© 2022 Tootie Smith for Oregon. All Rights Reserved.

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.

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.

Tipping Fee Tipping Point.

Metro is up to its same old tricks. And we need to tell them to stop it.

Metro is overcharging for residential garbage and the Clackamas County Commission can put an end to this by simply amending the county code to pass on reduced Metro fees to the residential customers that are being overcharged.

We need your voice of support to help correct this violation. 

This time last year, I was campaigning for chair of the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners on a platform of fiscal responsibility. That included a pledge to county residents to ensure they get what their tax dollars are paying for.

I also ran on the need for the board of commissioners to put the county and its residents before those of outside entities like Metro.

Voters agreed with my stances, and I won the chair position outright in the May 2020 primary election. But even though county residents had expressed their desire for more responsible handling of their hard-earned money, I’m still faced with resistance from agencies, public employees with agendas and some of my fellow commissioners.

First, I fought to repeal the vehicle registration fee that the previous board of commissioners imposed without adequate public process. Now, I’m taking on Metro, as all indications are that it’s up to the same old shenanigans when it comes to your money.

Metro operates a dump in Clackamas County. Whenever a hauler goes to dump garbage there, it pays a tipping fee to Metro of just under $100 per ton.

The county grants franchises for trash collection services and its board of commissioners establishes a waste management fee to set the limit on what the franchisee may charge to customers.

But it turns out that Metro is charging garbage customers in the county more than the service costs to provide. Even worse, Metro is paying the contractors who actually provide the service less than they’re supposed to. Documentation exists to prove these claims.

This is in direct violation of Metro’s charter. Section 15 of that document states that “charges for the provision of goods or services by Metro may not exceed the costs of providing the goods or services.” As such, the tip fee is illegal and must be reduced to a charge that is in a legal amount more in line with the cost of providing those services.

Metro’s dubious practice was challenged in court by a couple of county residents. In response, Metro had an attorney file a motion to dismiss the lawsuit on the grounds that Clackamas County residents lack standing in the matter. In other words, Metro used your tax dollars to pay an attorney to tell a judge that it’s none of your business if you don’t get the services you’re paying for.

An argument made by Metro’s taxpayer-funded attorneys states that even if the tipping fee is reduced, there is no guarantee the savings will be passed on to county residents. To me, this is nothing more than a cop-out and an attempt by Metro to avoid accountability.

In response, I’m putting an ordinance before my fellow commissioners. If passed, it will amend the county’s code to state that if Metro reduces or is required by a court to reduce its tip fee, the waste management fee shall be reduced for customers on a dollar-by-dollar basis.

The first hearing of this proposed ordinance is scheduled for Thursday, April 1 at 10 a.m. A second reading is tentatively scheduled for two weeks later, on April 15.

I’m doing everything I can to look out for the ratepayers and taxpayers in Clackamas County, but I need your help to do so. Any citizens who agree that we should be getting what we pay for out of Metro is strongly urged to participate and testify in favor of the ordinance.

Taking on Metro is no small task, but it’s one I know we can take on together. Help me hold this agency accountable to, and for, every resident of Clackamas County.

Let the People Have Their Say

The fight over vehicle registration fees in Clackamas County has been going on for a very long time now, in some form or another. And throughout the last decade, I have consistently said people have a right to vote for new taxes or fees. sided with the people of this county in opposing it.

A previous board of commissioners had approved a vehicle registration fee in December 2010. The worst part of the proposal? The funds raised through it were going to be used to replace the Sellwood Bridge—which is located in Multnomah County. That’s right; Clackamas County voters were going to be paying more to register their cars to pay for a bridge in a county they don’t live in.

The fee was scheduled to start in 2012. But before that could happen, though, understandably outraged residents circulated a petition to force a vote on it. They obtained the required number of valid signatures to put it on the May 2011 ballot.  

Clackamas County voters soundly rejected the vehicle registration fee 63 to 36 percent. Around 31,000 residents supported it, but over 53,000 opposed it. The voters had spoken loudly and clearly. Apparently, they weren’t interested in paying higher vehicle registration fees to fund a bridge located in another county.

I joined those residents in opposing that proposal from the very beginning. In fact, I think that issue was among those that helped get me elected to the board of commissioners in the November 2012 general election.

Flash forward four years from then, after the 2016 election. The board of commissioners and its chair position had changed, bringing with them a whole new set of priorities. And even though county voters had overwhelmingly stood against the vehicle registration fee, the board decided to bring it back. This time, it was done without any public involvement.

As was the case years before, I was against it. I also suspected that the majority of county voters who voted against it probably hadn’t changed their minds.

I was so unhappy with the high-tax, high-spending approach of that county board and its chair that I ran for the chairmanship position last year. Voters agreed with my positions and I won outright in the May 2020 primary election.

Part of my platform was my consistent opposition to the vehicle registration fee and a commitment to having it repealed.

I recently brought the fee before my fellow commissioners in the hopes that they would agree with me and the majority of the citizens they represent. Much to my disappointment, most of my fellow board members wanted to maintain the status quo of having the fee in place. I even gave them the chance to have it referred to voters again, just like it had been almost ten years ago to the day. They weren’t willing to do that.

To me, the most important function of a commissioner’s job is to listen to the people of the county. If the residents voted to keep the vehicle registration fee, I would support that stance.

It isn’t too late for us to bring this fee up for a vote. But I need your help convincing my fellow commissioners.

If you want my fellow commissioners to give you a vote on repealing the vehicle registration, email feebcc@clackamas.us. I will work to ensure that your voice is heard on this, and all other matters. Hopefully, the rest of the board will eventually agree.