Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury gave the 2018 State of the County address Friday, March 16, at Reynolds High School, to an auditorium of more than 400 local government staff, elected leaders and students.
This year’s event included a discussion with Reynolds High school students and members of the Multnomah Youth Commission. It was moderated by Kevin Modica, former Portland Police Bureau assistant chief and legislative assistant for Sen. Lew Frederick.
Here are some of those questions:
Can you give us an update on the sale of the Wapato Jail?
The jail has never opened. We’re trying to sell the jail. We don’t need it. It’s expensive. We need to get the jail sold and back on the tax rolls. It’s been an albatross around our neck. There was never the money to use it. We don’t need the space. There has been discussions around other uses. But it’s in an industrial zone and land use doesn’t allow other uses [outside of an industrial use].
Multnomah County has had meetings where employees talked about institutional racism at the county. What is Multnomah County doing to move forward?
I want to thank the employees who have come forward. We know institutional racism exists and we are committed to ensuring that Multnomah County is a safe and welcoming place for people to work.
We’ve taken several steps. We take all complaints straight to the COO [Chief Operating Officer]. We have a “no wrong door” policy. Those complaints go straight to the top. We’re working alongside employees to develop a workforce equity plan, that is scheduled to be voted on April 5, looking at retention, recruitment and how to we get at the root of disparities. We’ve hired a professional consultant to advise us on HR practices to ensure our practices are proactive. This is an incredibly important issue. We are working with our employees and our community.
As leaders, we do things that are not the best. How do you feel you’ve played a role in institutional issues?
I try to be a courageous and compassionate leader. Sometimes I fall short. I work everyday to be the leader my community needs and deserves.
Are you worried at all that the county is at risk of losing federal funds for core services by taking a stand as a sanctuary county?
What I’m most worried about are the kids and families in our community who are scared, who don’t know if their mother, father, grandmother will come home from work; whether they’ll be picked up when they call police because they need assistance. Our values ensure we protect everyone. We value the voices of different experiences. We will not be bullied by a federal government that is racist and irrational.
Multnomah County is known for SUN schools. What are you doing to meet the needs of all the people who want a SUN school in their neighborhood?
Everyone loves their SUN schools. It’s one of our proudest accomplishments. When we look to open new SUN schools, we prioritize where need is the greatest. Of the new SUN schools we’ve opened, the vast majority have been in East County.
In Multnomah County, we have students who are either undocumented or have undocumented parents. Groups are currently working to repeal Oregon's 30-year-old sanctuary law, prohibiting the use of state and local resources to enforce federal immigration laws. What is the County doing to ensure the safety of immigrant communities?
We are proudly a sanctuary county in a sanctuary state. I heard from employees about the community’s fears. Moms weren’t bringing their kids in for doctor appointments, women in domestic violence situations weren’t seeking restraining orders. We quickly got financial resources out to help families prepare for the future. We’re continuing that investment.
Since you and others have spoken so much of the occurrence on June 10 [the 2014 shooting at Reynolds High School], why have I, as a youth who was there, never seen more involvement from you to rally youth for gun control? Why do you only listen now that it’s in the headlines?
I have been advocating for common sense gun laws as far back as I can remember. I have tried, and many in this room have tried, to influence the state and federal government to make changes. Our voices aren’t enough. We need you, the students, the voices of tomorrow, to join with us. I think we feel, as adults, like we can handle it. But the reality is you are going to make the difference. I’m proud to join with you, to make sure you never have to go through another experience like you did.
What is the plan for to shelter children and families?
Last month we had to close our family homeless shelter. We knew the roof had been leaking. But once tiles started falling, I knew it had to be done. We moved families into motels, which is not optimal, but better than living on the streets. We’re trying to figure out the best way to move forward.
Whether to repair it or another option. But a shelter is not a solution. No family should be sleeping on the streets or in a shelter. There’s no way a child will be productive at school or a parent productive at work, if they’re sleeping in a room with 130 other people. We’re calling on landlords willing to rent to one of our families.