Dear Friends and Neighbors,
I was grateful and thrilled to recently be sworn in as Multnomah County Chair at the Central Library to a room filled with friends, family and community members ready to get to work together. I don’t usually get too emotional when speaking, but I was deeply moved to look out at that room and see the people of Multnomah County putting their faith in me as we begin a new chapter together.
This is also a historic month for Multnomah County: we swore in our first-elected Latina chair, and our 41st sheriff, Nicole Morrisey O’Donnell, who assumed her role as first female sheriff in history. We also welcomed Commissioner Susheela Jayapal (District 2) and Auditor Jennifer McGuirk back for second terms and Commissioner Diane Rosenbaum (District 3) to join this work as an interim until a new commissioner is elected in May.
There is a feeling in the air right now – of possibility and change as we turn the calendar to a new year with renewed vigor and commitment. Many of the discussions I’m having center around the opportunities before us to reset relationships and bring fresh eyes and perspectives to both challenges and opportunities.
During my campaign for chair, I often talked about the fact that Multnomah County is at a critical juncture. We’re emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic into a city remade by protest, homelessness, economic disparity and the increasing need for a social fabric that cares for the most vulnerable.
As chair, I'll help ensure our county dollars and priorities are spent caring for the most people at the most critical times of their lives. This is a role I not only take seriously, it’s one I feel called - and grateful - to assume. As we reset relationships at the board and with regional, city and state leaders, this is a great opportunity to reiterate my commitment to being transparent, communicative and available. I will be a Chair whose door is open. One ready to listen, ask questions, and use collective decision-making to set the policies that will move us forward.
I hope you’ll take every opportunity to be a part of those decisions we make in the coming weeks, months and beyond. I look forward to hearing from you and working with you as we continue to build the county we believe is possible together.
Key Focus Areas
Multnomah County manages, administrates and sets priorities for our state’s single largest safety net system. We’re here for health, animals, libraries, roads, bridges, elections, jails, and in support of our most vulnerable residents. And our county has an important mission: to build a community where everyone who needs help finds it. Our board takes our responsibilities seriously and I’m excited to share some of my priorities.
Housing & homelessness
As I’ve said many times, better solutions to our housing crisis are my #1 priority. Despite the fact that we’ve doubled our shelter system since the pandemic began, there is still so much work to do. The recent state-of-emergency call-to-action in Governor Kotek’s first day in office will help us act more urgently and collaboratively. I am committed to expanding our shelter system, deploying alternative shelter models, supporting community-based solutions, bringing new data systems online, focusing on immediate clean-up and enforcement, increasing accountability and continuing to ensure that those most deeply impacted by homelessness and housing scarcity are involved in the solutions we continue putting into place. I have had good conversations with the city of Portland, Metro, and Governor Kotek, and I know we can clarify roles and responsibilities and make progress in this critical area in the months and years to come.
As a social safety net, Multnomah County will continue to look at the continuum of policies to increase community safety. With gun violence rising, we will invest in violence prevention and restorative justice efforts led by community-based organizations, continue funding to expand community capacity to provide critical violence prevention services, increase coordination between County departments, the City and law enforcement and fund community-building opportunities that promote healing and stem violence.
Making sure we meet the climate crisis proactively using all the best practices at our disposal will always be a focus of our work around climate justice. I am excited to continue implementation of the Climate Justice Initiative, expand partnerships with the Portland Clean Energy Program, phase out natural gas, expand access to heat pumps,, build more Climate Resilience Hubs, accelerate vehicle and building electrification and empower communities on the frontlines of addressing the climate crisis to lead in the development of solutions.
Women & families
These are critical times for policies, programs and legislation to protect reproductive rights. I will use the full extent of my policy and programmatic powers to support the freedom and ability of each person to control their reproductive lives, foster thriving families and further efforts to destigmatize reproductive healthcare. This includes working with abortion providers to mitigate the impacts of federal restrictions and additional pressures now that reproductive rights have been removed or curtailed in many other states across our country.
The 2023 Legislative Session presents a unique opportunity to support essential programs and services. Utilizing partnerships across the state, the County will work to develop innovative solutions to budget, service delivery and racial equity challenges across a range of priorities, including:
- Investments in behavioral health systems
- Funding for housing and permanent supportive housing
- Fully funding and supporting a robust public health system
- Sustainable funding for transportation and infrastructure
- Providing for safe harbor and reproductive health protections
We will keep you posted on our legislative updates as we get deeper into 2023’s long session!