May 21, 2021

For the hundreds of employees who take care of Multnomah County’s buildings, roads and bridges, the past year has been one of historic challenges that read like a book in the Old Testament.

Wildfires.

Ice storms.

Riots.

Floods.

A global pandemic.

The trials of the past year brought new meaning to the May 20 vote by the County’s Board of Commissioners proclaiming May 16 - 22 as National Public Works Week and thanking county employees for their heroic efforts.

The proclamation resolution was introduced by James Turner, Transportation Maintenance Manager for the Department of Community Services and Michael Strauch, Facilities Operations and Maintenance Manager in the Department of County Assets.

Michael Strauch, Mutlnomah County Facilities Operations and Maintenance Manager
Michael Strauch, Mutlnomah County Facilities Operations and Maintenance Manager

Strauch recounted what the last year was like for county staff who care for facilities. 

“Our dedicated staff faced tremendous challenges that tested our wills and capabilities.  From the Covid pandemic, that we continue to deal with today, to protests that caused severe damage to our facilities and placed many of our staff in harm’s way. From unprecedented wildfires, when our dedicated engineers were on rooftops manually closing dampers to protect our indoor air quality, to a severe flooding event in our brand new courthouse. And a major winter ice storm, the likes of which we have never seen in this area of the country. 

“Despite all of these challenges, our staff handled all of these situations with a very positive Think Yes attitude. They continue to deliver dedicated maintenance, property and project management services to the County so that our organization can continue to deliver vital services to the public that need them every day.”

Turner explained that creativity and flexibility came in handy for staff who maintain the County’s roads and bridges in the last year.  

James Turner, Multnomah County Transportation Maintenance Manager
James Turner, Multnomah County Transportation Maintenance Manager

“This year’s Public Works Week theme of ‘Stronger Together’ is apt, considering the challenges we’ve endured together.  Our staff, our management and this community were in this together.  In Transportation, we endured staff and work reductions that tested our community and our commitment to our colleagues (referring to staffing cuts caused by the pandemic)…. It’s my belief that this adversity strengthened our commitment and reinforced the values of collaboration and teamwork, by compelling us to find creative solutions to transcend these challenges.” 

Commissioners were unanimous in their appreciation for the dedication of staff who worked through tough times to keep the public and county staff safe and functioning through a challenging year.

“We take infrastructure for granted until something goes wrong,” observed Dist. 2 Commissioner Susheela Jayapal.  “When you listed the challenges that you have faced, that reminded us of all the things that went wrong and all the ways we shouldn’t take it for granted. I am so appreciative of all of the creativity and flexibility you have had to exhibit. Stronger together is absolutely the right tagline for everything that has happened, and I hope we all hold on to that in the years to come.”

“You have not only endured but come through this stronger and together,” said Dist. 1 Commissioner Sharon Meieran. “The teamwork, the new ways of doing things, the barriers, the challenges, really have been overcome.” 

“At board meetings, we hear about the budgets for your projects and for funds needed to repair a road that is washed away by a landslide,” Dist. 3 Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson said. “Today we heard about how your teams show up and take care of what needs to be done through all the other challenges: when most people are staying home and sheltering.”

“You all are the backbone,” observed Dist. 4 Commissioner Lori Stegmann. “Everything else in our society is built around the public works you do.” 

“So much of the focus of our work at Multnomah County is on human services,” Chair Deborah Kafoury said. “I’m glad that we can approve this proclamation to honor our staff who make sure that people can get to their jobs on a road that is open and cross a bridge to get home. It’s been a challenging year for all of us, but especially for you and your crews.”

The county’s public works are maintained by engineers, surveyors, technicians, planners, and operations and maintenance staff and administrators.  For more about the county’s public works programs, visit multco.us/transportation or multco.us/facilities-and-property-management.

A masked bicyclist rides across Multnomah County's Hawthorne Bridge during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.