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Sunday, November 22, 2020

An Open Letter to Clackamas County Chair-elect Tootie Smith

Ms. Tootie Smith
Mulino, Oregon 97047

Dear Ms. Smith:

I am a resident of Clackamas County. We live in Brightwood, Oregon. We live on the Sandy River in a heavily wooded area. Our area is beautiful and tranquil. I have never voted for you, and I don’t see a situation where I would ever vote for you. You are, however, the elected Chair of Clackamas County Commission, and we need your leadership.

It goes without saying that I was extremely disappointed with your comments regarding your position stating you would defy Governor Brown’s declaration that we should shut down our county, limit contact during the holidays, wear masks and practice social distancing. I think I understand your position. Your family includes adults who should be treated as adults. As adults, you are able to make decisions about your personal safety and your family’s safety. You do not believe it is government's right or role to tell people how to behave and live their lives. It would greatly interest me to hear how far you would stand by your position that the government should not interfere with individual freedoms and lives.

I would like to share with you a personal story. We in Clackamas County and Oregon are all aware of the horrific fires of last summer. In our neighborhood in Brightwood, very recently, we have a number of homeowners turn their homes into short-term rentals. Our next-door neighbors moved to Portland and turned their home into such a rental. Most of the guests are respectful, but there are some who hold loud parties late into the night and destroy property in the quest for fun.

One incident occurred a year-and-a-half ago in late July. This was a year before the massive fires. In our area, everything had dried up. The river was low, trees and leaves were extraordinarily dry, and anyone could see the extreme fire danger. Hoodland Fire Department posted a red-fire alert and declared there were to be no open fires, backyard fires, campfires; nothing. The area was just waiting for a wind, a storm, a careless smoker, anything.

At the rental next door, a large group came in for the weekend. It was one of the groups that when they started pulling in, you knew it was going to be a long night. In the evening, the group were out in the back of the house having a great time. They decided to have a fire. There is a fire pit, but the flames were rising four or five feet high. You could see the cinders rising. Fortunately, there was no wind. 

I decided I needed to talk to them. With all the drinking, I don’t think there was much impulse control in effect. I basically tried to take the friendly neighbor approach and nicely ask them to put out the fire. 

Needless to say, my request was met with hostility, language I don’t need to repeat and mockery. One man, who seemed to be the leader, told me that he had paid a lot of money to have some fun, and he was not going to let someone like me (I cleaned up the language) spoil their weekend. It was clear that I was not getting anywhere so I said, “Okay, I have to protect my home and my family, and I am going to call the Hoodland Fire Department.” Again, I won’t share all the remarks, but you probably can imagine the threats. I said further, “Okay, I will make the call, and I guarantee they will come, put out the fire and likely cite you.” (I didn’t know about the citing, but I am sure the fire truck would have been right there). Fortunately, the group decided to put out the fire, and I didn’t have to make the call.

Ms. Smith, my questions to you are: “Is not Hoodland Fire Department a government entity? Is there a place where government has to step in to protect others’ lives and serve the common good? If adults are acting irresponsibly, is there some recourse for those of us who are following the law? If I have no recourse to protect my home and my family, do I have to arm myself to do so?”

And finally: “How is this story different from the spread of the virus? Is not the virus spreading like an invisible wildfire? If people are not concerned about me or my family’s welfare, what is my recourse other than to have government step in?"

I would like to know.

Peter Nordbye