Humberston: ‘Sheriff and the Board Should Sit Down and Solve Problems, Not Make Them Worse’

The war of the words between a handful of top Clackamas County elected officials continued this week, as Commissioner Ken Humberston joined the fray.

Like County Chair Jim Bernard before him, Humberston posted a response to Sheriff Craig Roberts’ op-ed on his political Facebook page Saturday, saying he was “disappointed” by the public feud.

“As one who served in the USMC and in a law enforcement career, I am a true friend of law enforcement,” Humberston said. “I have ridden with every agency in Clackamas County since I became a commissioner to see what our law enforcement professionals deal with. No other commissioner has done that. So I am disappointed that issues such as this, with misinformation or inaccurate context, are publicized.

“I believe that you have a right to expect that the sheriff and the Board [of Commissioners] should sit down and solve problems, not make them worse by upsetting people unnecessarily.”

Chair Bernard and Sheriff Roberts had traded several pointed op-eds and/or Facebook posts the previous week, with the sheriff calling for an independent, outside audit of the county’s finances, and the chair challenging Roberts over his own record of transparency and fiscal responsibility.

In his response, Humberston pointed out that the county has a AAA financial rating, which he called “rather unlikely if we were mismanaging our finances and/or were in a crisis.”

“Looking forward, we are concerned that revenues are rising a a slower rate than the demand for services so we are taking a proactive stance to ‘right size’ the budget NOW instead of waiting for it to BE a crisis,” he wrote. “I call it a belt tightening.”

He challenged the sheriff’s estimates of the budget gap facing the county in the next fiscal year (between $8 million and $12 million), saying “the numbers the sheriff floated are months old, and the gap we are going to eliminate is much lower.”

Like Bernard, Humberston pointed out that, of the county’s financially challenged general fund, the sheriff’s office accounts for roughly half. Humberston did admit he would like to see more deputies on the street (what Bernard called “boots on the ground”).

“Of course, the ultimate question then becomes, ‘What do you want me to cut to give you more, when your current allocation of resources is questionable?'” Humberston asked. “Shall we cut mental health? Homelessness? Screening staff for hiring people? Accountants? The volunteer coordinator that works with the hundreds of citizen volunteers that make the taxpayer dollar go further?”

He also spoke at length about the new courthouse project, which has the support of the county Board of Commissioners and an estimated price tag of $230 million. He said the current courthouse was built in 1936, when the county’s population was a tenth of what it is now.

“We have squeezed 11 courts in a building built for one, plus county staff,” he said. “Occasionally, it has had to be evacuated because of poor air quality, is only 3 feet from falling into the river and cannot be ‘remodeled’ into a better court.”

On Sunday, Chair Bernard brought a seeming end to the hostilities, at least the public side of it, with another, more measured post on Facebook, addressed to Sheriff Roberts.

“While I appreciate your frustration and point of view, and take issue with what you have written, clearly having a back-and-forth on important concerns in the media is not the appropriate place to work through differences and debate points,” he said. “I encourage you as always to meet with me or the board and discuss our perspectives and work toward mutual goals in a more holistic and meaningful way.”

Bernard said he shares the sheriff’s focus, with public safety of county residents being commissioners’ top priority, but not their “only priority.”

“We are charged with a multitude of public functions, including health and human services, juveniles, veterans, homelessness, transportation, land use, utilities, and many more, and, yes, our court system,” he said. “We work hard to balance these challenges. We will also continue to balance our budget, as we always have. I ask that you join us as we work through solutions and build an even stronger county together.”

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