Washington County Chair Kathryn Harrington says she's running for re-election to continue delivering results amid multiple crises.
Harrington was elected as chair of the county board of commissioners in 2018 after defeating former county commissioner Bob Terry with 58% of the vote.
So far, one person has filed to challenge Harrington for the position: Hillsboro City Councilor Beach Pace, who announced her campaign late last month.
"We've done some exciting work these last three years, but we have a lot more to do," said Harrington, who launched her campaign in early November, in a recent interview.
The five county commissioners, led by Harrington, oversee the county government. While four of the five members of the board represent geographic parts of the county, the board chair is the only member who serves at-large, representing all Washington County residents.
Harrington said no one could have foreseen the demands the coronavirus pandemic placed on local governments when it first hit a little more than one year into her term as chair.
"The virus is what has been in control and the dominant force in our community," she said, adding that with high rates of community transmission and new variants of COVID-19 continuing to appear — most recently the omicron variant first detected in South Africa last month, which appears to be significantly more infectious than even the fast-spreading delta variant — the pandemic is not over.
Harrington says she has demonstrated effectiveness in addressing the unprecedented physical safety, mental health and economic challenges during the pandemic.
She noted the county responded quickly under her leadership to expand mental health resources, provide relief funds to businesses, and help to facilitate a vaccine rollout that allowed the county to have among the highest rates of vaccination in the state.
Harrington said she worked to ensure the flood of federal relief funds coming into Washington County went toward the most pressing community needs, based on the best available information.
"What really amazed me was how hard it was for people to get valid, factual information" in the early days of the pandemic, Harrington said.
The county government had to step up, Harrington added, and provide leadership and clear communication about the public health situation. She said she worked hard to have frequent calls with local and state officials, boost communication on county channels, and host town halls.
Thinking about how decisions will impact people of all backgrounds has been at the heart of her work, Harrington said, adding that the county continues to assist providers to boost vaccination rates in communities of color with persistently lower uptake.
She highlighted that the county adopted its first equity resolution, named Latricia Tillman as the county's first equity and inclusion officer, and developed a plan to develop the county's budget using an "equity lens," focusing on the needs of underserved segments of the community.
The county's upcoming budget process will be the first time that equity plan is in place, Harrington said.
Aside from accomplishments related to pandemic response, Harrington noted that during her time as chair, more than 1,000 affordable housing units will be either completed or underway in Oregon's second-most-populous county.
"It's not just philosophy, it's track record," Harrington said. "The track record shows that we are far better off now after my three years of service than we were prior. I've been fighting on the issues that matter most to our community."
Harrington said she will continue working to improve transportation throughout the region, address the increasing prevalence of homelessness and support small businesses.
A big part of her job has been figuring out how to deal with state and federal decisions that are out of the county's control and educating the community about what role the county can play given certain limitations.
As an example, Harrington said the county received a lot of calls asking for the board to ban fireworks ahead of Fourth of July this year during extreme heat and dryness. But the county's charter prevents it from making law enforcement decisions within city governments' jurisdiction.
Serving as a councilor for Metro, the regional government, for more than a decade before becoming county chair, Harrington has considerably more government experience than Pace, who was first elected to public office in 2018.
Before entering public service, Harrington worked in the tech industry for 22 years. Spending her childhood moving around in a military family, she has lived in Washington County with her husband for nearly 30 years.
Pace has put concerns about transparency and accessibility to the county's decision-making process at the forefront of her campaign, saying that under Harrington's leadership, local governments and residents have been left confused about how and why decisions are made.
Harrington said there are always ways to improve dialogue and community involvement in decision-making, adding that social distancing has made those imperatives particularly difficult recently.
But she said the county has become far more transparent and focused on community needs under her leadership than when she arrived.
The county has substantially increased the number of community listening sessions and town halls as well as developed more effective communication strategies, Harrington said.
"My response is: 'compared to what?'" she said. "We have transparency that never existed in the 28 years of my living in Washington County."
Early in her campaign, Harrington has received many noteworthy endorsements, including from multiple state representatives, several mayors and city councilors in the county, and 10 school board members.
"No one is ever fully prepared for a crisis, but Kathryn has demonstrated unparalleled leadership during some of our toughest times," said U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, endorsing Harrington. "She has stood up for the needs of working families, improved government transparency at Washington County, and protected small businesses."
In her endorsement of Harrington, fellow county commissioner and frequent board ally Pam Treece said, "I'm impressed with Kathryn's leadership across the region, especially throughout this pandemic. Her leadership has effectively supported families, workers, and our healthcare system during this difficult time. Kathryn is the thoughtful leader who I know will continue to move Washington County in the right direction."
The primary election will take place May 17, 2022.
If a candidate receives more than 50% of the votes during the May primary will be elected outright. If no one receives more than 50% during the primary, whomever receives the highest number of votes during the general election on Nov. 8, 2022, wins the election.
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