It’s 5:30 a.m. Wendy Lear wakes up and prepares to start her day as Multnomah County’s Health Department deputy director of finance. She makes a single espresso shot and adds fruit to a quarter-cup of oatmeal and heads into the Health Department’s headquarters in the Gladys McCoy Building in Northwest Portland. Lear is in the office by 6:45 a.m.
When Lear arrives, she checks for any messages or emails that have come in overnight. She joins a video call with her finance and business management leadership team for their check-in on an upcoming budget meeting. More than 60 finance, accounting and business professionals report directly to Lear, who helps manage the $450 million Health Department budget. From entry-level staff to senior managers, Lear’s team is one of the most culturally diverse in the County.
Managing the finance, budgetary and contractual processes for the department requires her to spend a lot of her time supporting program managers and directors.
“My role requires me to attend a lot of meetings,” she says. “I’m in much more of an oversight role than actually making sure that all the numbers add up and those books are balanced. I do a lot of problem solving and strategizing about our current and future goals and plans. It’s not just meetings for meetings’ sake.”
One way Lear finds joy when her day is filled with meetings is playing around in spreadsheets, looking for new ways to solve ongoing challenges that have no easy solutions.
From the time she was in college, Lear knew she wanted to support organizations that support communities.
“I wanted to be in a public-serving space using my accounting skills, helping community-serving organizations be successful,” says Lear. “At the end of the day, I’m a public servant more so than an accountant.”
Lear’s found that at Multnomah County, where, as of Feb. 8, 2023, she has worked for 28 years, 4 months and 20 days. Almost 30 years after she started, Lear still feels passionate about her work and is inspired to create solutions to some of the community’s urgent needs.
“Addressing the needs of the most vulnerable, the needs of those who have been most impacted by the pandemic, and the needs of those who are most impacted by racism and health inequities inspires me, and really infuses itself into everything we do,” she says.
A big part of Lear’s role is working on the annual Health Department budget. The intense process starts in December and continues until the second week of February, when the budget is submitted to the Chair’s Office. Lear works in partnership with the department director to build off the previous year’s budget, taking direction from the Chair’s Office about funding for the upcoming year.
Overseeing the individual budgets for the Health Department’s many programs gives Lear a level of understanding that allows her to speak on behalf of the high quality of services the Health Department offers.
“The Health Department programs and services really excite me,” she says. “It’s so rewarding to see programs such as the Behavioral Health Resource Center come to fruition and help support the staff that are leading that effort. There isn’t a Health Department program that isn’t top-notch.”
Lear takes a break midmorning to make herself a cup of Good Earth cinnamon tea. Often working through lunch, she looks forward to when people stop by her office to say hello during their breaks. Although her day may be filled with meetings and budget reviews, Lear contends that the people that she works with on her team and the members of the senior leadership team are the favorite part of her job.
“I get excited knowing that I’m contributing to the department’s success, the directors’ success and my team’s success,” says Lear. “Those same feelings translate to the new leadership group. Valdez Bravo and Chantell Reed are amazing new leaders. They are great additions to the Health Department and bring a lot of fresh ideas. I'm excited to work more closely with both of them.”
“I feel so fortunate to have a longtime County leader like Wendy Lear by my side,” says Interim Director Bravo. “Wendy has been such a huge part of my ability to hit the ground running at the Health Department, lending support as I transitioned from federal to county government. The department and the community we serve are lucky to have such a committed leader with deep expertise helping us navigate the realm of business management.”
Lear cares deeply about doing a good job and is proud of the long career she has had at Multnomah County. With such great responsibilities, she often finds herself in high-stress situations. She relaxes by kayaking at Sauvie Island or heading to the mountains to snowboard.
Lear leaves the office by 4 p.m. and arrives back to her Southwest Portland home just in time to go on a walk to watch the sun set across the community she has served for most of her working career.