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Hillsdale resident will run for second term next year and sharpen focus on mental health concerns

PMG PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Multnomah County Commissioner Sharon Meieran gets hugs from her son Ben and daughter Ella after being sworn into office in January 2017. County Chair Deborah Kafoury, who she replaced as District One Commissioner, stands to the left.
Though her good friend Amanda Fritz is stepping down from the Portland City Council next year, Multnomah County Commissioner Sharon Meieran of Hillsdale says she has zero interest in running to replace her.

She seems surprised that anyone would even ask, as she confirms her plan to run for re-election to the District One seat representing all of Southwest Portland on the Multnomah County Commission. She was first elected in 2016. In 2012, she ran for the House District 36 seat in the State Legislature, but lost to fellow Democrat Jennifer Williamson, who may now be moving on from that seat.

"The county is where the issues reside, the issues that I feel I can make a difference on," Meieran said in a recent interview. "I have no desire to run for Portland City Council or Portland Mayor."

HER NEIGHBORHOOD: HILLSDALE

Meieran brings an unusual skill set to the County Commission. She's a working emergency room physician, who originally went to law school and became an attorney. After growing up in Palo Alto, California, just south of San Francisco, she graduated from UC Berkeley in English and economics before heading to Hastings Law School and then UC San Francisco medical school. She and her husband, Fred Cirillo, also a physician, moved to Southwest Portland from Cincinnati in 2006. Before long, Meieran was involved in the politics of parenting: co-chairing the PTA at Reike Elementary. She also immersed herself in Hillsdale community activities from the family's home above Terwilliger Boulevard.

Besides her regular meetings with Fritz at the Hillsdale McMenamins, Meieran can be seen shopping at the Burlingame Fred Meyer or the Hillsdale Farmers Market. Baker and Spice is her go-to spot for coffee. Her son Ben is entering eighth grade at Robert Gray Middle School and her daughter will be a junior at Wilson High School in September.

She told the SW Connection recently that she appreciates the Multnomah County system that assures representation for Southwest Portland. Meieran's district, District One, basically covers all of Multnomah County west of the Willamette River.

" Absolutely. (Representation) is so essential. That's why I really appreciate that at the County we are district-based. I feel it is my duty and responsibility to attend to the needs and allocate resources based on the needs of the county as a whole. But I think Southwest Portland is often sort of misunderstood," she explained.

"You know there's sort of a limited view of the diversity that Southwest and the rest of my district represent. So it is important to represent that view within that larger scheme of the county," she said, agreeing with others who have said many politicians have a perception of Southwest Portland as being affluent.

"We have the highest incomes in the West Hills and the lowest incomes downtown. There's a lot more economic diversity in Southwest Portland than people who don't live here realize," she said.

HER NUMBER ONE ISSUE

But if there's one issue with which she is most associated, it's mental health.

"As a county commissioner, I see from a policy standpoint how a lack of resources results in the worsening of our mental health crisis," she wrote in a recent opinion piece in the Oregonian. "And watching our Legislature profess to support mental health while proposing a substantial cut to the very community resources that can keep people out of the state hospital and out of jail, I am compelled to speak out."

Meieran spoke out about a budget-cutting plan hatched by Democratic leaders in the Legislature to cut $15.4 million of funding for Multnomah County mental health programs. She argued that the programs being cut — walk-in clinics, medical intervention teams on the street — are keeping people out of jails and hospitals. She teamed up with Rep. Cedric Hayden, R-Roseburg, to fight the cuts.

Right after the Legislature ended its session, she got word that half of the funding would be restored and "caseload forecasts" of how many people are using the services would be reviewed.

Asked if despite funding cuts to county mental health programs there was any good news, Meieran said, "The good news is, we do know what works. There are brilliant people doing the work on the front lines as well as experts who are involved in advocacy and administration in these areas. We need the resources to be able to do what works. We have new leadership at the county in mental and behavioral health. We have new Health Department leadership in general. There's a new behavioral health director at Oregon Health Authority for the first time in many, many years. I'm doing a lot of work for mental health systems transformation and I feel maybe the stars are beginning to align. There is so much work to be done."

Meieran added, "And there's the Buschong Building, (which the county has purchased in downtown Portland to provide walk-in mental health services and temporary shelter), the Blackburn Building (at 122nd and Burnside providing health care and housing) and, of course, Neighborhood House."

SHE SUPPORTS HIGHER DENSITY BUT…

On another set of issues of interest to her constituents — HB 2001, re-zoning, density — she says the county "doesn't have any official say" in how the recently passed, statewide re-zoning legislation will be implemented.

But Meieran supports HB 2001.

"It was a controversial bill for a reason and I understand a lot of those concerns and intricacies and I carry some of those concerns myself," she said. "Ultimately, I felt the need for middle income housing, for increased opportunity for people, is essential when looking at what the future holds.

However, I feel that there is huge potential for unintended consequences with this bill and it will really be important to monitor it very closely to make sure it's done with intention. One of the concerns I have is that it must impose certain requirements so that we get the infrastructure to match what we're doing."

Meieran went on to say, "In Multnomah Village, for example, we have dirt roads with potholes. We can't think about putting in high-density development without being able to accommodate the needs of people to walk around in their community and of kids to walk to school. Those things need to match up, so I understand the concerns. In my official capacity at the county, we really need to focus on those who are most vulnerable."

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