On Thursday, the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners approved a new Community Outreach and Engagement resolution for the first time since 1995. The updated resolution includes language that specifies the County’s prioritization of equity and inclusion in how it engages the community and acknowledges Oregon’s history of racism and exclusion of people of color.
“The history of Oregon and the origins of our state have eroded trust between communities and local government, as they have been defined by colonialism, white supremacy, and exclusion. These origins shape our practices, policies, and programs, and impact all communities striving for self determination,” the new language reads.
The Office of Community Involvement (OCI) is tasked with providing strategic direction to Multnomah County’s community involvement efforts. The office also supports the Community Involvement Committee (CIC), which works with OCI to develop countywide best practices for engaging the community and advises on reducing barriers to participation and engagement. OCI Director Dani Bernstein was joined by Community Involvement Coordinator Olivia Kilgore to discuss the processes behind the year it took to draft and finalize the resolution.
CIC members began work on the project in January 2020 by holding meetings and reviewing documents from other jurisdictions such as the cities of Portland and Seattle. The group also met with members of the community and County stakeholders for additional feedback.
“One thing that really struck us as a committee while working on drafting this resolution is that they really repeatedly talked about the need for better mechanisms to evaluate the County’s community engagement efforts to help all of us identify gaps and ultimately to really hold ourselves accountable to do this work,” Bernstein said.
Kilgore applauded County stakeholders for their insight throughout the process.
“There was a lot of enthusiasm from leadership to further conversations around community engagement and increased departmental collaboration,” Kilgore said.
The CIC shared an initial draft of the resolution with elected officials in the summer of 2020, and finalized and gained approval of its language in January 2021.
By adopting the new resolution, the Board resolved to support OCI in the regular evaluation of community involvement efforts across all County departments to be more responsive to community needs. The resolution also affirms the Chair’s directive that departments create timely and culturally relevant plans for community involvement.
“What that looks like is being able to prioritize equity and inclusion — a plan that’s consistently implemented — and then being responsive and accountable to community concerns,” Kilgore said.
Before the resolution’s adoption, Bernstein outlined how these commitments will be implemented to best support community engagement activities by all of Multnomah County’s departments.
The first year will focus on deepening relationships with County departments and beginning higher levels of cross-department communication. OCI plans to adopt Countywide metrics to better track and assess the work that different departments do to capture community engagement. Bernstein said that OCI will also begin to hold annual meetings with department leadership to “establish an expectation and routine of ongoing and consistent collaboration on this work.”
“We really see this resolution as a valuable opportunity for more cross-departmental collaboration and communication around the County’s engagement work and as an opportunity for OCI to really expand its role.” Bernstein said. “We plan to gather information from all departments about their existing community engagement efforts to really help all of us have a better Countywide picture.”
Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson thanked Bernstein, Kilgore, and OCI for developing such a detailed resolution.
“I think this is more important than ever as we’re at a time in our country, in our state, in our county where people are so disillusioned with government and the way that government is responsive at all levels,” she said before the vote.
“This type of action is exactly what we need to really see how we can do a better job of engaging, of bringing in public and making their voices heard as we’re making our policy and as we’re making our budget decisions.”
Commissioner Lori Stegmann thanked OCI for their diligence and commitment to the process.
“I think we have a stronger OCI than I think we have ever had and I’m just really grateful for all of your efforts to make community engagement the best that it can be,” she said.
Chair Deborah Kafoury echoed the commissioners’ thanks and described the resolution as a “great step towards formalizing a process to reduce community fatigue — which we know is real — strengthen internal best practices, and create a network of support for our staff members who work to engage our community.”
“Thanks for all you do every day to ensure the voice of the community is present in local government.”