New Clackamas County commissioners dive right into business
One new and one familiar face joined the Clackamas Board of County Commissioners in its first meeting of 2021 on Tuesday, Jan. 5, to hear updates on several topics and issues facing the county.
County Chair Tootie Smith and Commissioner Mark Shull — both elected to the board in 2020 — took their official oaths of office in private ceremonies over the holidays and will participate in a ceremonial swearing on Wednesday, Jan. 13.
Smith, a political veteran who has served as both a state legislator and Clackamas County commissioner, seemed not to miss a beat in her four-year absence from public service as she dove head first into county business while leading the meeting. Shull chimed in on occasion to offer his view or asking questions to clarify details.
Up first on Tuesday's agenda was an update from Nancy Bush, county director of disaster management and co-incident commander, on wildfire recovery.
Bush asked the board to allow the county's emergency declaration for September wildland fires to expire on Jan. 8.
"We no longer need that, it was really for that period of time we were actively fighting fire and getting people out of the way," Bush said. "I would suggest we sunset that one."
According to Stephen Madkour, county counsel, allowing that declaration to expire required no action by the board, but members were in agreement with Bush.
According to Bush, a second emergency declaration dealing with hazardous waste and debris removal, also set to expire this month, is still required to continue work with ODOT on wildfire cleanup.
Bush suggested that the board extend the declaration for at least 30 days, but recommended that it might be smarter to extend it by as much as 10 months due to the time it's estimated to take to finish cleanup, including removal of approximately 4,000 trees from county right-of-ways, which will cost an estimated $4 million. Bush said the state will be picking up cleanup costs for tree removal and personal property.
Smith said it's pointless for the board to return again and again to extend the emergency declaration for cleanup, and instead suggested extending the declaration until Dec. 31, 2021.
Philip Mason-Joyner, county public health director and co-incident commander, then recapped of the virus' history in Clackamas County since the pandemic began to take hold back in March 2020 and subsequent implementation of Oregon Health Authority's risk-management frameworks as well as new metrics for getting children back into classrooms.
Clackamas County remains in the "extreme risk" category, meaning many of the state's health and safety restrictions on businesses and social activity are still in place. According to Mason-Joyner, he expects the county to remain in this category through at least the week of Jan. 15.
"But I anticipate that we'll be in this state for a while until we get this case rate per 100,000 population number to 200 or less," he said. "Once we move into that phase, it will allow for inside dining at restaurants, more indoor entertainment to happen and fitness centers to reopen at limited capacity."
Bush said the county's ongoing outreach efforts, through its COVID-19 webpage that received nearly 340,000 unique pageviews in 2020, as well as 108,250 engagements on social media. County officials delivered more than 317,000 masks, 23,000 face shields, 107,000 pairs of gloves and 3,221 bottles of hand sanitizer as part an effort to help businesses with their stocks of personal protective equipment. The county's emergency operations center has delivered 5,605 boxes of food to help residents struggling with COVID and wildfire impacts.
According to Mason-Joyner, the county's top priority at the moment is working with local schools to reopen for in-person learning following Gov. Kate Brown's move last month to change state-issued requirements to advisory guidelines.
Mason-Joyner said he's meeting with County Health Officer Dr. Sarah Present and Clackamas County school district superintendents to talk about how the county can support all 150 schools with their plans to reopen.
"We've dedicated a couple staff to review every single one of those plans to provide feedback on what they can do to put more public-health precautions into place and work with them to provide that technical assistance," Mason-Joyner said. "We continue to convene the schools and have staff that are available to help our schools if there's a case or an outbreak in the school community who will work proactively with them. I think it's incredibly important that our youngest learners get back to in person learning as quickly as possible."
According to Mason-Joyner, there have been 4,400 Clackamas County residents who have received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, primarily those who work at hospitals, as well as residents at long-term care facilities. That includes 1,000 doses received by the county's health clinics last week, and another 1,000 doses this week focusing on first responders such as firefighters, emergency medical technicians, sheriff's deputies and police.
"We'll continue to follow OHA's guidelines around which groups receive the vaccine next," he said. "We're just trying to work through the process, and I know there's a lot of desire to get the vaccine into arms, looking to have those shipments continue to come in and get other providers, pharmacies and clinics enrolled so that they can begin to distribute the vaccine."
Smith then asked whether businesses affected by the pandemic would have to repay federal monies.
According to Bush, any of the 270 businesses in Clackamas County that have received federal CARES Act dollars for pandemic relief through the county's small business grant program will not have to pay anything back.
During her first tri-county meeting with Chair Deborah Kafoury of Multnomah County and Chair Kathryn Harrington of Washington County, Smith said she inquired about the state's and region's efforts to vaccinate teachers as an important step to school reopening.
"I would like to hurry up with that. I'd like our schools to open right now, as so many of us would," she said. "There was evidently a problem in the distribution on getting the vaccinations out which I'm quite astounded by because we've known for a long time that the vaccination was coming, and maybe planning efforts should have been underway to get this going."
Smith asked Mason-Joyner whether the county has any role in planning how to get vaccinations to teachers in a timely manner. He responded that the process is evolving, but at this point OHA is leading the charge on coordinating testing and vaccination plans with school districts. The county will likely have a role for the approximately 30 private schools in the county, as most of them don't have school nurses.
Smith said that she's fielded several emails from constituents expressing concern over whether vaccinations will be mandatory, which they are not.
"So I just want to put that little caveat out there for any of our citizens who may be listening," Smith said. "I do believe it is still a choice, but the vaccinations do offer us an opportunity to pivot and open up."
Commissioners had a brief conversation about the process for filling the vacant state senate seat left by Shemia Fagan, sworn in the day prior as Oregon's 28th Secretary of State.
Commissioners will participate in a Jan. 6 meeting jointly with commissioners from Multnomah County to interview the three candidates forwarded by the Democatic precinct committee. They include Kayse Jama, executive director of Unite Oregon; Adrienne Enghouse, a registered nurse and former president of the Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals; and Candy Emmons, operations director with the Democratic Party of Oregon.
State Rep. Jeff Reardon (D-SE Portland) had originally thrown his hat in the ring to replace Fagan in the senate, but removed himself from consideration about a month ago.
Jama is the only one of the three candidates who has run for the seat, having finished third in voting in the May 2018 primary behind Fagan and former state senator Rod Monroe.
Smith nominated Commissioners Martha Schrader and Sonya Fischer to ask two questions of Senate District 24 candidates that they will submit to their fellow board members ahead of the meeting.
ALSO ON TUESDAY
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.