Clackamas Light Rail Measure: burning through county tax dollars for nothing

Carla Axtman

So...this happened.

Raymond Rendleman, Clackamas Review

Clackamas County circuit Judge Deanne L. Darling ruled this week that the ballot title on an advisory light-rail measure the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners placed on the May 21 ballot is “insufficient and unfair.”

Attorney and Oak Grove resident Keith Garza claimed that the measure, as written by the county in February, was misleading because it implies that a public vote can change contractual obligations the county signed in 2010 and 2012.

Clackamas County committed to $1.2 million in road and signal construction related to the Portland-Milwaukie light-rail line. Commissioners, by a 3-2 vote on Feb. 21, are also asking voters whether they approve of selling TriMet a couple of small parcels needed for the line and whether county officials should be “allowing TriMet to conduct operations on and maintain portions of county roads and sidewalks” used by light-rail facilities, as mandated by the agreements. A companion question concerns county obligations through the North Clackamas Parks and Recreation District.

In other words, the light rail measure that John Ludlow, Tootie Smith and Paul Savas voted to put on the ballot (Martha Schrader and Jim Bernard voted against it) doesn't actually give the voters power to do anything. The contracts have already been signed and the project is underway. And Clackamas County circuit Judge Deanne L. Darling has just forced them to change the ballot title to reflect that.

But wait, there's more:

Clackamas County will have to reimburse Garza for $300 in legal fees, on top of the $35,000 that the county estimated it would have to spend on placing the ordinances before it knew of any costs incurred to fight ballot-title challenges.

Of course, this pales in comparison to what it will cost the County if they try to actually break the contracts. Those legal fees would be astronomical. I'm wondering if the County will step up and cover the parks district legal fees should those contracts be broken as well. Somehow I doubt it.

I suspect when voters elected Smith & Ludlow last year, they didn't expect to see tens of thousands (perhaps hundreds of thousands or more) of their tax dollars flushed down the toilet. What a mess.

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