Chair Tootie Smith Abruptly Reverses Her Vote to Approve Purchase of Quality Inn for Homeless Shelter, Killing the Deal

Smith convened an emergency meeting of Clackamas County commissioners Wednesday morning to strike the plan.

Public art designs at the edge of the Clackamas County elections office.

Last month, the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners approved the $15.2 million purchase of the 100-room Quality Inn Clackamas motel on Southeast Sunnyside Road to serve as transitional shelter for people seeking to get off the streets. The purchase, part of Project Turnkey and aided by funding from the Oregon Community Foundation, was approved by a 3-2 vote.

“We know that purchasing this property is the right thing to do to help residents living outside stabilize their lives and get into permanent housing,” County Chair Tootie Smith said at the time.

But on Wednesday morning, Smith convened an emergency board meeting and abruptly reversed her vote, despite the fact that funding for neither the shelter’s purchase nor its operation would come from the county.

“After much deliberation and heartfelt consideration, listening to about everybody in Clackamas County that’s possible, I’ve decided to change my vote on Project Turnkey. It will not proceed,” Smith said. “The ‘no’ vote now changes to three, and the motion failed. It will not go forward. We’ve heard from the public that they needed to engaged, that they need more time. Now you have it.”

Gov. Tina Kotek is not pleased.

“I’m absolutely stunned by Chair Smith’s reversal today. Project Turnkey is a proven model to help Oregonians move off the streets and into stability,” Kotek tells WW. “This sudden vote was a very disappointing step backward at a time when every leader in Oregon needs to be doing more — not less — to address our homelessness crisis.”

Smith’s calendar shows she had a phone call with U.S. Rep. Lori Chavez-DeRemer (R-Oregon) at 8 am Wednesday, though it’s unclear what the phone call concerned.

Smith said she would hold a series of summits on homelessness to bring together faith and business leaders as well as members of the community to discuss Project Turnkey, among other remedies for homelessness.

“Maybe [Project Turnkey] is too early in its time and can be addressed at a later date,” Smith said. “But for now, Project Turnkey won’t go forward as we had originally planned.”

Commissioner Martha Schrader said she still supported the purchase, and would not alter her vote.

“I will not be changing my vote at this point. I still think it’s the right thing to do,” Schrader said. “We can continue to do the on the ground community work to allay the fears of the folks that see...people who are living in despair on the street in survival mode. And that’s why they behave the way they do.”

The meeting to undo the motel purchase lasted no more than 15 minutes. Smith abruptly ended it after giving each commissioner a chance to speak on the reversal.

County staff had worked for nearly two years to secure a Project Turnkey site for the county’s homeless population.

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