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Multnomah County's top executive tries to put recent tumult behind her with speech at Reynolds High

COURTESY PHOTO - Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury gave the 2018 State of the County.Chair Deborah Kafoury, Multnomah County's chief executive, used her yearly state of the county address to try to put recent tumult behind her while changing up the speech's typical format.

In her speech, Kafoury stressed the county's continuing efforts to battle societal ills such as opioid addiction and inequity, specifically highlighting a growing rent voucher program for low-income seniors and a new affordable housing fund that would also pay for supportive services such as counseling, among other things.

Typically, the event hosted by the City Club of Portland is held in downtown Portland and consists of a long speech followed by audience questions. This year, the speech was held 15 miles away at Reynolds High School in Troutdale. It featured a briefer speech by Kafoury followed by an interview on stage in which a former assistant chief of the Portland Police Bureau, Kevin Modica, asked Kafoury questions about issues like racism and the never-opened Wapato jail.

The Reynolds auditorium was packed for the 8 a.m. event, but the critics that have been punctuating recent county board meetings were not vocal, or even visible. That, as well as the change-up in the format, resulted in an event that appeared aimed at causing a fresh start and putting past controversy behind her.

Fresh start

Since December, when Kafoury called fellow Commissioner Loretta Smith a "b****" at the close of a public board meeting, allies of Smith have attended county board meetings held at the 501 S.E. Hawthorne Blvd. county headquarters and called for the chair's resignation.

Kafoury's comment had been made after Smith, who is African-American, had faulted top-down institutional racism that she said came from Kafoury's office.

Kafoury has repeatedly apologized for her outburst, but it has not stopped Smith's supporters from lambasting her during public comment. Smith's critics, meanwhile, have more quietly called the attacks on Kafoury politically motivated, boosting Smith's stature as she runs for Portland City Council.

At Reynolds High, Modica questioned Kafoury about several of the issues that dominated headlines in the past year.

During that segment as well as the audience question segment of the event, calls for resignation were not mentioned, allowing the event to focus on her and what the county is doing.

On the topic of institutional racism, Kafoury noted that the county has changed the way it handles discrimination complaints and hired a consultant to look at hiring and retention policies, among other things, at the county.

After Modica noted "questions challenging your leadership" and asked if Kafoury felt she had played any role in the "institutional issues" at the county she responded, "I try to be a courageous and compassionate leader but sometimes I fall short. and I'm working every day to try to be the leader that my community needs and deserves, thank you."

On the never-opened Wapato jail, Kafoury noted that a deal in concept has been reached to sell it, one that is awaiting the would-be buyer to complete his review of the property. "We will know by the end of the month whether that offer is coming through," she said. "What I think the best use of this facility is to sell it and get it back on the tax rolls. It has really been an albatross."

In other topics addressed by Kafoury, she highlighted the county's decision to join a wave of lawsuits against opioid manufacturers, her advocacy for stronger gun control needs, and opposition to anti-immigration measures promoted by President Donald Trump.

"We will not be bullied by a federal government that is racist and irrational," she said, to loud applause.

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