© 2022 Tootie Smith for Oregon. All Rights Reserved.

Upholding the Social Contract

There are certain expectations that come from living in a free society. The most important is that, as long as you work hard, obey the law and don’t hurt anyone else, you’re generally free to go about your business peacefully.

That is what is often referred to as the social contract. In exchange for taking care of your business, you are essentially left alone. The taxes that you pay go towards government services that you and your neighbors will use on a regular basis.

What we’ve witnessed, as time goes on, has been a one-way violation of the terms of the longstanding agreement that is the social contract.

Many responsible taxpaying citizens have suddenly found the government and its agencies to be interfering in their affairs for no good reason. Instead of working for them, they feel more and more like those agencies are praying on them. Those agencies become less responsive while demanding additional taxpayer dollars. People start to feel like they’re serving the government, instead of the other way around.

The social contract is one of those things that binds of all, whether we’re aware of it or not. It’s an inherent understanding that we all carry deep down inside. But we also know when it isn’t working as it’s intended.

It’s a violation of the social contract when well-connected elites seem to live by a different standard than the rest of us do. If the rules only apply to some of the people some of the time, that means that the contract is not being honored.

There are dire long-term consequences of the continued breaching of the social contract. Business owners who are constantly victimized by vandalism and theft, only to see those crimes go unprosecuted, will no longer wish to uphold their end of the deal. They will relocate their businesses, and this is something we’re already seeing in areas like Portland.

Citizens who feel that their taxpayer dollars are being squandered on things they never asked for will vote against further increases. They’ll also start demanding accountability from their elected representatives who have failed to deliver.

Those were the kinds of circumstances that inspired me to run for chair of the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners in 2020. As a longtime resident, I was concerned that the county’s budget was becoming bloated. Instead of county services being improved, I saw consultants getting paid exorbitant amounts of money and wondering what benefit we were getting out of it. I didn’t feel that the county was working for the benefit of the people who were paying its bills.

It’s important to me that the people of Clackamas County feel that our organization is holding up its end of the social contract. I’ve made every effort to emphasize and prioritize the services that are most essential to county residents. And I will continue to take this approach for as long as they allow me to serve as the chair of the county board of commissioners.  

All Eyes on Clackamas

Even though much of Clackamas County is rural in nature, it’s considered part of the Portland metropolitan area. The “tri-county area” consists of Clackamas, Washington and Multnomah counties. Those three jurisdictions are also part of Metro.

Due to the close proximity that some of Clackamas County has with the state’s largest city, it’s subjected to what we’ve long called Portland Creep. This is largely because Portland’s problems have a tendency to spread to its outlying areas. So do many of the misguided public policies that help create and perpetuate those problems.

But over the past decade, Clackamas has also become a political bellwether of sorts. Its direction has gone back and forth a few times, depending on how our residents feel about what’s going on in and around Portland.

What I’ve found is that when Portland Creep becomes too excessive, the residents of Clackamas County push back.

That was the case during the November 2012 general election. There was a proposal in place to raise the vehicle registration fees in Clackamas County to pay to replace the Sellwood Bridge, which happens to be located in Multnomah County.

Voters rightly rejected that idea and also decided to switch the direction on the board of county commissioners. I was swept into office that year.

But four years later, the pendulum swung back in the other direction. A familiar pattern repeated itself, and county residents were soon being saddled with higher taxes, more spending, money going into the pockets of consultants instead of towards essential services and a budget that was out of control.

County voters had enough by the May 2020 primary election. Despite being heavily outspent, I ousted the ethically challenged former board chair. Similarly, voters threw out an incumbent who had been aligned with the former chair in the November 2020 general election. They spoke loudly and clearly that they wanted change, and I heard them.

I took office in January 2021 and immediately set about reversing the previous board’s misguided policies, as the voters had mandated.

We’ve had some wins along the way, but there have also been some setbacks. The changes the voters wanted only directed affected two of the five seats on the board of commissioners. But two more of those seats will be up for election later on this year.

People all over Oregon will be watching this election to see which direction Clackamas County will be going. Will the residents of this county decide to preserve our autonomy, or lump us in with other neighboring jurisdictions that have failed to address the crime, graffiti and homelessness that are plaguing the region?

One of the commissioners up for re-election this May was appointed to her seat with the votes of the two commissioners who have since been outed from office. She has fiercely resisted my efforts to reverse course and is standing in the way of doing so.

The other commissioner who will be appearing on the ballot has failed to be a reliable vote on matters he has claimed to support throughout his career in office.

So which way are we going to go? We have the next few months to figure it out. I remain as steadfast as ever in opposing Portland Creep, but I need fellow commissioners who share that commitment. We need to choose wisely, because the future of Clackamas County depends on it.

Fleeing from a Free-for-All

Over the past year, I’ve written about the decriminalization of two of the biggest problems facing the residents of the Portland metropolitan area and Oregon—drug use and homelessness. Now, some people are hoping to add prostitution to the list of illicit activities that will be allowed to take place in this state.

Efforts are underway to gather enough signatures to place a ballot decriminalizing sex work on a future ballot for voters to decide. This is the same process that was used two years ago to legalize the possession of user amounts of extremely dangerous drugs like methamphetamine, heroin and cocaine.

The promise made to voters was that instead of ending up in the criminal justice system, low-level drug offenders would be offered the treatment that they need. But it hasn’t quite worked out that way.

There was never the capacity in place to handle the numbers of people who have sought treatment after the ballot measure passed and took effect. As a result, there are no consequences for those addicts.

Many addicts only get better because they were forced to by the criminal justice system. They reached rock bottom, in part, because of the legal consequences of their substance abuse. But that is no longer happening in Oregon.

Similarly, homelessness has been decriminalized through the passage of legislation at the state capitol in Salem.

Some would argue that drug use and prostitution are victimless crimes. Nothing could be further from the truth. The fact of the matter is, addicts’ families go through hell watching their loved ones struggle to get clean and stay that way. And not more than a few addicts steal to fuel their habits, resulting in rampant property crime. It’s also very well known that many people who work in the sex industry got there as a result of human trafficking, which is one of the worst crimes imaginable.

It stands to reason that once you’ve legitimized and legalized something, you will end up with more of it. Are homelessness or drug use decreasing in Oregon, or are they increasing? I see no evidence that either of these things are getting better.

A prime example of this is happening in California right now. That state decided to decriminalize petty theft, and it is now going through the roof. Stores and national chains are closing their doors because of the losses caused by the kinds of brazen thefts that state government is tacitly encouraging.

I used to be proud to say that Oregon was a great place to raise a family. It was safe, the schools were good and there was quality of life.

All of that has become more difficult to truthfully tell folks from out of state who ask how things are here. As it is, many families have already left for other states because they were discouraged by the problems they see getting worse over time. Some of the biggest reasons they left included homelessness and drug use. The decriminalization of sex work and prostitution will not help do anything but convince more families to pack up and leave Oregon.

The Tide is Turning

At the beginning of the year, things were admittedly looking bleak. The coronavirus pandemic raged on with no end in sight, prompting many in authority to impose open-ended restrictions and mandates on the rest of us. There was violence and unrest in the streets, especially in Portland, where rioters were allowed to destroy the downtown area for literally months on end without consequence.

It was obvious to some of us that these series of crises were going to be used as an excuse for some to make unprecedented power grabs. Anyone who dared to speak up against any of it was destined to be made an example of.

That ended up including me. I stated publicly that I wanted to have family members over for Thanksgiving. This resulted in me receiving multiple threats from strangers accusing me of wanting to kill people.

However, recent developments are proving what I’ve maintained all along—our systems can work as they are intended and people who stand up for their rights can ultimately win, if they’re willing to keep on fighting.  

The recent Virginia governor’s race saw Terry McAuliffe defeated. A key contributing factor was a statement he made during a debate that what state schools teach peoples’ children is none of their business. Outraged suburban soccer moms flocked to the polls to bounce McAuliffe’s party from office. It suffered multiple other losses that night, including the lieutenant governor’s and attorney general’s offices, as well as its majority in the House of Delegates.

Voters sent a very clear message that a line had been crossed. Their elected leaders overreached and paid dearly through being voted out of office across the board. A sleeping giant was awakened. The people took their power back.

McAuliffe isn’t the only unpopular governor these days. After a year and a half of top-down rule, Oregon Governor Kate Brown has the lowest approval ratings of any governor in the entire United States. Fortunately for her, she’s term limited and cannot run for her position again. Because all indications are that she would lose if she did.

Similarly, President Biden’s approval rating is also in freefall, less than a year after he took office. His vaccine mandates on private employers have been legally challenged, and their constitutionality will ultimately be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.

As 2021 draws to a close, just know that you are not alone. But also be aware that the people who spent the last year trying to strip you of your rights and freedoms are not going to stop any time soon, or ever. You are not without recourse, though, and it is possible to fight back and win.

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.  

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.

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.

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.

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.