Candidate Q&A: Clackamas County commission hopefuls weigh in on issues

With the May 21 election fast approaching, Clackamas County voters will soon decide who serves at three positions on the Board of County Commissioners. A total of 10 candidates are running for positions 1, 3 and 4, and Pamplin Media Group asked them to weigh in on a series of questions. Their responses follow; candidates Amy Nichols (position 3), Rae Gordon (position 4) and Mark Shull (position 4) did not provide answers.

PMG: What is the most significant issue facing the county and how would you address it?

Craig Roberts (running for position 1 against Tootie Smith and April Lambert): Healthy county finances are the foundation of public services, like public safety, roads, and social services. Our county budget is not sustainable, in part due to the cost of the $313 million courthouse. There’s not enough money to pay the bills. Cuts to staff and important programs are at risk, like the Wichita Community Center. These programs help families get the services they need to eat and find shelter. Instead of moving forward the county is moving backwards in services to our most vulnerable. My opponent continues to insist there’s no budget crisis, but she knows differently.

Recently, her chief financial officer told county directors and elected officials that the budget was not sustainable. And she postponed public budget hearings until after the election. I will conduct a transparent audit to reveal County finances, and will form a citizen’s oversight committee to help inform critical financial policy decisions.

April Lambert: Continuing to provide and expand necessary services in every area of our county. I’m not here just to cut the budget. I’m here to examine it and look at what we can expand that brings in revenue. Our community pays a ton of money in state and federal taxes. Thankfully a lot of that money can be withdrawn from those “piggy banks” to do things such as grow our counties health, behavioral health, dental, recovery services, in-home services to seniors and people with disabilities, and our employment and training services. All of these programs are needed and bring in revenue to our community. Under my leadership we will have more local jobs and services simply by utilizing the state and federal tax dollars we’ve already paid. We can, and will, fully serve our region by simply withdrawing and utilizing the money that’s sitting right there waiting for us.

Tootie Smith: Economics. Inflation has caused reduced buying power for essentials and durable goods. It’s up to government to not raise taxes.

Dana Hindman-Allen (running for position 3 against Martha Schrader and Amy Nichols): After speaking to many people in the county about a variety of issues such as private property rights, public safety, tolling, property taxes, affordable housing and the homeless issues citizens say that the number one issue is they feel as though redressing their grievances has become very difficult. They feel it takes an enormous amount of resistance and follow up to change policies or influence better ones. Should I be elected as your next commissioner, I am committed to bringing the spirit of collaboration with the public and businesses to the forefront. I will welcome input and respond to concerns while finding creative ways to address the issues in a win-win manner.

Martha Schrader: The most significant issue facing the county today is economic prosperity for our citizens. During COVID Clackamas County’s Department of Business Development partnered with seven of our chambers to establish business recovery centers that provided recovery assistance for businesses of all sizes and types. It was such a successful program and we are continuing the program as Business Resource Centers. Our current plan is to provide a Business Development Grant program that will support business growth. We are also developing a grant program that will provide workforce training opportunities with Clackamas Community College.

Melissa Fireside (running for position 4 against Mark Shull, Tina Irvine and Rae Gordon): Housing and services; it cannot just be one or the other because these two issues don’t exist in silos. Rapid housing, workforce housing, multiple paths to homeownership, robust housing security programs and building to scale affordable entries to rental and homeownership for every individual and family in our county are of vital necessity.

Tina Irvine: One of the largest issues facing our county is our land use policies which dictate our ability to build homes, enhance economic development and increase employment opportunities. While out meeting with community members many of us agree that Oregon is operating under a Statewide Land Use Plan (SLUP) that has become ineffective.

With a population that doubled in the last 50 years, it comes as no surprise that we are struggling with economic development and face a severe housing deficit simply because we have failed to evolve our SLUP as our needs have drastically changed. As leaders we must be at the table, driving all governing bodies to improve the way we use our precious resources to strategically build homes, attract businesses, and retain the companies that desire to expand. We must be forward thinking and be willing to have difficult conversations that are to the benefit of all.

PMG: How do you think the county should be responding to homelessness and addiction?

Smith: Clackamas County has been responding well to homelessness using a different approach than other counties reducing homelessness by 65% over 4 years following the Clackamas Way. Dedicated staff meet people on the street to address basic needs and determine causation. Online to open is a 44,000 square foot mental health clinic, 23-hour stabilization center; we have funded several nonprofit clinics and rehabilitation centers, a navigation center and in the works is a long-term residential addiction recovery center. The board passed a recovery-oriented system of care resolution which is a guiding document.

Lambert: I lost one of my dearest friends to an overdose. My plan is educating children, parents and adults about today’s drugs. To save lives we need to promote having Narcan kits readily available in schools, businesses, homes and in people’s vehicles. Additionally, we need to promote fentanyl test kits. For helping people recover we need to increase the number of detox and treatment centers in our area. Now is the time to act! To fully succeed in ending homelessness we must continue to offer rent assistance, as well as invest in buying hotels to convert them into transitional and permanent housing. To address the root causes we need more case management, health and behavioral health services, employment services and recovery services. Additionally, we need to provide more safe shelters and temporary camping areas for people to stay until we have enough housing to get people fully off of the streets.

Roberts: Throwing money at these issues, without real planning and investment in programs with proven results, is a waste of money and county resources. State and Metro supportive housing dollars help us address homelessness and expand transitional housing; we can’t afford to waste these funds. I will bring strategic partners together to develop a comprehensive housing stabilization plan to grow resources with incremental measurable outcomes on a continuing plan. We must expand our network of transitional residential services to include addiction services. The county had this opportunity with Project Turnkey, but my opponent killed the deal under pressure from her political party. I support evidence-based addiction treatment programs that show real results like our jail, Clackamas Substance Abuse Program and medical assisted treatment for adults in custody. I believe we can learn from the success of these programs to help people who are not justice-involved find their successful path to recovery.

Schrader: We are increasing our housing inventory at the Hillside Park Manor in Milwaukie from 200 to 500 units and are in the process of developing additional housing at Clackamas Heights. Additionally we have increased inventory for veterans at Clayton Mohr Commons and have had extensive success with transitional housing with our Veteran’s Village. Tools such as our Rapid Rehousing programs and rent relief are also essential in keeping citizens housed.

We are currently in the process of developing a recovery center for people with substance abuse disorders. We’ll collaborate across systems to develop services that are responsive to individuals, their families and our communities.

Hindman-Allen: Being homeless is devastating, many people arrive there for a variety of different reasons. The county has its health and human services to aid people who need a safety net to get back on our feet. The county can intervene if people truly want help, no one wants to have citizens suffering from mental health and addiction problems. The community is better when people are contributing and thriving. The county can partner with nonprofits who are committed and accountable for the services that they provide. The county has currently advanced a navigation recovery center in Oregon City which should help significantly. However, business owners are concerned that it could affect the downtown livability, so management of that facility is crucial.

Fireside: I have to applaud our amazing 3HS staff, because their commitment, innovation, and expertise has made Clackamas County strong in response to homelessness and addiction. I would like to see much more of a focus on the unseen populations in our county that are facing housing insecurity and homelessness. That vital lens is often missing and isn’t a focus until the devastation has happened. Prevention, outreach and solutions are vital to end and prevent the cycle.

Irvine: High rates of homelessness have countless negative downstream effects including a strain on public services, increased public health and safety risks, and decreased economic activity. Right now, Oregonians are facing one of the most severe homelessness crisis in the entire country, and the ramifications are unavoidable.

We must address the underlying factors contributing to homelessness, especially substance abuse disorders, behavioral health issues, domestic violence and our youth in crisis. As a commissioner it is essential that when allocating financial resources that we partner with reputable organizations that offer compassionate and personalized services that identify, respect, and address the unique needs of individuals. This targeted approach funnels a range of supportive services including addiction recovery, behavioral health counseling, proper health care, the legal system, and skills training to increase the opportunity to a full recovery and sustainable housing. By tackling fundamental causes, we can decrease addiction and reduce chronic homelessness.

PMG: Should the county have an office dedicated to equity and inclusion? Why or why not?

Lambert: There are a number of laws in place such as the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Equal Opportunity Act that are design to protect employees and consumers from discrimination. Unfortunately without proper training companies are at risk for fines and lawsuits from these very laws. I have a solution to this problem and that’s to provide free on demand training that can be watched at your leisure on these important topics to every licensed business and their workforce here in Clackamas County. Let’s restore equity and inclusion in a BIG WAY while protecting our businesses from fines and lawsuits, while protecting their workforce from discrimination, while protecting their customers from discrimination, and while protecting our community and truly having equity. Discrimination happens most often in the workforce and in customer service delivery. The laws are already in place to stop this. What’s missing is just the education.

Roberts: Absolutely. Communities thrive when all people feel a sense of belonging and inclusion. And the county plays a vital role in setting the tone of a welcoming community. County leadership claimed that it was necessary to cut the program because of budget constraints, but that followed two commissioners making political statements about not supporting an EDI office.

Like killing Project Turnkey, politics is never a good reason to make lasting decisions without meaningful input from the community. An Office of Equity and Inclusion signals the county has inclusive practices that attract a workforce from all backgrounds, which informs our policies and programs, and ultimately contributes to our county’s economic growth.

Smith: Clackamas County has two individuals who are dedicated to following the civil rights act in aiding county employees. We support equality, fairness and meritocracy. I have always stood for supporting people’s rights in my book available on Amazon: “Pay to Play: Sexual Harassment American Style.” All proceeds go to charity.

Hindman-Allen: I am committed to equal opportunity for everyone in the workplace and am highly opposed to any type of discrimination of any kind it is detrimental to the safety and security of people. The county has a mission statement that is clear to be an inclusive place to work and I believe that culture of honoring diversity in the workplace can be upheld with quality leadership without funding a separate department. We need to partner with the county human resources department to create a culture where people can come forward and have their concerns met with seriousness and safety. We currently have federal laws in place such as the Equal Opportunity Employment Act to deal with any violations should they arise.

Schrader: Yes. I have always supported an office devoted to equity and inclusion. Not only is it necessary to meet federal mandates, it is also essential to ensure everyone in our county workforce is safe and is welcome. I am committed to establishing this important function in our county governance model.

Irvine: As a business leader, community advocate and mom I have had the pleasure of building my career, family, and social network for the past 20 years in Clackamas County. Having partnered with hundreds of businesses, helped thousands of people find work and served on several prominent board of directors within our county, I have had a unique opportunity to observe our communities’ values in action. I have seen firsthand that the vast majority of people uphold our shared ethics of following the law, providing equal opportunities, treating each other with dignity and respect and valuing each other as individuals. That being said, I am not naïve. I know there remains a minority of people who are held back by their limiting beliefs. I value smaller government and I do not believe that we need our local government to teach business owners and individuals how to behave.

Fireside: Yes. I do believe the EIO is a valuable tool for ensuring service delivery so all people within our county are served and honored as whole people and communities. There are services designed specifically to meet underserved communities and without an equity lens, how do we measure and enhance or duplicate programs that work well? From an employee standpoint, there is a desire for this lens to be included in their workplace and we need to ensure that our workforce is supported and knows that their elected officials stand in allegiance with their work and who they are as they are vital to our success. We cannot continue to allow catch phrases and ideology to drive away business, opportunity and investment in working class values, social services and our communities throughout Clackamas County.

PMG: What is something about you that might surprise voters?

Roberts: Children have always had a special place in my heart. My parents taught me to be kind and help others. It might surprise voters that not only did I spend a great deal of my law enforcement career preventing child abuse and trafficking of children locally but abroad as well. A former CCSO Deputy introduced me to Orphan Relief & Rescue (OR&R), an organization that serves children in Liberia and Benin, Africa. I helped raise funds and goods, including a pickup, to be shipped to Africa. These efforts assisted building an orphanage, security fences and paying costs to send orphans to college. In 2017, I was honored to receive the International Humanitarian Award from OR&R. I believe helping to make a difference in any child’s life, locally or abroad, will truly shape our future. We all need to make protecting children a priority, no matter where they live.

Lambert: One thing that might surprise voters about me is that I’m on the spectrum. What many people do not know is that some of our most successful people in our nation are as well, such as Bill Gates and Elon Musk. One of my life goals is to rebrand autism. I want the world to see the other side of this “diagnosis” that people often miss, and that’s the unique beauty and strength that comes with it. People with autism are some of the most amazing creative problem solvers there are because we see things from a slightly different vantage point. We are needed on the team. We have immense capacity to focus, to feel, and to love. I want to inspire everyone to see the good in others and in yourself. Whatever you want to do in life, chase after it. The only real loss is not trying!

Smith: When I was in high school, on a skiing trip I lost my way on a slope at Timberline Lodge. I was lost overnight and suffered frostbite and snow blindness. I was saved by volunteers who searched for me despite record snowfall during the night. It was an experience that shaped my life. This year I had the extraordinary opportunity to fund a new truck for the Search and Rescue volunteers to continue their efforts in saving people.

Hindman-Allen: I was an extra in the movies “Men of Honor” and “Bandits.” I have also had primary roles in car commercials and a bank commercial! I have also co-authored a civil rights case to the Supreme Court of the United States!

Schrader: I had the opportunity to work as an Administrative Librarian at Mt. Angel Abbey in Mt. Angel, Oregon. I am a Benedictine Oblate with the Queen of Angels Monastery in Mt Angel and value their ethos of moderation, stability and hospitality to all. It has guided me as a public servant in Clackamas County.

Fireside: I’m not great at standing idle, in anything. I absolutely love my community, my family, and the amazing things like our vital small businesses and beautiful farms that make Clackamas County a beautiful place to call home. I absolutely love meeting and being with people. There are deep divides across our county, but if we approach each other as whole vital contributors to our communities, there’s nothing we can’t do together. Maybe not surprising, but there it is.

Irvine: People who know me well would never believe I was once shy and introverted. As a child we moved around a lot. I recall one summer when I was about 9 years old, trying to avoid the torment of an older brother and slowly dying of boredom, when I discovered the joy of reading. As a military kid, you do not say you are bored, or a full day of chores was your fate. Somehow, I picked up a volume of Encyclopedia Britannica, headed outside, started reading and I was hooked! I spent the entire summer laying on a blanket in the front yard, going from volume to volume, occasionally looking up to watch other kids play. By the time school started, I was filled with facts and information that I just had to share; that is when my shyness faded away and I began to thrive.


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