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Taxpayer spending on transit, urban renewal and public safety are just some of the big issues dominating the race between Charlotte Lehan and John Ludlow for Clackamas County chair. Ludlow styles himself as the spending watchdog and crowed recently about how, when he was mayor of Wilsonville, the city dumped TriMet in favor of its own bus system. (TriMet, by the way, is unpopular in some circles.)
"As Mayor of Wilsonville," writes Ludlow in a statement posted to his campaign website, "I drove TriMet out of town and replaced their bloated transit system with our own local bus line that offers better service and has saved our businesses millions of dollars."
There are many tantalizing strings to follow. Is TriMet a bloated transit system? Is Wilsonville’s local bus system -- called SMART for South Metro Area Regional Transit -- really a money saver? But in the end, what we really wanted to know was this: Did Ludlow run TriMet out of town and replace it with what would become SMART?
To answer this, we did some time-traveling into our news archives.
We uncovered news stories documenting that in October 1988, the Wilsonville City Council voted unanimously to support a withdrawal resolution from TriMet. The resolution was backed by businesses that argued the city could pay less and get more with its own transit system.
In November, the TriMet Board agreed to the withdrawal. And in January 1989, Ludlow was sworn in as mayor, replacing Bill Stark.
Ludlow, in other words, was not mayor when the city council voted to dump TriMet. Nor was he on council when TriMet agreed to drop Wilsonville.
So how does Ludlow get to claim that as mayor he drove TriMet out of Wilsonville?
"It was signed into law when I was mayor," he told PolitiFact Oregon. In fact, he said he recalled presentations in chambers to develop a replacement bus system. "That definitely happened under my reign."
We’re certain that as mayor Ludlow oversaw the selection and implementation of a new transit system. SMART’s timeline shows that in 1989, the city signed a contract with Buck Ambulance Service and door-to-door service launched that year.
But the critical action took place before Ludlow took office. Businesses weren’t happy paying TriMet for service they deemed inadequate, so they checked state law to figure out how they could go their own way.
Ben Altman, a private planning consultant who was on the board of the Wilsonville Chamber of Commerce in 1988, said businesses raised money for a public survey and feasibility study. "We had to do a budget analysis and show how the city could do it as well, or better than, TriMet," he said.
The resolution was adopted 5-0 on Oct. 3, 1988.
Ludlow was a member of the commerce chamber, but he doesn’t recall spearheading the petition effort. And in any case, that’s not what he said. He said that as mayor, he drove TriMet out of town.
We find there’s some truth to Ludlow’s statement: He was mayor when the city officially separated from TriMet and he was mayor when the city sought to find a replacement transit system. But he was not mayor when the city council voted to withdraw from TriMet service, which we find to be the critical moment in the history of Wilsonville and TriMet.
We rule Ludlow’s statement Mostly False.
Interview with John Ludlow, June 6, 2012
Interview with Ben Altman, June 7, 2012
Email from Sandra King, Wilsonville City Recorder, June 7, 2012
City of Wilsonville, "Resolution No. 686: A Resolution Endorsing The Report By Wilsonville Innovative Transportation Association Regarding Withdrawal Of The City Of Wilsonville From Tri-Met," adopted Oct. 3, 1988
The Oregonian, "Wilsonville OKs plan to flee Tri-Met," Oct. 4, 1988
The Oregonian, "Tri-Met approves withdrawal of three communities," Dec. 1, 1988
SMART timeline (website)
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