government tries to do too much—cost overruns, lax oversight, mission creep between different agencies and core functions not being done well. That is one of the many reasons that I’ve always thought government should stick to doing a few things and should seek to do them well.

In my two terms in the Oregon House of Representatives, I saw the results of the state government trying to be all things to all people. My first term began in 2001 and the nation was in recession. I was assigned to the budget-writing Ways and Means Committee and tasked with balancing the budget amid declining revenues.

Luckily, my colleagues and I were able to accomplish this without raising taxes. We did it by identifying and prioritizing key services. Expensive, non-essential programs that only served a few people were eliminated and spending was brought under control.

In the years since then, our state leaders have constantly expanded the scope of what they think the state government should do. And now that the economy may be headed into recession, the state could be in a world of hurt and potentially painful budget cuts.

One of the reasons I enjoyed serving as Clackamas County Commissioner from 2013 to 2017 is that county government has the unique position of being the closest to the citizens it serves.

During my stint as commissioner, I took the same approach to governance and budgeting that I did in the Legislature. Not only was the budget balanced, but the county had a surplus of funds.

In the years since then, the county leadership has taken a much different direction. The approach has been to grow government’s footprint without regard to the ability to pay for it further on down the line. Consequentially, this fiscal recklessness has meant deficits of $20 million over the last two years and discussions about the need for “rightsizing” county government.

The real problem is that county government got too large in the first place. It’s time to get back to the basics.

County government’s top priorities should be law enforcement and all aspects of its criminal justice system, the infrastructure that is needed to keep people and products moving, and essential services that are valued by citizens, such as alleviating homelessness.

As chair of the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners, I will use my previous experience to return the county’s budget to sound financial footing. I have a proven track record, at the state and county level, of balancing budgets without burdening citizens with higher taxes.

How to Handle Homelessness

Everyone knows that rampant homelessness is a huge issue in the Portland area. But what people don’t know is that there is a solution available that Clackamas County can use immediately to help solve it.

The current Clackamas County Board of Commissioners is blaming the area’s growing homelessness on budget cuts. This is, unfortunately, just an attempt to hold taxpayers’ wallets hostage and avoid responsibility for their own blatant, irresponsible mismanagement of county resources.

Funds are already available to bolster programs that are proven to work effectively to address the root causes of homelessness and keep people off the streets. The best part is, this can be done without further burdening county residents with more unnecessary taxes.

As part of criminal justice reform efforts, the Legislature has placed more of an emphasis on community corrections programs. The idea is to keep non-violent offenders from ending up in prison.

 An alternative to incarceration, community corrections programs keep those offenders in the community, so they can keep working, paying taxes, being with their families and contributing to society. Community corrections also offers structure and programs that helps offenders to change their behaviors and has accountability measures to keep them from committing more crimes.

There is a surplus of money at the state level for community corrections programs of around $2.5 billion. This represents a golden opportunity for Clackamas County to deal with homelessness in an effective, yet compassionate, manner.

Homeless who are contacted by law enforcement could be helped through the community corrections system. The cause of their individual homelessness can be determined through that process. If it’s mental illness, it can be diagnosed so treatment can be sought. If it’s addiction, they can be referred to programs to get them clean and keep them that way. Some people become homeless due to job loss. Luckily, there are employment opportunities that can be made available to them through these programs.

These are all evidence-based programs that have been proven to work and utilize existing funding streams.

By contrast, the current Clackamas County Board of Commissioners is supporting Metro’s new income tax for the homeless this May primary election.

While sounding altruistic, this is the fourth Metro tax in 18 months and this regional agency has no experience whatsoever in curing the big three causes of homelessness: Addiction, Mental Health and Joblessness. Chair Jim Bernard is abdicating leadership of Clackamas County to Portland by supporting another tax on the backs of our citizens.

Compare how the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office is already addressing the homeless crisis with the programs just mentioned. Instead of taxing citizens to fund Metro with its unproven experience, let’s support out own efforts by prioritizing spending and services, I plan to address this problem effectively as the next chair of the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners.