Utility Reform Project
  · Advanced search

The Oregonian

Clackamas PUD backers make case against election fee

After a meeting, the county commissioners agree to not impose a possible $100-per-precinct deposit



OREGON CITY -- Petitioners who want to form a public utility district in Clackamas County persuaded county commissioners on Wednesday not to require them to pay for the election they're seeking.

Petitioners plan to hand over nearly 5,000 signatures to the Clackamas County Elections Division on Friday, beginning the process that would put the question of forming a county public utility district on the ballot.

County commissioners called a last-minute meeting on Wednesday after learning that an obscure state law gives them the option of requiring petitioners seeking to form a public utility district to pay a deposit toward the cost of the election. The law allows a deposit of $100 per precinct, up to $10,000.

Clackamas County Clerk Sherry Hall asked the commissioners for guidance Tuesday after she learned of the law from an e-mail she received from a Portland General Electric official. PGE campaigned heavily against a Nov. 4 measure to form a public utility district in Multnomah County.

Multnomah County did not require a deposit for the public utility election. In September, Yamhill County required public utility petitioners there to pay a deposit of $1,200, or $100 each for the 12 precincts involved.

Because an election in Clackamas County would involve about 180 precincts, the county could have asked for the full $10,000.

Angry about the last-minute stumbling block, Clackamas County petitioners tried to turn in their signatures Wednesday morning.

At the advice of County Counsel Jim Coleman, elections officials turned away the petitioners.

Clackamas County Board of Commissioners Chairman Bill Kennemer called the petitioners' attempt "a lot of theater."

During the commissioners' meeting, public utility supporters threatened to sue the county if commissioners required the deposit, saying the state law was unconstitutional.

Commissioners Martha Schrader and Larry Sowa, agreed not to require the deposit.

"I consider myself a strict constitutionalist, and I think that would prevent me from voting for a fee that would restrict democracy," Sowa said.

Schrader said ensuring the petitioners' access to the election process outweighed the need to preserve the county's strapped general fund budget, which would cover the cost of the election.

Kennemer took no position during the meeting. Afterward, he said he thought it was reasonable to require some payment. He said he did not continue the debate because it was clear that a majority of the commissioners did not want to require a deposit.

Sarah Hunsberger: 503-294-5922 shunsberger@news.oregonian.com

Webmaster Note: Yamhill County officials reversed their position in late afternoon on the same day. No fee will be charged there.