Harrington focuses on pandemic and equity reforms in year-end message
With a pandemic, widespread protests for racial and social justice, Oregon's most devastating wildfire season on record, and a polarizing presidential election, 2020 has been possibly the most turbulent year ever for most living Oregonians.
Kathryn Harrington, chair of the Washington County Board of Commissioners, wants her constituents to know she's committed to adapting to the county's changing needs.
"I am not afraid to be a change agent," Harrington said during an end-of-the-year video message released Monday, Nov. 30.
At the end of the second year of her four-year term, Harrington described what the county has done this year to be responsive to the pandemic and calls for increased equity and accountability, and what the county plans to do going forward.
She began the message by "stating the obvious" with regard to the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed 104 Washington County residents as of Dec. 1. Infections are at their highest level yet. The first case was detected in Oregon at a Hillsboro hospital in February.
"These have been incredibly hard times for everyone," Harrington said. "For those who are struggling to recover, for those who have lost jobs, lost incomes, or have had to close their businesses. It's especially hard for the families and friends who have lost loved ones."
Harrington thanked healthcare workers and county staff who have been responding to the pandemic.
She also thanked Clean Water Services, which manages the county's wastewater system, for playing a key role in the county's acquisition and distribution of personal protective equipment. The agency purchased and helped distribute 500,000 masks in public spaces as the pandemic was first starting to take hold.
Harrington highlighted the county's business recovery centers, which opened in Forest Grove, Hillsboro, Beaverton and Tualatin in June and received many of those county-acquired masks. The county funneled $500,000 of its distribution of funds from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act to the recovery centers, which have helped businesses stay afloat as they continue to face dramatic losses in revenue and operating restrictions.
After mentioning that she canceled a "long-planned trip to visit friends" in accordance with Gov. Kate Brown's recent two-week freeze, Harrington said, "It really was the right thing to do. Like you, I'm a bit fatigued by these restrictions, but we cannot let our guard down."
Pivoting from the pandemic, Harrington said the aftermath of May's police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis "has brought people together to advocate for social justice and to be allies for change.
"I firmly stand with the protesters who declare that 'Black lives matter.'"
Harrington said she's proud of the work officials have done to increase equity and diversity at the county.
"It's not enough to denounce racism, we need to own space active anti-racists," Harrington said. "I'll continue to ensure my words are not performative but rather backed up with action."
Months before the protests, the county passed an equity resolution, which Harrington said contained ambitious goals and resulted in funding five positions at the county's new Office of Equity, Inclusion and Community Engagement.
The county also hired a chief equity and inclusion officer, Latricia Tillman, who is "in the process of getting her team on board," Harrington said.
She also highlighted the election of Nafisa Fai, who will replace Dick Schouten as commissioner for District 1.
"Fai will add a diverse voice that has long been missing on the governing board," Harrington said. Fai is an immigrant to the U.S. who lived in a Kenyan refugee camp after escaping war-torn Somalia.
Harrington said the county has updated its budget process to be more accountable to residents — one of the main changes advocates for police reform and increased equity have called for.
The county hosted four "community investment conversations" in November to give people an opportunity to make sure their values are reflected in the budget, Harrington said.
Looking ahead to 2021, Harrington said she's "reminded what makes our community strong is our diversity, what makes our community strong is standing up against racism and inequity, and what makes our community strong is doing this work together."
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