© 2022 Tootie Smith for Oregon. All Rights Reserved.

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.

Hold Their Feet to the Fire

As chair of the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners, it’s my job to set the agenda in such a way that the county’s 400,000 residents are well-served. When I suspect that they aren’t being well-served, I must bring that to the attention of my fellow commissioners so we can work together to make it right.

This is exactly what happened recently. I was informed that Metro may be overcharging county residents for trash collection services.

Unfortunately for Metro, they’ve been called out on this bogus practice. The Board of Commissioners has taken the first step towards correcting this wrong, due to public pressure. Now I’m counting on you to help keep up the pressure and hold them accountable.

When I ran for the chairmanship position last year, one of the central planks of my platform was ensuring that Clackamas County residents get their money’s worth. Another was standing up to Metro and not letting that agency take advantage of our taxpayers.

At my direction, an ordinance was drawn up to 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-for-dollar basis.

A first reading of this ordinance was held April 1. As part of that public process, testimony was heard by the board regarding the ordinance.

The citizens who testified were adamant that the county look out for them by passing the ordinance. Like me, they are tired of being taken advantage of by Metro. They’re tired of watching that agency’s budget balloon over time while the problems it’s charged with solving continue to get worse. Most importantly, they know it’s not right for Metro to overcharge our county’s residents. And they’re getting tired of hearing excuses as to why this agency refuses to be responsive to the public it’s supposed to be serving.

All five of the Clackamas County Commissioners voted to approve the first reading of that ordinance. While that’s an encouraging first step, this matter is not yet settled.

In order to be officially passed, ordinances need to have first and second readings. The April 1 meeting was the first reading of the proposed ordinance. Its second reading is scheduled for the board’s April 15 business meeting, which starts at 10 a.m.  

Anyone hoping to testify on this ordinance can do so either in person or virtually via Zoom. The link to the meeting webpage, which has information on how to participate via Zoom, is below:

Board of County Commissioners’ Business Meeting (In-Person and Virtual Meeting) – April 15, 2021 | Clackamas County

The passionate testimony of concerned citizens helped the commissioners decide to vote to move this issue forward to the final vote on April 15th. And even though all of the commissioners voted for it, some may change their minds if the public doesn’t speak up again on this issue.

We’re so close to getting a huge win for this county’s taxpayers. All we need is for you to again express your support for this ordinance to get it through to passage.

Once again, you can attend the meeting in-person or on Zoom. Details on the meeting below:

Board of County Commissioners’ Business Meeting (In-Person and Virtual Meeting) – April 15, 2021 | Clackamas County

Thank you for adding your voice and allowing me to serve in defense of Clackamas County.

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.