Candidates for Multnomah County Commission - District 1

A questionnaire was sent to candidates in the Portland-metro region, and below are the responses in regard to issues that are important to the Alliance and the business community.

* indicates Alliance endorsed candidate.

1. The Alliance’s primary focus for the 2016 election cycle will be to support those candidates and ballot measure proponents who clearly and publicly join us in opposing Measure 97, the gross receipts tax measure, which will be so detrimental to Oregon’s economy. What is your position on M97?
Sharon Meieran I have not made an endorsement in favor of or against Measure 97 (IP28). I am keenly aware of the devastating impact of years of underfunding our schools and services for those most in need, and I recognize the need for revenue to fund these essential services. However, I also recognize some of the significant issues associated with the measure. I welcome the opportunity to discuss this complex issue in more detail, however I would not want the Alliance to expect that I would actively oppose this measure.
Eric Zimmerman* I remember going door to door to fight against Measure 5 and I saw the impact it had on my public education. For years, state revenues have not kept up with the need for state services. I strongly support priority based budgeting and bringing the business, education, labor, and other stakeholder communities together to develop ways that will generate revenue for the state and in a way that will not stall our economic development and recovery. County leaders must have an eye toward improving the economic position of our residents so that less of them must rely on the county's social safety net. Measure 97 is not the solution to this problem and I do not support the current proposal. The expected pass through of costs onto consumers will impact those who struggle to make monthly payments for utilities and other household necessities. Moreover, there are a number of other critical conversations we will be having in coming years when it comes to labor and businesses: family leave, workforce training, and confronting climate change. All of these conversations will be harder if we are left with two entrenched camps after a bruising election.
2. The Value of Jobs Coalition's 2015 Middle-Income Jobs Report found that Portland-metro, like most of the nation, has seen low- and high-income jobs account for increasingly larger shares of the region’s overall employment base, while middle-income jobs, as a share of the region’s total employment, have dropped from 69 percent in 1980 to 57 percent in 2013. What would you do to increase the number of middle-income jobs in our region?
Sharon Meieran Middle class jobs come from growing local small businesses. I am in interested in talking with businesses and working with county agencies to address issues with permitting and fee structures. I would also be interested in using our position at the county to develop relationships with small and local businesses and give local businesses preference in county construction and service contracts.
Eric Zimmerman* I think there are a number of things we can do to provide middle-income jobs and The Value of Jobs coalition has done a great job outlining a number of them. One obvious one is we can do more to align educational and workforce opportunities to prepare people with the skills for the many open middle-income positions local employers are struggling to fill today. We also need to look thoughtfully at how we can protect and expand manufacturing and other industrial jobs that still pay a good wage even without a college degree. We must look out for our transportation infrastructure and how it relates to jobs – like the cascading effect of the loss of the Hanjin shipping contract at the Port of Portland. And we need to keep a careful eye on the efficiency and effectiveness of government programs, ensuring that we are not unintentionally weakening job creation in the community. The investment of public dollars into our public infrastructure can directly affect jobs in the community and contribute to more private economic development because we have a strong public infrastructure system.
3. The same Middle Income Jobs Report found that Portland’s housing prices are becoming increasingly out of reach not only for low-income households, but also for middle-income households. What would you do to address housing affordability for middle-income residents in our region?
Sharon Meieran I support up-front investment in affordable housing – and in particular ensuring people have the support they need to sustain their housing once they get it. This is an area where Multnomah County can have a particular impact. I think it’s critical to develop direct partnerships with developers to encourage mixed-use development and increase our stock of affordable housing and rentals. In addition to direct investment in affordable housing, there are other opportunities for creation of tax – and other – incentives for developers to build affordable units. While enacting strict rent controls is sometimes discussed, that would not be one of my first inclinations, as there are many examples where such policies have been proven to be counterproductive. This is a special area of concern to all of us who want to see Portland grow without losing our communities. I look specifically to PBA for partnership as we explore this discussion.
Eric Zimmerman* Meeting the housing needs of our middle class is a growing problem. We want the teachers, firefighters, and nurses that serve this community to be able to live here. Reversing the trend in affordable housing will require an all-hands-on-deck strategy that first and foremost must center on housing creation. Growth and migration are pushing prices up, and only increasing supply is going to address that accelerating demand. The County has an active role to play in that conversation, looking at land use issues, public support for housing creation, and working closely with our city, regional, and state partners to ensure policies are in alignment and not in tension with each other. The expansion of incentives, public capital investment, and proper implementation of future housing practices will be key to the County’s ability to push further development in the community.
4. The Alliance recently launched a campaign to advocate for more humane solutions for the hundreds of people experiencing homelessness, including indoor shelters, services for those who need them and enforcement against illegal behaviors. What specific actions would you take to help address our homeless emergency and would you do something to address the proliferation of camping in our public spaces?
Sharon Meieran I understand why people camp in our public spaces. If I were living on the street (particularly with my family) and had the opportunity to have any sort of shelter and privacy, I would pursue this, too.

Housing is a foundational need for families and individuals, and the predictability of a stable place to live is essential in preparing for getting good jobs, in retaining employment, and in ensuring children can do well in school.

I would welcome the opportunity to discuss my approach to the homelessness and affordable housing crisis in more detail. With regard to the specific issue of camping, I believe there needs to be enforcement of policy, however there needs to be concurrent availability to alternatives to support the individuals and families who will be displaced. Initially this will increase the need for temporary shelters, and I support creative efforts such as repurposing the Hansen Building in Northeast Portland. This was a County asset that was underutilized by the Sheriff’s office and will now be put to a new use as a homeless shelter in a part of the county in need of such a facility. As Commissioner, I would continue to look for new and innovative ways to use the county’s existing assets to better serve populations most in need.
Eric Zimmerman* I am supportive of public and private efforts to expand shelter spaces. I was active in securing funding for the creation of the Unity Center, so we can better identify the mental health needs of those living on the street. And I support the strategic vision of A Home For Everyone to move towards transitional housing as the touchstone for our work to address homelessness. I do not believe that public camping is a sustainable solution for addressing homelessness and I support enforcing the law when people engage in illegal activities. The creation of more shelter space is critical to moving our streets and neighborhoods back toward a livable and safe reality. As shelters are available, outreach personnel and law enforcement will have options as they encounter these pop-up camps that are becoming all too common place in our community. I want any road block to sheltering people and getting people off the streets removed, in order to bring serious solutions and real outcomes.
5. The Alliance focuses on small business prosperity, which is significantly impacted by the cumulative impact of taxes, fees and regulations that have grown in recent years. How will you work to reduce the fees, taxes and regulatory burdens of small businesses? And, would you support increasing the Business License Tax (BLT) owner’s compensation deduction to $125,000?
Sharon Meieran One of the hallmarks of all the work I do is that I collaborate, I partner, and I listen. As Commissioner, I would pledge to meet regularly with small business owners in Multnomah County to discuss the opportunities and challenges they face. I would want to discuss the BLT with business leaders, as I do not currently have specific expertise in this area. Business leaders should feel welcome to reach out to their elected officials, although I know that too often business leaders feel like they are being treated as outsiders in discussions. I’m going through this process now because when I win, I want business leaders to know that I see them as partners in so much of the work the County does.
Eric Zimmerman* I supported the move we made this past year from $92,000 to $100,000 for the owner’s compensation deduction. I am open to furthering that conversation, but just as I thought it was appropriate to weigh the effects of the changes last year I will as a Commissioner have the same deliberate approach. As Commissioner, I am committed to bringing a careful eye to the use of taxpayer dollars and effectiveness of county programs to reduce unnecessary expansion. I will work to promote transparency and productivity, ensuring that staff and contractors have the training and expertise to meet the needs of our residents, provide safe workplaces, and advance our values. I would be very supportive at looking at expanding the BIT deduction as we need to do more to support small businesses and startups in our community but I do not think listing exact numbers or promises is the right approach at this juncture.
6. The 2015 Economic Impacts of Congestion report shows that the Portland-region and the state of Oregon’s competitiveness is largely dependent on efficient transportation. Failure to adequately invest in the system could cost the Portland-metro region $822 million annually by 2040 and close to 6,000 jobs. Do you support investments in the transportation system to support freight movement and remove bottlenecks to the efficient movement of goods and people?
Sharon Meieran I support investment in our region’s transportation infrastructure, as it is critical to the economic growth of the city and county. These investments create temporary construction jobs, long-term jobs as a result of new and growing businesses, and help prepare the region for potential (and inevitable) threats such as earthquakes.
Eric Zimmerman* Yes. I see transportation as a critical part of the economic picture as gridlock and poor road conditions take a direct toll on the economy. I am particularly concerned about the impact of the loss of freight shipment through the Port. I also am very supportive of looking at the distribution of transportation assets in the metro region between the city, county, and state – looking to see if we can identify better alignments that would reduce costs on maintenance and upkeep. I also see investment in transportation infrastructure as an ongoing pipeline of family-wage jobs that will directly impact the economic health of our community.
7. We continue to look for opportunities to support alignment and efficiency in city and county services. In March 2013, then City Auditor, LaVonne Griffin-Valade found that the intergovernmental agreement between the city and the county does not address today’s realities and recommends that the jurisdictions work together to identify appropriate roles and responsibilities for each. In response, what opportunities, if any, do you see for alignment between the city and county?
Sharon Meieran As I mentioned above, I strongly believe in collaboration and working together to achieve common goals. I see tremendous opportunity to do this in conjunction with the cities in Multnomah County. In particular, I feel there are some models that show significant promise. The Joint Office of Homelessness is a huge opportunity to collaborate efficiently and effectively to address the most pressing issue facing our community. I am glad to see the County and the City of Portland are working together to repurpose the Hansen Building, and I’m proud of other housing successes the County has had under Chair Kafoury’s leadership.

As an emergency room doctor, one of the reasons I’m running for County Commissioner is to instigate this same kind of discussion among city and county program officials, law enforcement, and direct service providers about how we can build a cohesive mental health network that eliminates duplication and ensures we’re getting the biggest bang for our buck. I know that right now we are often spending the most money to do the least good. For instance, when I see a teenager with mental health problems brought into the ER and kept literally for weeks because there is no place to refer them out to, that is a bad use of our taxpayer dollars and a poor way to ensure we are helping the most people with always limited resources.
Eric Zimmerman* Yes. First and foremost I support the initial discussions happening right now about a “Lead Agency” between the City and County for the work being done on homelessness and housing. I think we are poorly served by separating duties within this field of work. Overall, we need to bring greater clarity to the roles of the county and the city and clarify the responsibilities between them. I was able to help us do that in the fight to end human trafficking. We have law enforcement, community justice, and social services all involved and all play a critical role. A fundamental review of the various duties is responsible oversight of government programs but is complicated because the County is home to several cities, not just the City of Portland. The elaborate tapestry of intergovernmental agreements and shared responsibilities does not always lead to efficient use of tax dollars or the best outcomes. My approach for future agreements will be a practical one that makes every effort to reduce overlapping expenditures.
8. The Alliance is committed to ensuring an adequate supply of shovel ready industrial lands in the Portland-metro region to support job retention and growth. Manufacturing, in particular, requires industrial land and provides higher wages and better benefits than non-manufacturing jobs, particularly for non-whites and non-English-speaking workers. What tools and strategies would you use to promote adequate employment industrial lands that are shovel ready for development?
Sharon Meieran Preparing for future growth requires long-term planning with all regional partners. As Commissioner, I would work with the Port of Portland and Metro to bring underutilized land into the region’s active inventory. I would like to understand more about how we can resolve the liability, environmental, and cost issues in brownfield sites. The availability of shovel-ready industrial land is one of the primary factors in a company’s decision to move to or expand in our county.
Eric Zimmerman* Land use is one of the most central responsibilities of the County. It is critical that we preserve natural spaces, but equally critical that we set aside enough land to meet our industrial, commercial, and residential needs as we grow. Shovel-ready available industrial land is critical to helping attract new employers to the area and allow existing area businesses to grow. I recognize this as we’ve done considerable work in this area through my work in Commissioner McKeel’s office, working to bring companies to East County. Currently I work with the Governor’s Regional Solutions team on projects in the metro area, including the unlocking of the Troutdale-Reynolds Industrial Park (TRIP) for future development. We need to look at doing more to develop brownfields, particularly along the Harbor, and bring a successful conclusion to the Superfund cleanup determination process.
9. How would you work with other jurisdictional partners to achieve mutual interests? How would you participate in regional coalition building?
Sharon Meieran Effective leadership at the county level necessitates building partnerships with the state and other local governments, as well as our business and non-profit sectors. I have a demonstrated record of working in collaboration with elected officials, non-profit organizations, businesses, healthcare organizations and others toward common goals. I have been endorsed in my race by elected officials such as Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury, Congressman Earl Blumenauer, Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici, State Senator Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, State Representatives Mitch Greenlick, Alissa Keny-Guyer, Lew Frederick and others because they have actually worked with me and have seen how I collaborate to get things done.
Eric Zimmerman* I believe that I am the candidate best positioned in this race to achieve regional coalition building. My current job has given me the privilege with working with the people and governments of East Multnomah County and throughout the state. And I will note I believe I am the only candidate in this race touting their support by leaders from other counties in the region – Clackamas County Commissioner Martha Schrader and Clackamas County leaders Brent Barton, Larry Morgan, and Jon Gustafson. I would want to work with our partners in the region when it comes to transportation, land use planning, health care delivery, and economic development. The Metro region will truly succeed or fail together. I’ve learned that often the most important role that Multnomah County will play in future economic development opportunities is to remove barriers to future growth and better industries, in tax structure to allow convention market expansion, or by advocating for all of our cities together when Metro, ODOT, and the Port of Portland are making regional decisions. I have solid relationships across the region to be the voice we need for the inner and downtown business districts.