Dear Friends and Neighbors,

Today was perhaps the most important vote I will take during my short time representing you as the interim Commissioner for Multnomah County District 2. I was proud to vote yes on the Multnomah County budget for the fiscal year 2024-2025.Thank you to the many people who testified about their budget priorities—in person or in writing—and responded to my office’s budget surveys. Your opinions, along with more than 20 budget work sessions, multiple public hearings, and many conversations with my colleagues, department leaders, and community members were invaluable.I want to share some of my thoughts surrounding the budget we passed on a 4 to 1 vote.

Photo by Multnomah County (Motoya Nakamura)

I did not support every choice we’ve agreed to in this budget. But this is how it goes. We compromise to govern across differences in ways that we hope do not violate our core values. 

One of those core values for me is a belief in our shared safety—that feeling safe and being safe is something everyone deserves and something we build collectively. We know what solutions make our communities safe. They are often what we default to, but an over-reliance on enforcement and incarceration are not long-term solutions. Providing support for victims, mental health, addiction treatment, healing, and housing keep us safe. Much of this support is the work of the County.  Even Preschool for All. As the Economic Opportunity Institute put it: “Powerful evidence from one study after another proves that…high quality early learning and care is one of the most powerful weapons against crime.”

This budget—and plenty of your public testimony—makes these kinds of upstream interventions possible. Our County budget supports actions that can prevent our neighbors from ever losing their home, from ever being involved in the criminal justice system, from ever choosing fentanyl. But it doesn’t abandon those without a home, in custody or battling addiction—it increases our commitment to help. It also doesn’t drastically shrink core services that so many depend on—our elders, disabled people, those without health insurance, our lost and stray animals. Still, we had to make cuts. And next year’s Board will have to make even more. And with all of these investments, we have much work to do to build more effective systems.

Here are just a few things I was happy to see included in the adopted budget:

  • Funding Project Reset, a partnership to help residents have their outstanding court and justice fines and fees waived, connect them to services, and start expungement and expunction —all of which remove barriers to housing, employment and other vital services.
  • Restoring one-time funding for violence interruption work through the Community Healing Initiative Early Intervention and Prevention Services (CHI EI).
  • Keeping people housed through increased investments in rental assistance, eviction defense, and support services for those experiencing housing insecurity.
  • Funding the ambitious joint County-City Homeless Response Action Plan that will increase shelter beds and housing placement.
  • Maintaining funding for the downtown Behavioral Health Resource Center. 
  • Funding a 24/7 drop-off sobering center.
  • Increasing investments in a combination of public health and harm-reduction approaches to our addiction and overdose crisis.
  • Maintaining our investments in Preschool for All, which remains on track to deliver what voters approved.
  • Restoring some funding for the Multnomah County STI Clinic Services.
  • Investing in effective, culturally-specific services across departments.
  • Providing a raise through a 3.3% cost of living adjustment to the County’s Health and Human Services contracted service providers.

I’m pleased that the good government package of budget amendments I proposed were included in the approved budget. I am grateful for my colleague’s support and for those organizations who advocated for it, which included: East County Rising, Next Up Action Fund, Portland Forward, NAYA Action Fund, Latino Network Action Fund, Common Cause Oregon, Portland for All, Portland: Neighbors Welcome, Coalition of Communities of Color, BikeLoud PDX, APANO Action Fund, Sunrise PDX, and the Portland League of Women’s Voters.

This package includes increased support for processing public records, improving access and processes in the Clerk’s office, and providing transparency for Community Budget Advisory Committees (CBACs). It also includes some tweaks, made in collaboration with Chair Vega Pederson, that will establish a small donor public financing program for Multnomah County elections by our next election cycle in 2026. (That’s also when County voters will first use ranked-choice voting to elect the Multnomah County Chair, Commissioners, Auditor, and Sheriff.) 

I’m thrilled to see the beginnings of a small donor program established here at the County, for all the reasons I’ve shared before. While we can’t change the Supreme Court decision that allows unlimited outside spending on elections, we can give candidates themselves a fighting chance to take their message directly to voters by establishing a small donor program. The nonpartisan Brennan Center for justice has called small donor programs “the most effective solution we have to the problem of big money in politics.” I agree. 

My goal in refining the small donor program first proposed by the Chair was to remove much of the program development from the Board of County Commissioners. Politics have their place, but designing a small donor system isn’t one of them. As passed, here is how it will all go down:

  • $1 million in ongoing funding will be allocated for the development and implementation—including the public match of donations— of a small donor program that will begin in the 2026 election cycle. (Half will be set-aside until more details are brought forward.)
  • A project manager will be hired and a “Public Financing Implementation Advisory Committee” will be established no later than October 15, 2024. This advisory committee will be composed of 2 volunteer appointees each from the Chair and County Commissioners for a total of 10 people. The committee will be asked to:
    • Examine potential governance structures for a permanent, independent oversight body, including recommendations on the best ways to partner with the City of Portland’s Small Donor Elections program.
    • Look at financing options to fully fund a small donor program, and development of administrative rules.
    • Scope relevant technology, staffing and other materials and supplies needed to effectively operate a small donor program; 
    • Develop a schedule for reporting to the Board; and
    • Create a plan for transitioning the work from an Implementation Committee to an Oversight Committee.
    • That work is compiled into a report to the board no later than February 28, 2025 with a set of recommendations for implementation, which will require a vote of approval. This is all with the aim to launch the  program by December 1, 2025.  

I want to again thank the numerous organizations and community members who testified in support of establishing a small donor election program for Multnomah County elections. For those passionate about this issue, we will need you to stay with this and hold future boards accountable to this vision and timeline. 

Developing an almost $4 billion dollar budget is no easy task. It involves hundreds of County employees, and countless hours of volunteer work by organizations and residents who advocate for what they want. I want to commend and appreciate the Chair, my colleagues, and all our County employees who have been deeply engaged in this process, who have worked evenings and weekends to turnaround answers to our questions, who have patiently explained to me how the technology works and the terminology wonks. I also want to thank my staff who have helped me understand the nuance and complexity within budget proposals, the history that predates me and the future I can help shape in some small way in my very brief time here.

This has been a fascinating experience for me. I never forgot that I am here to represent the constituents of District 2. Thank you to all of the people who spoke up, reached out to my office, joined our listening sessions, and let us know what your priorities are. I am sure I’ve disappointed some. I hope I have not disappointed most.

There are so many things in this budget that I am excited to see bear fruit, even if I’m not on the dais to see it. But like so many constituents of this County, I am counting on us—and believing in us—to see it through. Our shared safety and prosperity depend on it.