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News Release
UPDATE: RESPONSE FROM SHERIFF ROBERTS to Chair Bernard's Feb. 7 open letter - 02/08/20

Chair Bernard:

Your Feb. 7 response to my Feb. 6 letter and Op-Ed fails to address several of my questions and points of substance, among them:

• You write that "The county’s general fund is not in a crisis," even as you ask County departments to prepare budget-cut scenarios as high as 15 percent. That is the very definition of a "crisis," in terms of its impact on services and jobs.

• You write that the county "engaged an external financial consultant in December to review the practices and operations of the Finance Department. There was a leadership restructuring of the Finance Department in January." You fail to mention that the "restructuring" included hiring this external consultant recently as an internal County employee – as the new interim finance director, who now answers to the Board. I am again asking the Board to engage an independent firm to conduct a forensic financial analysis to review the County Finance Department’s financial management practices to determine how we got here.

• You write: "The current county budget challenges are not related to the courthouse project." This only makes Commissioner Sonya Fischer's statement at the Feb. 13, 2019 "State of the County" address more troubling. As she made the case for a new courthouse, Fischer quoted from an astonishing BCC statement that reads, "If the voters are unwilling to fund the courthouse, the county may have to make significant cuts to current programs and services in order to fund the courthouse. We will do that if we need to." Video of this statement can be viewed here.

This statement reveals a Board willing to cut programs, services and jobs to fund the courthouse -- on top of whatever "right-sizing" currently planned for the county budget. This is unacceptable.

In my March 13, 2019 letter to you, I clearly laid out my concerns, writing that "in no way do I support financing construction of a new courthouse from the county general fund.... Financing the courthouse from the county general fund will devastate delivery of critical County services to the residents of Clackamas County including public safety."

Your April 18 reply was not encouraging: It left the door open for a draw on General Fund dollars if a bond vote fails. Here was your reply: "No member of the Board of County Commissioners wants to finance the County's portion of construction costs of a new courthouse solely from the County's General Fund. We also have other financing tools available that could alleviate the near term burden on the General Fund while still exploring additional funding options."

• You write: "The State of Oregon is paying half the costs of new courthouse construction." This is inaccurate. The State has agreed to pay $94.5 million of the courthouse project, which has ballooned in cost to $230 million. That's just over 40 percent of the total cost, provided that cost does not continue to grow.

It should also be noted here that the state's financial participation in the courthouse project comes in the form of a reimbursement -- no matter what, there is an immediate hit to the General Fund, to be paid back by the state in phases. By February 2017, the county had already expended $1.25 million in the planning phase, in addition to paying $500,000 to an architectural firm to design the courthouse.

• You write: "The Sheriff’s Office has received small, but steady, annual increases in general fund contributions to support operations." This is disingenuous. The Commissioners are well aware those increases have not kept pace with county growth and demand for services, as detailed in my previous letter.

• You write: "Sheriff, your public undermining of county employees and leadership is unfortunate." First and foremost, being concerned about preserving county employee jobs and services is the opposite of "undermining." It is my duty as Sheriff to make sure the public is aware of any potential negative impacts to public safety.

Second, asking reasonable questions about the responsible handling of public dollars is anything but "unfortunate." What is unfortunate is turning my asking of those questions into some sort of failure of a Board of County Commissioners loyalty test.

I look forward to continuing to work together on the challenges facing Clackamas County, and hope the Board makes the right decision to launch a truly independent forensic financial analysis to determine how and why we are in this financial crisis.

Craig Roberts
Clackamas County Sheriff

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