© 2022 Tootie Smith for Oregon. All Rights Reserved.

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.

Are We Being Ruled or Governed?

One of the main debates of our time is one that is nothing new. Society has always seemed to be split between people subscribing to two competing political philosophies—some want to be governed and some want others to rule over them and everyone else.

It’s often easy to tell the differences between being ruled and being governed.

When you’re being governed, there’s a rule of law that applies equally to everybody, regardless of status, class, family, who you know or who you are. Those laws are decided through deliberate processes that are open to scrutiny and input from the public. The decisions are made by representatives elected by citizens. Those representatives are regularly held accountable through elections and can be removed and replaced if they fail to represent the peoples’ interests.

When you’re being ruled, mandates are issued without regard to public process. The people issuing the edicts were never voted into power by anybody and were appointed to their positions. It’s impossible to determine how those mandates were developed and no immediate process to challenge them exists. Exemptions seem to be made for certain groups of people and not others. Certain select groups of people appear to always benefit from these decisions, and they’re often the same entities that supported those officials and enabled them to attain their positions of power.

Any citizens who dare question their authority are singled out, treated poorly, made examples of and subject to retaliation.

When you’re being governed, agencies exist for the purpose of providing services to you. Policies governing those agencies are directed with the consideration of input from citizens. Taxes are collected to fund those services and pay employees or contractors to provide them. Citizens are able to contact those agencies and get a response. There are repercussions for managers and personnel if the public is treated poorly.

When you’re being ruled, you are treated as if you exist to serve the government and not the other way around. Rulers think of budgets in terms of what agencies need. If they feel it’s not enough, taxes or fees are raised to achieve the desired results and amounts.

When you’re being governed, agencies’ resources are based on budgets whose amounts are set by citizens and their desired level of taxation.

When you’re being ruled, you are told what you can and cannot do. Your conduct is limited, and you must ask permission to do anything.

When you are being governed, you are assumed to be free. The government is limited to what is necessary to provide the shared services that you and your fellow citizens have agreed upon.

In just under a year, we’re going to be facing another election. When considering which candidates to support, we should ask which of these two philosophies they follow. Candidates who are currently in office who feel we should be ruled need to be removed immediately and replaced with those who feel that we should be governed.

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.  

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…

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.

Are Our Kids Supposed to be Social Experiments for Oregon’s New Drug Law?

Over the past couple of weeks, law enforcement officials and prosecutors from throughout Oregon have started to realize the aftermath of Measure 110’s passage in last November’s general election. The bottom line is that it will drastically affect their ability to do their jobs.

Measure 110, which took effect February 1, changes possession of user amounts of controlled substances to a violation instead of a crime. Fortunately, Commercial Drug Offenses (CDOs) for many substances will remain a felony and some will be a Class A misdemeanor.

Unfortunately, the legal threshold between what will constitute a violation versus a crime is still somewhat baffling. Someone can now possess up to 40 units of LSD and methadone and 40 oxycodone pills and have it considered a mere violation.

What all of this means is that the investigation of drug crimes will now become more complicated and difficult than ever before.

That’s not even the worst part. Oregon voters were sold a bill of goods, in the form of a promise that passage of the measure would lead to more people getting the addiction treatment help that they need. But this recent article shows that this state is ill-equipped to deal with the anticipated influx of people wanting to utilize those programs.

As it currently stands, Oregon taxpayers spend billions of dollars on treatment programs. That spending is not tracked, and the system is already overwhelmed with people waiting months for addiction treatment services and not receiving them.

Oregon is a state whose residents already struggle with substance abuse. An estimated 300,000 residents are battling an addiction of some sort or another. We’re among the top states for abuse of painkillers and methamphetamine.

Although I’ve long believed in our initiative petition system, I believe it was abused in this case. Out-of-state interests decided to spend a few million dollars to essentially run an experiment in our beloved state, using some of our most vulnerable and underserved residents as guinea pigs.

If this measure produces the outcomes desired by its sponsors, you can expect to see similar versions of it popping up in other states. However, if it creates problems or makes existing ones even worse, which I believe will be the case, we alone will have to deal with the consequences.

Public policy is often described as a pendulum that swings back and forth, based on the actions and reactions to different decisions that are made. Sometimes the pendulum swings too far in one direction or another and eventually comes swinging back to a point of reasonable balance.

It can be argued that the War on Drugs took things too far in one direction, with the long-term incarcerations of millions of Americans for simple drug possession. But that pendulum seems to be heading to the opposite extreme, and I hope that we’re ready to bring it back into balance once everyone realizes that it’s gone too far.

Tootie Smith welcomes your comments and ideas to this or any topic of interest here…

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.

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.