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Commissioner Sharon Meieran Newsletter - June 2019
As summer begins, the 2019 Legislature is working to balance the State budget and conclude their session. I have been deeply concerned about how some of the reductions proposed by the Legislature will affect us locally. I have been talking with legislators and the media about this and want to share my perspective with you directly. I also want to highlight some other important policy bills that I have been tracking.
Before getting to those issues, though, I have to acknowledge the current situation in the Legislature. When I first envisioned this newsletter, I wanted it to be a discussion of the issues under consideration by the Legislature at the end of session. However, the decision by the Senate Republicans to abdicate responsibility and walk out has changed the dynamic and may impact remaining decisions. It is incredibly troubling to me that the Senate Republicans have opted to hide rather than vote on a bill addressing the climate crisis. Despite this overshadowing change, I still want to share my thoughts on important budget and policy issues still under consideration.
Proposed Budget Reductions
A robust spectrum of community-based mental health services is foundational to providing people with optimal treatment, achieve the best outcomes, and save money. Unfortunately, our counties have been starved of resources for too long, and the results are apparent everywhere we turn - in our homes, in our jails, in our schools and on our streets. Given this, I have been surprised and troubled by a proposal from the Legislature to reduce funding for the Community Mental Health Program by $18 million. This funding supports local investments in mental health services, including crisis mental health and addiction services, case management for people experiencing mental illness who are insured by Medicaid, intensive services for people who would otherwise go to the Oregon State Hospital, and supportive housing programs that keep people experiencing serious mental illness stably housed.
This critical State funding complements the County’s larger systems improvement efforts, including our plans for a new mental health resource center downtown and my efforts to align and transform our system of mental health care, including addressing the intersection of our mental health and criminal justice systems for people who are most affected. Further, the Legislature is simultaneously implementing measures that, although well-intentioned, will substantially increase the population needing mental health services in our local communities. Given the scope of the need and the increase in the population being affected, the Legislature should be increasing this funding, not cutting it. A budget bill passed out of committee yesterday partially restores the reduction by adding $6 million. We will be advocating again during the short Legislative session in February 2020 to make sure this important program is fully restored.
I am also very concerned about legislative proposals to cut funding for supports for individuals with developmental disabilities, seniors, and community corrections. The aging programs include programs aimed at healthy aging, fall prevention, and diabetes management. While I understand that the Legislature faces difficult choices, I am concerned that they are considering reductions that will hurt some of the most vulnerable people in our community and undermine important work happening at the local level to work upstream and prevent the expensive consequences and crises that we all pay for downstream.
I have been closely tracking many policy issues this legislative session. Several have drawn my attention as the session draws to a close:
We have to take action to stop climate change for our kids and for the most vulnerable people in our communities. House Bill 2020 would take action by capping greenhouse gas emissions at 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. The Senate Republicans have walked away from their jobs because they oppose this bill. This is unacceptable. We need rational climate policy and policymakers who are willing to debate a challenging issue and stay at the table to develop policy rather than simply walking away.
House Bill 2007 would finally require clean diesel technology for trucks and construction equipment. Diesel engine exhaust includes particles that can get into our lungs, causing cancer, asthma, and other health problems. Oregon has established an exposure limit on diesel exhaust of .1 micrograms per cubic meter - this standard is 30 times higher (weaker) than the standard established by California, but still the Portland region would need to reduce diesel emissions by 90 percent to reach the Oregon standard. Diesel pollution affects all of us, but is even worse for children and elders, and for communities of color who are more likely to live near areas with the most diesel pollution. Technology exists to filter the vast majority of the particles out of the diesel pollution, and I am very hopeful that the Legislature will adopt HB 2007 to require this technology on diesel trucks. This seems like the very least we could do to address one of the leading drivers of illness and climate change in our state.
Oregon is one of only five states with no limits on political contributions due to interpretation of the Oregon Constitution, and I believe that having no limits on campaign contributions has a corrupting effect on our democracy. Senate Joint Resolution 18 would refer a measure to voters that would make campaign contribution limits and disclosure requirements for largest sources of funding constitutional under Oregon’s state constitution. In 2016, nearly 90% of voters in Multnomah County supported a ballot measure limiting campaign contributions, but the County has been unable to fully implement the measure because of concerns about constitutionality. Senate Joint Resolution 18 would allow voters statewide to weigh in on this important issue and potentially resolve the questions of constitutionality.
The current Legislative session will end very soon. The Senate Republicans’ walk-out has made it difficult to predict how the session will end. Despite this, you can still contact your legislators and make your voice heard regarding the issues I’ve mentioned, or any others that are important to you. And as always, I appreciate hearing your questions, thoughts, concerns, and ideas. Please contact my office at District1@multco.us or call 503.988.5220.
In good health,
Commissioner Sharon Meieran Newsletter - May 2019
Yesterday the Board of County Commissioners unanimously adopted the fiscal year 2020 budget for Multnomah County. I want to dedicate this Newsletter to the budget, and outline some of my priorities that made it into the final budget.
In my April Newsletter I outlined the basics of Multnomah County’s budget process and financial landscape, and I shared some of the values I apply in approaching budget decisions. The Board has been working over the past month to finalize the budget based on feedback from the community, information and research, and our own priorities. Fortunately, our values as individual Commissioners are very much aligned, and we unanimously adopted the budget.
Mental health resource center: I have long advocated for a peer-driven mental health resource center that can meet the needs of individuals before they fall into crisis. I have been working with the Chair on a very exciting project to make this idea a reality. I am thrilled that the budget includes $11 million for a new mental health resource center downtown at the Bushong Building, which the County purchased in April. This project addresses a long-standing, critical gap in our community for centrally located, low barrier, peer-driven mental health recovery services. I will continue to champion this work as it develops.
Peer-run employment and recovery services: Multnomah County’s Mental Health and Addiction Services Division currently funds a peer-driven program which provides a place for people to go when they are not in a mental health crisis, but are in need of community, skills training, employment resources, and a place where they “are not their diagnosis”. Research shows that these types of services improve health and recovery outcomes, and I was able to secure an additional $100,000 to help build capacity in this program to reach more people in our community.
A Multnomah County leadership position held by a person with lived experience using publicly funded mental health services: This position will elevate the perspective of people with lived experience by expanding capacity in the Mental Health and Addiction Services Division’s (MHASD) Office of Consumer Engagement. Establishing a lived experience leadership position in MHASD was one of the top priority recommendations stemming from the Mental Health System Analysis my office spearheaded last year and I am proud to see us act on this recommendation. It was incorporated in the Chair’s proposed budget and adopted in our final version.
Securing the funding to maintain all Harm Reduction services: “Harm reduction” is a collection of strategies to reduce the negative impact of certain drug-use related behaviors, and it can be life-saving work. The strategies include needle exchange, naloxone distribution, provision of supplies for treating infection, and more. Through these activities, we prevent the spread of HIV, hepatitis and other infections; prevent overdose deaths; ensure the proper collection and disposal of syringes, which keeps our entire community safe; and, importantly, provide a critical entry point into recovery for people who otherwise would not feel safe accessing treatment. Because of budget constraints, the Health Department had proposed a significant decrease in funding for harm reduction. I was able to secure funding to prevent these cuts and sustain these life-saving services..
Beginning to meaningfully address the dangers of the fuel infrastructure hub in Linnton: Many of us have seen the giant fuel tanks sitting between the railway and the river along Highway 30. I learned that 90% of the state’s fuel supply and 100% of the state’s jet fuel supply is stored in or passes through these tanks. Many of the tanks are very old, and they are on soils that will become unstable during a major earthquake. And during an earthquake, the tanks could catch on fire and create a major disaster for the environment, human health, and our economy. I want to explore whether the County can require fossil fuel companies to carry bonds or insurance that cover the potential cost of damages caused by those companies’ fuel, equipment and infrastructure. My amendment allocates funding for an assessment of our fossil fuel infrastructure as well as the legal viability of this concept. This is a first step toward holding fossil fuel companies accountable.
Workforce equity: The budget makes groundbreaking investments to support the County’s Workforce Equity Strategic Plan (WESP), which the Board adopted in late January. To meet the needs of those we serve, we must first look inward and meaningfully work toward dismantling racism within County government. The budget funds a number of programs and services designed to support and educate employees as we embark upon a cultural shift in our institution. These include a new independent unit that will investigate complaints from County employees; training and support for Human Resources during our transition; and new funding for the Office of Diversity and Equity to support accommodations for employees with disabilities, along with other aspects of the WESP. The process will not be easy, but it is essential, and the time is now.
Despite the challenges we faced this year, budget season continues to fill me with awe. It is incredibly powerful to hear people’s stories and witness the resilience of Multnomah County residents. I am filled with a profound respect for the dedication of so many people who work for and partner with the County. This is the heart of what I signed up for when I ran for County Commission, and I have been honored to represent my constituents during this process.
June Town Hall
I hope you’ll consider joining me on Thursday, June 13, from 5:30 - 7 p.m. in the Benson High School Library (546 NE 12th Avenue). I am hosting this town hall along with my colleague Commissioner Susheela Jayapal, who represents District 2 (North and Northeast Portland). We will speak about priorities and outcomes from our 2020 budget process, and there will be plenty of time to ask questions. I hope to see you there!
In good health,
Commissioner Sharon Meieran Newsletter - April 2019
Last week the Board of County Commissioners kicked off our annual budget process when the Chair released her proposed budget. While county commissioners play many important roles, approving a balanced budget that reflects our values and supports a range of essential functions is truly at the core of what we do. As I have for the past two years, I want to dedicate most of this month’s newsletter to describing what happens during the budget process, what I will be considering, and how you can be involved.
County Budget Basics
The County’s budget supports vital services in the areas of housing and homelessness, health care, families and children, public safety, and infrastructure like roads and bridges. As a Board, we are responsible for developing and approving a balanced budget each year. The County’s total budget is about $2 billion. The General Fund, which comes primarily from local tax revenue, is the most flexible part of the budget and the Board has discretion to allocate the General Fund budget among the services the County provides. A large portion of the County’s total budget includes federal and state funds that the county receives in exchange for providing specific programs or services. Only about one-third of the total budget (around $668 million for the 2020 fiscal year) comprises the County’s General Fund budget.
Multnomah County faces a challenging budget forecast, facing cuts this year which will be increasing over the next five years. I often hear questions about this, because it seems counter-intuitive - Portland is experiencing tremendous economic growth, and yet our revenues are not sufficient to meet our needs. This paradox exists because there is an underlying structural deficit, causing the cost of providing services to rise faster than our revenue. As a result, we must consider options for reducing the existing services we provide; for reallocating funding; and/or for increasing revenue.
The budget process begins with each County department proposing a budget, including proposed reductions. Chair Deborah Kafoury considers departmental proposals as she develops her recommended budget, which was released last week. Now, my colleagues and I will consider the Chair’s recommended budget. We will hold budget work sessions and public budget hearings throughout the month of May, and we are scheduled to adopt a final budget on May 30.
To me, the budget process is the most fundamental of my duties as a County Commissioner. The budget shapes what we do, who we serve, how we employ people, and how we impact our community for years to come. Given the challenging economic circumstances we face in the future, this year’s budget will include some very difficult decisions. Over the next 5 weeks I will work with the Chair and my colleagues on the Board to make budget decisions, focusing on using our resources efficiently, effectively and equitably. When approaching these decisions, I often consider these factors:
(1) Alignment with Multnomah County’s mission: how closely the program or service is aligned with the County’s mission to serve people who are the most vulnerable in our community.
(2) Efficiency: whether the program or service, or something similar, is provided elsewhere.
(3) Wise investment: the balance of cost and benefit from the program or service, including the scale of the program’s impact. I focus on the potential for upstream investment that has measurable impact on downstream costs and outcomes. In particular, I consider potential intended and unintended consequences of our decisions on traditionally marginalized communities.
My perspective on budget and policy issues is informed by many sources. I strive to proactively seek out feedback and input from the community, and balance this with research, analysis, guidance from county staff and others, as well as my own values.
Hearing from members of the public is extremely important in informing my perspective, and I would very much like to hear from you about your priorities during this year’s budget process. You can make your voice heard in several ways:
District 1 survey: You can take this survey to share your County service and program priorities with me.
Public Hearings: You can share your thoughts about the budget by testifying at one of three remaining public budget hearings we have scheduled in May (our first hearing was held last night at the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization):
Wednesday, May 8, 6:00 - 8:00 pm at the Multnomah Building, 501 SE Hawthorne Blvd, Portland
Tuesday, May 14, 6:00 - 8:00 pm at Multnomah County East, 600 NE 8th St, Gresham
Wednesday, May 22, 6:00 - 8:00 pm at Roosevelt High School, 6941 N Central St, Portland
Tune in to work sessions: You can watch our budget work sessions starting this week by either joining in-person in the Boardroom at the Multnomah County Building (501 SE Hawthorne Blvd), or streaming live online. During budget work sessions, leaders from County departments present an overview about the services they provide, how effective those services have been, and their major opportunities and challenges. You can find the full budget calendar here: https://multco.us/budget/calendar.
Contact me directly: And of course, you can always contact my office directly to share your feedback, ideas, thoughts, concerns and questions by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, by phone at (503) 988-5220, or by mail at 501 SE Hawthorne Blvd, Suite 600, Portland OR 97214.
This season brings a challenging budget, but I look forward to the process and working with my colleagues to approve a budget that supports our community’s needs. Thank you in advance for informing me throughout this process!
In good health,
Commissioner Sharon Meieran Newsletter - March 2019
March is women’s history month! This month I’ve had many opportunities to honor and celebrate women in some unique ways, and I would like to share some of those experiences and reflections.
Women’s History Month Bike Wrap: I started the month at City Hall, where BIKETOWN unveiled new bike wrap designs celebrating the creativity, innovation, and community spirit of the women of Portland. BIKETOWN offers shared bikes that can be locked at any public bike rack throughout Portland, making it easy and convenient to bike where you need to go. One of the highlights of the event was hearing from Commissioner Eudaly about how bikes have contributed to women’s liberation through history: “Bikes enabled independent transportation, helped women shed restrictive clothing, and were a flagship symbol of the suffragette movement.”
Portland Womxn’s March: On the first Sunday in March I joined thousands of people at the 2019 Womxn’s March & Rally for Action. This event lifted up an intersectional, feminist, womxn-led movement while protesting President Trump’s actions. My colleague Commissioner Susheela Jayapal delivered an incredible rallying speech about ending oppression by centering those who are the most marginalized. I was especially inspired to see so many young people at this march, and their presence gives me hope for the future.
Women’s History Month Proclamation: Our Board proclaimed March as Women’s History Month in Multnomah County. We heard from an amazing panel of local advocates from Sisters in the Brotherhood, WomenFirst, Family Forward, and NARAL ProChoice Oregon, who shared their own personal stories and also their work improving the quality of life for women. As our proclamation states, “Multnomah County recognizes during this month of celebrating women and the glass ceilings they continue to shatter in Oregon, that there is still work to be done. Multnomah County is dedicated to lifting women of every race, ethnicity, class, gender identity, abilities, and sexual orientation up to ensure that the pursuit of equity between genders does not falter until it is achieved and sustained.”
Women’s HERstory Month Panel: I was honored to speak about women in health care alongside Janet Campbell from Cambia Health Solutions and Meredith Roberts Tomasi from HealthInsight Oregon at a forum sponsored by the Portland Business Alliance. We talked about health care, data analytics, and improving health outcomes - as well as what motivated each of us to get into our respective fields. I left feeling inspired by my two co-panelists and hopeful about the role of women in the future of health care.
Honoring Women Veterans: I serve as the Board liaison to Multnomah County’s Veterans Task Force, a group of community organizations, state and federal partners, and representatives from Multnomah County departments. In honor of Women’s History Month, Elizabeth Estabrooks, women veterans coordinator with the Oregon Department of Veterans Affairs, did a presentation about the history of women in the military. Some of the information she presented was truly shocking. Women have served in the military since the American Revolution, but their service has often gone unrecognized. Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) serving during WWII were not given Veterans status until President Obama’s term in office. Until recently, wives of military Veterans could be buried in Arlington National Cemetery, but women Veterans could not be. Because of a history that excluded them, many women who served in the military are less likely to identify as Veterans and less likely to seek the benefits they earned. Even when they do receive benefits, the benefits are less, as are salaries and promotions. Elizabeth’s program at the Oregon Department of Veterans Affairs seeks to advocate for and reach out to women who have served in the military and advance the level of care women Veterans receive in Oregon.
All of these Women’s History Month events have helped me slow down and think about our moment in history and the story we are leaving for the next generation of girls and women, including my teenage daughter Ella. I am incredibly grateful to serve on a Board of County Commissioners that is all women and a majority women of color. As women, we have unique perspectives in understanding the challenges faced by people in our community, and I believe these perspectives influence and improve how we govern. I will work on carrying this sentiment forward throughout the year.
Look out for a constituent coffee invitation in early May. This will be a great opportunity to share your ideas and thoughts about the County, identify your priorities, and hear about my priorities as we balance the County’s fiscal year 2020 budget. And there will be other opportunities to be involved during the budget-making process as well. So stay tuned!
In good health,
Commissioner Sharon Meieran Newsletter - February 2019
The topic of this newsletter is collaboration and connectedness. It feels as if this topic has presented itself to me seemingly at every turn throughout the past month, so I wanted to share some of what has been happening.
First, I traveled with a delegation of Portlanders to Los Angeles to learn more about how that region has been able to engage multiple stakeholders across multiple sectors to support two measures to increase resources for reducing and preventing homelessness. So far, the 2016 Los Angeles City bond has funded nearly 2,800 housing units, including 2,088 supportive housing units paired with services. A complementary 2017 Los Angeles County measure has funded services and strategies to permanently house a total of 11,616 individuals and family members. In a county of over 10 million people and 88 cities, collaboration has been essential to coalescing around a plan to fund affordable housing, as well as the supportive services proven to keep those who are most vulnerable stable and housed. Here in the Portland region, voters passed a historic bond last fall that is building affordable housing, and we are working to implement our supportive housing plan to ensure there are services like mental health and addictions treatment to help people maintain stable housing. In LA, it was inspiring to see how housing advocates, the business community, philanthropy, the faith community, health care, community organizations and individuals were able to work together toward turning a plan to end homelessness into reality.
On the heels of my trip to Los Angeles, I also attended the biennial Justice Reinvestment Summit in Salem, where people from public safety, behavioral health, the court system, and other disciplines came together to tackle issues related to reducing our reliance on costly incarceration and improving public safety through alternatives. I learned about some innovative processes and projects underway in Multnomah County and elsewhere in Oregon, especially around the intersection of the criminal justice system and behavioral health. And I was inspired by keynote speaker, Miami-Dade County Judge Steve Leifman, who was able to lead a transformation the criminal justice system that had the highest prevalence of mental illness in the country. The Miami-Dade County system is a model that demonstrates the power of collaboration within in a criminal justice system that is tightly connected with the system of behavioral health care. I am interested in exploring how aspects of the Miami-Dade model could help here in Multnomah County.
And finally, I attended a meeting of the County’s Age-Friendly Health Services, Equity and Prevention committee, which seeks to move forward the health- and equity-related work included in Multnomah County’s Age-Friendly Action Plan. “Age-friendly” refers to inclusivity and accessibility of older people with varying needs, as well as emphasizing enablement rather than disablement. Age-friendly designs, policies, and programs are increasingly important as we shift to an older society, but these age-friendly efforts work for everyone regardless of age. The meeting included a range of participants from the Oregon Health Equity Alliance (OHEA), dementia research and support, The Intertwine Alliance; Portland Parks & Recreation, Multnomah County Library, Portland State University’s Institute on Aging, Oregon Health & Science University, and others. We heard from OHEA and Health Department staff about our Community Health Improvement Plan (CHIP), which focuses on addressing institutional racism. I was struck by the common links that were identified between issues, including racial equity, digital equity, housing and houselessness, mental health and substance use disorder, dementia, and climate change, among others.
The bottom line is that there is so much multi-sector work that can help us identify innovative solutions to the most difficult problems we face as a community. As an ER doctor, I see how failure to acknowledge and account for these connections leads to siloing and people falling through the cracks in our systems and ending up in crisis. By working “upstream” to prevent problems, we can stop a cascade of effects that are all connected. Often, this requires us to reach out to people who are in totally different jobs or settings to get help to a person. I also believe that we need to develop policy and funding frameworks that are flexible enough to support multi-system efforts while also assuring accountability and transparency.
Thank you for reading, and as always please reach out to me via email, phone, or snail mail. I always love to hear your responses, questions and ideas.
In good health,
Multnomah County District 1 Commissioner
Commissioner Sharon Meieran Newsletter - January 2019
I hope you had a great holiday season and I wish you a very Happy New Year (though the new year already feels so long ago…)! The Board celebrated the New Year with the swearing in of Chair Kafoury and Sheriff Reese for second terms, welcoming Jennifer McGuirk as our new County Auditor, and hearing moving words from new District 2 Commissioner Susheela Jayapal. Reflecting on how wonderful it was to engage with friends and family over the holiday season and new year, and with the positive energy at Multnomah County, I wanted to start the year with a focus on community engagement.
As a County Commissioner, I have always been impressed with the level of passion, awareness, interest and involvement that members of our community show in regard to the issues facing our region. I strongly believe that public engagement with a broad and diverse array of people is essential to the work we do at the County.
True, meaningful community involvement in government requires us to develop structures that institutionalize the importance of community engagement, input, and guidance. For example, we have community advisory committees informing our policies on an array of topics including sustainability, public health, libraries, mental health, aging services, and many, many other programs and issue areas. Volunteers also contribute time and energy to help guide the Board as we make decisions about the budget through Community Budget Advisory Committees (CBACs). CBACs are groups of community members that review departmental budgets and operations and make recommendations to the Board of Commissioners about how Multnomah County can best use its resources to serve the community.
Commissioners are assigned to connect with and participate on a number of advisory groups. In addition to several other assignments I have held over the past two years, I am very excited to be the new appointed Board liaison to the Aging Services Advisory Council (ASAC) and Disability Services Advisory Council (DSAC). The ASAC advises Multnomah County’s Aging, Disability, & Veterans Services Division (ADVSD) to ensure that all older adults, people with disabilities, and Veterans thrive in diverse and supportive communities. Advisory council members advocate for system level changes, provide advice to ADVSD regarding policies and programs, and connect with the broader community to understand the issues and priorities of ADVSD target populations. The DSAC advises ADVSD on how best to serve people with disabilities in a respectful and conscientious manner, advocates for issues that are pertinent to the life and welfare of people with disabilities in Multnomah County, and works to educate the general public of the issues and concerns facing all people with disabilities living and working in Multnomah County.
If you’re interested in getting involved you can always start with the County’s general volunteer interest form, which can help match your experience and interests to available volunteer opportunities on County advisory boards and commissions. Right now, there is one opportunity I want to highlight in particular. Multnomah County is currently accepting applications for the County’s Community Involvement Committee (CIC). The CIC is foundational in bringing community voice into County decision-making. CIC members will engage in an ongoing review of the County's community involvement policies and programs, bring community concerns and ideas to County leadership, and assist in facilitating communication between the County and the community. In 2018, the CIC was on hiatus while the Office of Community Involvement conducted a review of the County’s community involvement process and the role of the CIC. With the review compete, we are currently recruiting fifteen CIC members, including at least one member from each District. Applications are due Monday, January 28th, by 5pm.
Finally, on the theme of community engagement, I have recently started knocking on doors in District 1 in an effort to hear directly from constituents. As a candidate for office I walked door-to-door to meet people and hear what was important to them, but I didn’t want to stop engaging with my constituents in this way once I was elected to office. I am working to visit every neighborhood association in my district, and holding organized opportunities for constituents to talk with me at events like constituent coffees. I truly want to hear from as many people as possible. You can always speak to me and to my fellow Commissioners directly at any of our regularly scheduled Board meetings by signing up to give public testimony. If you’re active in a neighborhood association in District 1 and would like to have me speak at one of your meetings, please contact my office. If you have ideas for events that I could organize or participate in, I want to hear from you. And if you live in the district, don’t be surprised if you find me knocking on your door!
This is going to be an exciting year, and I look forward to sharing experiences and hearing from you about issues, questions, ideas, concerns, or whatever may be on your mind. Happy 2019!
In good health,
Multnomah County District 1 Commissioner
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