State legislators hold unique Town Hall in outer East Portland

Many politicians host public meetings – but this one was different and, many say, better. Find out why …

Oregon State Senator Rod Monroe listens as Representative Jefferson Smith sets the stage for the Town Hall meeting at Midland Library.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
We’ve attended our share of “Town Hall” meetings held by politicians. Many of these forums follow a standard format: The representative or senator makes a self-aggrandizing speech and touts the party line. Then, attendees complain about problems they find in their community.

But, the one held by Oregon State Representative Jefferson Smith and Senator Rod Monroe on March 22 at Midland Library was different – in several good ways.

After self-introductions, Smith brought up the State’s budget shortfall. Instead of lecturing the assembly, he asked for volunteers from the audience to take sides in a friendly debate that could have been entitled “Cutting costs vs. increasing revenues”.

When we later asked Smith to comment, he noted, “It’s important to see the budget as a set of connected factors. It’s not just an independent set of binary ‘yes-no’ choices.

“It was interesting that everyone there – including people from a variety of political parties – agreed that we need to consider revenue increases along with service cuts. When the question is posed more honestly, there is surprising consensus.”

Representative Smith says this East Portland budget debate produced surprising consensus.

TriMet in the cross-hairs
The second part of the session focused on issues surrounding the MAX Light Rail line in outer East Portland.

Neighbors expressed their concern about ongoing reports of crime – both on the trains and at the stations.

Smith and Monroe told the group about bills regarding MAX “greeters” and having “visible ticketing” for riders of the line. They also said they would participate in a “Take Back the MAX” event in the next few months.

TriMet spokesperson Olivia Clark observed that the agency is considering putting ticketing machines inside the MAX trains, instead of at the station. “This would be a complete change in direction, and an additional cost. You must have a ticket to board the train and, in some cases, you will need to have proof of payment to stand on a MAX platform.”

She added that, even with fully-functioning ticket machines, “it is risky to try to purchase a ticket right before boarding.”

Considers the event successful
Smith noted, after the Town Hall, “We are very grateful to have such a talented and involved group of folks helping us work through some of these difficult issues.”

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© 2009 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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