Why Couldn’t Metro Answer John Ludlow’s Question?

By Eric Shierman 

Just over two years ago Jason Tell, then a regional manager for the Oregon Department of Transportation, warned the SW Corridor Light Rail Project Steering Committee that their work could turn out to be as costly as the failed Columbia River Crossing and end up with the same results. Over the next 24 months the public comments time of these meetings would often entail a concerned resident asking its chair, Craig Dirksen, to release how much the regional planning agency had already spent on this project’s planning. Last year John Ludlow, then the Clackamas County Commission Chair, asked the same question at the regional Urban Growth Task Force meeting.

John Ludlow


Getting no answer by August, Ludlow followed up with an email to Metro’s auditor Brian Evans.

Evans promptly replied back that he would forward the request to Metro management, but no answer was received before Ludlow vacated his office on January 1st. Perhaps they didn’t want to supply a known critic of MAX with this information during a close election, but there is a wise proverb known as Hanlon’s Razor that has always helped steer me away from too readily believing conspiracy theories: “never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.”

A week before the election Evans might have revealed that other explanation. He sent the Council a memorandum covering his audit of Metro’s capital project planning. It included a warning about “unauthorized spending” which you can read in full here.

Evans went on to report:

We found Metro’s management of capital projects was ad hoc. There was a lack of planning for some projects and spending on some projects did not match the capital budget. Inconsistent information was reported about the status and cost-to-date of capital projects during the year. Unreliable information reduced transparency to the public and Metro Council.

We were unable to determine the approved budgets for some projects. Planning documents for some projects were not complete, which may have contributed to the uncertainty about budget amounts.

While a public agency withholding spending information from inquiry would certainly be a malevolent reason not to provide its questioners with an answer, perhaps there is an even worse explanation. What if they just don’t know?

Eric Shierman lives in Salem and is the author of A Brief History of Political Cultural Change.