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Southern Exposure: County Commissioner Thompson at center of storm

A life in politics, now under scrutiny
By R.J. Marx

The Daily Astorian

Published on December 4, 2017 7:20AM

Last changed on December 5, 2017 10:46AM

Lianne Thompson

Mckenzie Farrell

Lianne Thompson

Ever since her election as District 5 representative for the Clatsop County Board of Commissioners, Lianne Thompson has been a lightning rod for critics and supporters. A resident of Arch Cape, her approach drew claims from the commission that she had overspent and that her trips outside the region were unproductive and unrelated to the county’s goals. She responded by insisting that her trips to conferences and training are attempts to build relationships and bring resources to the county.

In September, an investigation into an incident alleging that Thompson “crossed the boundary of decorum” led to further headlines. At the board’s November meeting, the board agreed to reimburse her for travel and other expenses she has incurred so far this year, though she may have to pay her own way on some future trips. What’s coming up as the seat goes up for re-election next spring?

Q: Tell me about your background.

A: My dad drove a truck. My mom was a secretary in Lansing, Michigan. They were upwardly mobile. They bought into a wholesale beer and wine distributorship.

Q: How did you form your outlook on life?

A: I received an undergraduate degree from Michigan State and graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in social work. I started out as a caseworker at the Ingham County Department of Social Services in Lansing in 1968.

I moved from Lansing to Detroit when Detroit was “Murder City.” I worked with kids in the precinct that had the highest murder rate in the country. You could really see what happens when an economy disintegrates.

I’ve never forgotten what it’s like to be surrounded by people with no opportunities. I really paid attention. I never forgot: I’m white, I have an education. There are people that really have problems. They’re hungry, they are addicted. People have physically abusive relationships — real problems. So those of us that have the ability — the background, the skills — we ought to come forward, to come to the table, so we can all work together on what there is to work out.

Q: How did you arrive here in the West?

A: I married my second husband and moved up to Anchorage, Alaska. I ran a senior center in Anchorage. Then I started a small business in Portland. In five years I sold it for five figures. I was proud. So I haven’t done just public service. And I still have a coaching degree.

I have three grown-up children and three grandchildren.

Q: Why did you enter the political arena?

A: My parents raised us to be good citizens and that’s what I strived for. When I was 23 years old, I handed out campaign literature for my husband’s boss at the Ingham County Fair. I worked on a couple dozen campaigns.

I ran for Multnomah County auditor in 1988. I talked to someone and (during the campaign) they said, “You’re just too tight. You should call yourself ‘Tightwad’ Thompson.”

Q: Are you still frugal? You are accused of spending more than other Clatsop County commissioners.

A: For over a decade now I have lived in a house that is 846 square feet. It’s a beautiful house, It’s small but compact, efficient. I drive a Prius. I drive like grandma — 52.8 miles a gallon. That takes some doing.

Q: When did you take office in Clatsop County?

A: I got on the county Planning Commission in 2011 and served for five years until I got onto the Board of Commissioners.

I ran and won in May 2014. But before I won, County Clerk Maeve Kennedy Grimes told me we would have to re-run the election because bad ballots went out. I won the election by 81 votes but it didn’t count. The judge said the whole district had to re-vote because there were bad ballots in Seaside. We ran in a September special election. I won again and took office January 2015.

Q: Was there conflict with other commissioners at the start?

A: Not everybody agrees what the role of a county commissioner should be. That is the meat of the issue.

Q: Do you have a particular philosophy?

A: I do the best job I know how to do. I try to learn from others and hope to contribute to the group as we work together. That’s my hope.

Q: What is the county commission expense issue about from your perspective?

A: I moderated a panel of experts at the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute in Portland to focus their attention and have the benefit of their best thinking to help Seaside. It was way more than a marketing opportunity. The room was full of experts, because Seaside is ground zero. I thought it was important to attend, not only to learn and grow, but to network with people to bring their expertise and resources to Clatsop County.

I submitted bills that I thought were simple and as frugal as could be. They paid part and I paid part. (Commission Chairman) Scott Lee thought my hotel bill was extravagant, but I worked hard to get the best deal I could find. I understand people have limited time, but don’t thump on me because I’m working hard. Don’t complain because I am using public resources for public good. They hired two Portland lawyers to “investigate” me as an employee. If I were an employee, I would’ve gotten stress disability and sued the socks off them for a hostile work environment.

Q: What would you like to see from the Board of Commissioners?

A: We did visioning in 2014. I went to six sessions all over the county, from Knappa to Elsie to Arch Cape. (Former Commissioner) Dirk Rohne came to one. I didn’t see any other commissioners at the sessions. We have not translated vision into mission. At the end this is a rubber-stamp process.

In June 2015, I put a written statement on the record that I am not voting for this budget because we don’t have a plan, we don’t have goals.

Q: So you’ve been looking forward for a change in the budget process?

A: Oh, yes. Lord, yes. I’d like to see an open, extended budget process. I’d like to see the budget sessions move around.

We have every single meeting at night in Astoria that limits the people who can attend, The Board of Commissioners used to meet in Seaside pretty regularly. That no longer happens. Now they say that’s because all the TV cameras are at the Boyington Center. That just started. It’s comfortable for some people to keep doing the same thing.

Q: In September, commissioners alleged you placed your hands on a county employee and spoke in a loud and frustrated tone about County Manager Cameron Moore after a Red Cross meeting at Fort Clatsop in June.

A: There was no written complaint ever. And my attorney asked.

Q: Do you think this debate is over?

A: I don’t know. It came out of the blue.

Q: Do you regret your actions?

A: I don’t want to offend anybody. Do I wave my hands around, do I touch people? If I offend you, please tell me. I will apologize. But to make this into something where I harassed and intimidated somebody?

Q: Do you have hopes that you can work it out with this group?

A: Sure, I always hope. I hope that the county commission can come together for a common purpose to serve the people of Clatsop County.

Q: Is there a way out of this? It sounds like a deep mire.

A: There’s a phrase in a “dark room wandering.” I’m a hopeful person, so I hope so. I don’t know.

R.J. Marx is The Daily Astorian’s South County reporter and editor of the Seaside Signal and Cannon Beach Gazette.


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