Multnomah Co. chair candidates face off

County chair candidates Diane Linn and Ted Wheeler met April 7 to discuss budget issues, Portland’s infrastructure and future financial strategies at a debate sponsored by the City Club of Portland.

Both candidates stated that they are ready to lead Multnomah County ahead into the future. Linn described herself as a team leader, while Wheeler said that it is time for a speedy transformation.

Wheeler, an ex-Republican turned progressive independent, attacked Linn’s tenure as the current county chair numerous times, accusing her of failing to properly handle the county’s budget. He cited $60 million jail construction that has gone unused, as well as lack of action in regard to the aging Sellwood Bridge.

“I think it was a mistake to build the jail before we had an operating plan in place to actually fund its operations,” Wheeler said. “That decision could not have happened in Clark County because they have a rule in place that says that an operating plan must be in place before you can actually spend capital construction dollars.”

Another hot issue during the debate was gay rights and same-sex marriage.

Wheeler said Linn had given marriage licenses to gay couples in the past without due process, saying it a mistake and that gay tolerance will not be gained by simply giving licenses without democratic procedure.

“The process was disastrous,” Wheeler said. “The fight for gay rights is to win people’s hearts and minds one person at a time.”

Linn said important issues such as gay marriage have divided the county in recent years.

“We’ve had to deal with a lot of big issues,” Linn said. “Budget cuts have had significant effects on us and in any stressful time differences of opinion with these issues will arise.”

Wheeler attributed the split in county government to Linn’s manner of dealing with those differences of opinion.

“I know how to involve others and work as a team,” Wheeler said. “Through years of experience in my private and non-profit businesses I have learned how to reach general consensus. It is possible to unite county government again, but not until we elect a leader who can do it.”

The debate was part of the City Club’s “Friday Forum” program that hosts an array of events to inform citizens of issues happening in the city.

“I am the quarterback moving the ball down the field,” Linn said. “Moving forward and using teamwork to accomplish our goals.”

“It is time for a change of leadership in Multnomah County.” Wheeler said. “Our community is losing faith in local government.”