Preserving Small Farms in Gales Creek, Oregon: An interview with Gales Creek residents

Nathan Williams: Can you tell me about yourselves and the work you do in Gales Creek?

Anne Berblinger: Rene and I have Gale’s Meadow Farm. We grow organic heirloom vegetables on about seven acres, with woods and hedgerow that are devoted to wildlife. We sell directly at farmers’ markets and to restaurants. Almost all of our employees have been aspiring farmers. We’re a learning farm; for the past three years we’ve had interns through the Rogue Farm Corps

Chas Hundley: I’ve lived in Gales Creek all my life. My family has been in the Gales Creek Valley since 1881. I’m a journalist. I run a local paper in Gales Creek and one in Banks and surrounding communities.

Sue Vosberg: I run Forest Grove Tax Service, and specialize in helping farmers, foresters, and small businesses. We bought our place here in 1976. We had a solar design business. In 1988 we started the nursery. We specialized in things that didn’t need a greenhouse and that wouldn’t be competing with Colombia and Ecuador, stuff that liked Oregon, like phlox, solidaster, peonies, and berries. Now my husband’s semi-retired and still growing half a dozen things that we sell through a friend.

Aurora Parras: I did the Rogue Farm Corps program last season and I loved it so much and I love Oregon so much. So, I came here to live and pursue farming and I’m trying to start my own baking and pastry business now.

Joyce Sauber: My family came here in 1864. I live next to the family farm, not on it. I’ve been here for eighty-three years. I do Gales Creek history and I volunteer at the school. I have an acre of ground and grow a big organic garden. I’ve seen a lot of history in Gales Creek, seen a lot of buildings and people come and go, and I fought for a lot of things. I never thought I would protest on the steps of the capitol, but I did.

Lis Monahan: My husband Steve and I operate Fraga Farmstead Creamery. We purchased the farm ten years ago, and we’ve been going at the current scale for six years. We make eight different kinds of organic goat cheese; we’re the only certified organic goat cheese in Oregon and possibly the West Coast.

Anna Lund: I’ve moved and come back. I really like the Gales Creek community. I was drawn here to study in Forest Grove. I’ve lived in a lot of places, but I’m glad to call this area home. I live in Hillsboro now, but I work and play here.

Chas Hundley: I helped start the Gales Creek Chamber of Commerce in my teens. I’m chamber president and I run our local citizens participation Preserving Small Farms in Gales Creek, Oregon An interview with Gales Creek residents by Nathan Williams organization, a program through Washington County. It’s neighbors discussing livability issues and connecting with elected officials. We’ve met with state representatives, Metro councilors, the fire board, and others. We meet once a month here and in Verboort.

Covered rows reduce water usage. Photo: Nathan Williams

Nathan Williams: I’m a Portland State University student studying urban planning, so I’m interested in the planning issues in Gales Creek.

Anne Berblinger: I can talk a little bit about that. You’re familiar with the 2050 process, where a few years ago urban reserves and rural reserves were set up in the three core metro counties. At the first public hearing, they had a map with one color for urban reserves, another color for incorporated cities, one for urban reserves where the cities could expand, and another color for rural reserves that were supposed to preserve farm and other resource land. But the whole Gales Creek Valley was white. I asked the Washington County planner why, and he said, “It’s all a flood plain, it’ll never develop, so we’re not going to pay attention to it.” Several people testified and it turned into the color for rural reserves.

It’s the greatest place to grow trees, and should be preserved as farmland. Having the land use restrictions is important but not sufficient. Land use laws and exclusive-farm-use zoning, held land values down and allowed ordinary people like us to buy land here in 1991. But the value now, even exclusive-farmuse land, has gone through the roof. It means that owners are older than the average age of Oregon farmers—over sixty. Access to the land for young people is really limited. It’s a really big problem. In order for a farmer to pay a mortgage on land, farming has to be a lot more lucrative than it has been.

Nathan Williams: What do you think the biggest challenges to farmland preservation in Gales Creek are?

Anne Berblinger: I think the price of land is one, and the reluctance of farmers’ offspring to go into farming. On the other hand, there are people, like Aurora and Anna, who are just really excited about going into farming. We’ve probably had fifteen or more young people, not from farming families, who have worked on our farm, under the Rogue Farm Corps or otherwise, who really want to be farmers. But opportunities like we offer are few and far between.

Lis Monahan: But even people who are from farming families, including big farming, are trying to get land here and can’t. One young farmer put a mobile home on his parents’ property to save money. But they’re not feeling hopeful, because the closest large property is $600,000, and even if you’re a big farmer with big combines it’s too expensive. That’s a thing I find shocking. I always think, “We little farmers, we’re struggling financially, but maybe the big guys are doing okay.” But you talk to them and find out they can’t go on vacation and have to do all their own welding because they can’t afford to use a machine shop.

So the financial rewards of farming are another problem. In other businesses, if you rent retail space, the price is going to have some relationship to the business opportunity, to traffic flow, or estimated sales of that retail space. When you go into farming, the land price stands in no relationship to the land’s likely yield.

We’re just outside of the metro area, but we’re still going to have the new minimum wage. It’s going to be difficult for farmers to hire help. There are downsides to being close to an urban area. Short drives to the farmer’s market, that’s good, but the land prices!

Anne Berblinger: Our booth at Hollywood is surrounded by farms from outside the metro area that are not paying the same wages we are. At Cannon Beach they’re a rural area, so they pay the minimum of the new minimum wage. We try to compete on the quality of our prod – uct, because we can’t compete on price. We’ve got to charge more than the other guys.

Chas Hundley: I think another threat to continued farming out here is that many farms are multi-generational. It’s always been that way. You’re more likely to become a farmer if your parents were farmers. But out here, when you grow up and marry, you can’t say, “I want to continue farming with my family, ” because you have to find somewhere to live, and you can’t just build a house out here, because the land is zoned for exclusive farm use. It’s incredibly difficult to build another dwelling. And even if you do, the costs are astronomical. But you can’t afford to just go out and buy property near the farm. My family’s been here for 140 years and I can’t afford to live in my own community. Now imagine being somebody who wants to continue farming but your parents are still around, still using the house, you’ve got three or four siblings. You can’t all live there. What are you going to do?

Lis Monahan: On a farm you are allowed to have an additional dwelling for the retiring farmers. But it has to be immobile. I mean there is that opportunity

Chas Hundley: In order to afford working on the land, you also have to have a day job. We have that kind of mixed economy; it has made it possible for us to be here in the first place

Sue Vosberg: Yeah, that was our case too, and we pulled money out of our IRAs back in the day, just to make it. It’s tough, especially the first ten years or so. So I think that’s a trend that’s been going for a long time.

Nathan Williams: Very few families get their income solely from the farm.

Sue Vosberg: I would say that’s really true. Forestry’s even worse, because you’re talking fifty years. Everybody asks us, “Well, when are you going to make money off those trees?” We didn’t do it just for the money, obviously. One of the reasons we did it is to help the watershed here, for the creek to come back. But it’s not a get-rich-quick thing.

Joyce Sauber: I think really until the 1950s or 1960s people could make a living off their farm. But after the war, things began to change.

Nathan Williams: Is there anything else for that question, challenges for farmland preservation?

Sue Vosberg: It would be an interesting study. There have been creative ideas like land trusts and ways to go through Adelante Mujeres like our neighbors, who leased land to a married couple. And I know the forestry people have talked about trying to get carbon credits worked out, because when you plant a forest you’re sequestering carbon. But that hasn’t happened yet.

Don’t they have some kind of a thing outside Paris where farms with small holdings are subsidized? Maybe we need to do that as a society—just have a bigger vision

Anne Berblinger: Portland State and others from Rogue Farm Corps and Oregon State University actually did a whole study about farmland in Oregon. All of the things people are saying are in that study, but we do need creative ideas. I had the concept that Metro should issue bonds and buy farmland to lease long-term to new farmers.

Sue Vosberg: There you go.

Lis Monahan: Friends of Family Farmers did a forum on that issue. I remember that there’s an eighty-eighty rule. You have to have eighty acres to establish your residence or $80,000 in net farm sales. So, potentially, you could farm land but not live on it. That was a sore point with aspiring farmers. One speaker said, with the increasing value of land, lawyers and dentists would buy the larger parcels and turn around and lease the land to beginning farm – ers. Someone piped up in the audience, “That’s serfdom!”

Anne Berblinger: And when has that even happened? Instead, retired executives buy land and plant grapes.

Aurora Parras: Or trees, I’ve seen people plant trees—huge swaths and a mansion. “Oh, what a waste!”

Sue Vosberg: I do think the vineyard land prices are having an impact.

Anne Berblinger: We believe that the property next to us, which was a nursery, is going to be a marijuana growing operation.

Sue Vosberg: That’s a growth industry.

Anne Berblinger: I wasn’t paying attention at all when they did the land use laws, but that’s an industrial process. It should be in industrial parks. It should not be on farm – land, because they pave it over and build buildings. They use a lot of electricity and water, too.

Craig Lund: There’s a whole bunch of buildings in Forest Grove zoned industrial that are empty or barely used. They would be perfect for that kind of thing. But instead they’re using prime areas that should be used for food or lumber production.

Rene Berblinger: And many of these mari – juana growers are coming from out of state with big money.

Joyce Sauber: Another issue in Gales Creek is water rights. You guys have had your water shut off mid-summer—we all have. My water right goes back to the 1930s, and they still shut it down. So you have to won – der how the people growing marijuana will water it.

Rene Berblinger: We’ve got a three-thousand-gallon tank for our little spring here, because we got cut off.

Anne Berblinger: It used to be that the water wasn’t shut off at all, or not until the end of August, which wasn’t a problem. But two years ago it was shut off in June. The crops aren’t even established by then.

Rene Berblinger: Now we do drip irrigation almost exclusively. We’re allowed to use our well, and we have the spring, so we collect water.

Anne Berblinger: There are a lot of advantages to the drip irrigation. It would be really nice if there were some rewards for conservation.

Nathan Williams: I originally became interested in the story in terms of Forest Grove and the expansion of their urban growth boundary and how development is moving in this direction. So, how do you feel about that?

Sue Vosberg: The water limitations will prevent it from moving toward Gales Creek. My understanding is there’s no chance of getting a water line up the valley

Gales Creek Community Church of God. Photo: M. O. Stevens, Creative Commons

Anne Berblinger: On other sides of Forest Grove, expansion is a big issue, and there is a whole other story there. And part of it is, again, making farms economically viable. There’s a project going on now called Tuality Plains Great Grains. It’s spearheaded by Charlene Murdock and Richard White, who live in Forest Grove and have a one-acre farm inside Forest Grove. They’re working with a third-generation farmer who has 600 acres right on the city limits. He’s always been a conventional commodity farmer, but he wanted to start growing things people could actually eat and enjoy. He connected with Charlene, and last winter he planted six acres of red fife and some kind of barley. Charlene has hooked him up with bakers, a brewery, and a distillery in Forest Grove who use his grain locally. So this is another agricultural innovation that may make it viable to keep a farm going right there on the edge of the city.

Craig Lund: The urban growth boundary may not be moving just due to logistical and state law issues, but it’s really jarring to drive over David Hill Road and suddenly see a new town where farms, fields, and forests used to be.

Lis Monahan: It’s coming. They’ve done the infrastructure for the last three years and now all the houses are popping up.

Craig Lund: We say that they won’t come out here, but then I get that the cold sweat when I’m driving over David Hill. Suddenly Forest Grove is a lot closer than it used to be. My dad grew up in Gales Creek; areas that people used to call Gales Creek are now Forest Grove. He was close to the city limits and it just grew up around him.

Lis Monahan: You can take a different vantage point on that too. For the small farmers to be viable they need to grow crops that are locally consumed and marketed directly to consumers. So, maybe a return to farm stands. Farm stands would be frequented by people who live in big developments. Also, if you have an aspect of agritainment—and while I think none of us want to host weddings on our farms and we hope that nobody ever starts doing that—I think Gales Creek might benefit from an influx of new residents and new paychecks in Forest Grove, people who spend their money locally.

Craig Lund: Go ask David Hill Winery how their business is doing since the development there. It is packed every day that they’re open. Lis Monahan: And they just called me this week asking to carry our cheese. The perfect example.

Craig Lund: There are definite positives. But it makes me nervous, because they keep pushing out. Right now they’ve stopped and they say they won’t move, but what happens in thirty years?

Sue Vosberg: Well, I think if you look at the geology, for instance David Hill, and the fact that there’s no water. It’s very expensive to build there. In the 1970s the lower lots were cheaper there, but as they moved up the hill, more water pumping was needed and the lots got more expensive. So from an urban planning viewpoint, the land use laws, and the logistics of infrastructure, I don’t think the expansion is going to happen in my lifetime.

Craig Lund: It’s my problem; I’m twenty-two and I’m going to be here until I die.

Sue Vosberg: I hope it doesn’t happen, because this area should stay rural.

Joyce Sauber: At one time there was a dam planned for across where Cox Road is. It would have flooded the whole valley. People were really concerned. But then they put in Highway 6, and the dam wasn’t viable.

Craig Lund: Yes, there’s too much stuff out here now for them to feasibly flood the entire Gales Creek Valley

Nathan Williams: Well, thank you all for taking time out of your busy day to talk with us.

Photo: Nathan Williams

The Myth of Portlandia: Portlandia, Grimm, Leverage

An interview with Carl Abbott and Karin Magaldi
by Sara Gates

Carl Abbott and Karin Magaldi
Carl Abbott and Karin Magaldi

Carl Abbott is a professor of Urban Studies and Planning at Portland State University and a local expert on the intertwining relationships between the growth, urbanization, and cultural evolutions of cities. Since beginning his tenure at PSU in 1978, Dr. Abbott has published numerous books on Portland itself, as well as the urbanization of the American West; his most recent is Portland in Three Centuries: The Place and the People (2011).

Karin Magaldi is the department chair of Theatre & Film at PSU, with extensive experience in teaching screenwriting and production. In addition to directing several PSU departmental productions, she has also worked with local theatre groups including Portland Center Stage, Third Rail Repertory, and Artists Repertory Theatre.

Recently, Metroscape writer Sara Gates sat down with Dr. Abbott and Professor Magaldi to discuss a growing influence on Portland culture, both as it is perceived by the rest of the country and changing from within: a trio of television shows that are based and filmed in the metropolitan region. The conversation was edited for length and clarity.

Editor’s Note: at publication, it was announced that Leverage would not be renewed.
For a more analytical approach that explores our region’s demography and economics and the myth of Portlandia, go to the Metropolitan Knowledge Network at:

Sara Gates: Within the last two years, three major television shows have based their productions here in Portland. How do you think the way Grimm, Leverage, and, of course, Portlandia depict the city might affect the way the rest of the country thinks about us? Karin, you’re laughing already!

Karin Magaldi: Well, I’ve seen some articles that refer to this, looking at Portland from the outside, and almost all of them talk about Portlandia and the scene from the first episode with the couple ordering chicken at a restaurant!

It seems as though all of the stereotypes of Portland are writ large, and they are ridiculous. But, there is always a truth to ridiculousness.

Carl Abbott: There certainly is a cult of local food, and we see it in farmer’s markets and food carts, and in the availability of the agriculture that allows people to really focus on being “locavores.” So there is a nugget of truth from which Portlandia can extrapolate a ridiculous response. Which, of course, is what the show is all about.

What strikes me, though, is that only certain aspects of the show are all that Portland-centric. The feminist bookstore, for example, could be almost any place. It could certainly be in Portland, but it’s not so Portland-rooted. Or in the second season, there is a couple who goes on a Battlestar Galactica binge, and watches the entire series in seven days straight. Sure, there’s a science fiction and graphic novel community in Portland where you can see that theme, but there are TV nuts everywhere. People can do that anyplace.

KM: I used to live in Santa Cruz –

CA: Ooh! The Portland of California!

KM: Exactly. It really is the Portland of California. And between the two, I don’t see much difference. So when I started watching Portlandia, I thought, yeah, that’s Portland, but it’s also Santa Cruz. And it’s also the Bay Area. There are pockets of these things a lot of places.

CA: I think what’s curious about Portland is that it acts like a university town without the classic university. Not to imply that Portland State isn’t a university, but it’s not like Cornell in Ithaca, or the University of Wisconsin in Madison, where the university is central to the life and identity of the city.

Here, Portland State is not central to the identity of Portland, yet in Portlandia’s view we act like a big, overgrown Santa Cruz or Berkeley. And they act pretty funny in Berkeley!

KM: That’s true — I went to Berkeley!

SG: What about within the Portland area? Portlandia obviously has been well received, with viewing parties in bars. Leverage and Grimm haven’t had quite the same impact on Portlanders. Why do you think that is?

KM: We love to laugh at ourselves. And it’s a certain kind of person who gets into those parties and laughs at themselves: “Hahaha, we’re great!”

But, I do love watching Grimm to see all my friends, because so many local theatre actors are involved in Grimm. Some of them are continuing characters, and lots play bad guys, which is really fun to see.

SG: Does the theatre community embrace Grimm, and watch it regularly?

KM: I think they watch to see their friends. They watch Grimm and say, “Oh! It’s so-and-so!” And my students will often say, “I was on Grimm! Watch next week’s episode!”

I just love the way they portray Portland, its residential streets. I love the way they light houses on Grimm. I love watching it to see all my friends. And they hire our students, too.

SG: Do you think these three shows filming here over the last few years has changed the way students think about working in film? Does it seem more feasible to them now?

KM: Absolutely. There’s no question. We have a brand new film major that started in 2007 and because of that, we have students working in internships behind the scenes as grips or in tech roles, well as actors in front of the camera. They’re able to network and make connections and it’s lovely in terms of production, the way they can get in. It’s exciting for our students.

CA: And in economic terms, we’re building a critical mass of professionals—not only actors—that can provide the lights, and scout locations, and negotiate with homeowners to film there.

KM: People to find these lovely homes and then people to light them!

CA: Films have been made here for years, but it will be one movie one year, and then a couple years later another. Gus Van Sant himself couldn’t support a whole infrastructure. You need lots of filmmakers and TV shows to turn into Vancouver.

KM: And our governors have been supporting filmmaking. I understand Leverage, which is more interiors and you don’t see the outside as much as Grimm, and at first it wasn’t situated in Portland. And now this year, it’s not only filmed in Portland but set here, too.

SG: Right, now Leverage has even started basing storylines in our local landmarks and history. For instance, they recently did an episode about D.B. Cooper, the hijacker who jumped out of an airplane in the 1970s and was never seen again. What impact do you think this sort of local history has on people who think the Pacific Northwest is just a mysterious little corner of the country where Bigfoot lives?

CA: Is there really anything except Bigfoot? DB Cooper is a kind of Bigfoot. It’s in the legend category. I mean, who knows? But the guy jumped out of the plane and died — at least that’s what I think happened. That, I think, plays to the mysteriousness of this cold, wet, damp, kind of foggy, mysterious kind of place, which is what Grimm does.

KM: Yes, absolutely. Grimm doesn’t skewer, necessarily, what we are here. What I find very, very interesting is the fairy tale and fantasy side of Grimm, and the way they use Portland as the backdrop to the sinister happenings.

CA: It’s like the way The X-Files ambiance came from filming in Vancouver, B.C. Lots of dark places, lots of mysterious settings. Similarly, that plays on Portland and Oregon as the not-sophisticated. It’s not New York. It’s not Los Angeles. It’s this other place, where Bigfoot walks.

KM: Where myth is born. There could be legends, and there’s something darker underneath the surface. You certainly see that in Grimm where faces go through transformations and you see the masks of its monsters.

CA: And of course the Northwest is full of vampires. Forks, Washington [the setting for the vampire saga Twilight] is supposed to be the dampest part of these places, the dampest place in the country that you could find. Whereas Portland has the city and its scenery, but then 20 minutes outside you have some very fairytale-like environments.

SG: So these days we are being portrayed quite differently than the darker films Gus Van Sant was making here twenty years ago, where the seediness of Portland was central to their edge. Now we have Portlandia, which is like visual candy, and Grimm is essentially a fairytale. Do you think that reflects the way Portland has changed?

CA: The seedy element is harder to find. And the core of a lot of cities has gone through that kind of process. It’s hard to find.

KM: When I think about My Own Private Idaho [Van Sant’s 1991 drama], which I use in film classes, the underbelly and the youth culture is still here, but it’s not as visible downtown. I think it has shifted to a different place in the city.

CA: Scattered, maybe. Although, I read in the paper this morning about a confrontation between street kids and food cart owners.

KM: So it’s still there, but maybe it’s being portrayed in a different way. It seems like a bigger sociological question.

CA: It’s true. And do you recognize a My Own Private Idaho character or a Drugstore Cowboy character in shows like Leverage or Grimm?

KM: No. They definitely don’t portray characters like that. Portlandia especially is a stand-up comedy routine, and the joke is on Portland. So they don’t do gritty social realism.

SG: Has that removed this idea of Portland as a gritty kind of place in the national consciousness? We used to be known as the city where Courtney Love and Kurt Cobain met, and now we’re known for making pickles.

CA: I don’t know a whole lot about the current music scene, but there certainly is a long distance between Courtney Love and Colin Meloy of The Decemberists writing a children’s fantasy novel about Forest Park [2011’s Wildwood].

KM: Right! It’s a very different sensibility. It’s a good question – what is it that shifts those perceptions? Is it Portland itself changing, or the national perception just looking for entertainment?

CA: On the gritty side, it’s an interesting question. Twenty years ago Ursula Le Guin collaborated with a photographer on a book about Thurman Street, going from the river up to Willamette Heights. It was a very gritty kind of street they were portraying. It was pre-Pearl District, just before that change really began. It’s another example of a very different way of perceiving the city.

In a sense what Portlandia does is remind people of that… in order to satirize the city in this way, there must be something that has changed. Viewers elsewhere are primed to accept that yes, this could be Portland. And you wouldn’t have been able to make this twenty years ago.

There are probably the same kinds of nutsy people hanging out in Indianapolis but people would say “Indianapolis? Bah! But Portland, yeah, I’ve heard that about Portland.” There is sort of a re-affirming cycle. And it’s true – all the statistics show – that over the last 20 years Portland has been attracting college-educated young people.

KM: I read one study that said the median age here is about 35. People come here to open food carts, be writers, join the music scene, and now we have a film scene beginning to happen.

CA: People know that maybe Portland’s a place to get into the film and TV industry. Things are happening there, and there can’t be too many people there with the same film degree they have from NYU or whatever. They think it’ll be easier to break in in Portland than in Los Angeles. Certainly cheaper to live.

KM: People from L.A. are moving up here, because it’s not as difficult to break into the scene there. It’s a smaller pool here, but there are still opportunities. Our film major at Portland State was originally projected in the first five years to have 50 students. We now have over 300. It went through the roof.

SG: Do you find many out-of-state students coming for film?

KM: Yeah, we have a lot of out-of-state, and in-state too. And now that films have all gone digital, there is so much that students can do cheaply that they couldn’t a long time ago. And they know there are some opportunities here. Just think about all the different film festivals Portland hosts now.

SG: What role do you think the tax incentives the state provides to the film industry plays? The legislature is reviewing them for the next budget, but they’re capped at $6 million. For instance, one new TNT drama is based in a Portland hospital, but they’re filming in L.A. because the incentive money ran out.

KM: Yes, there’s a cap, and the money ran out. These three shows have gobbled it up.

SG: Do you think raising those incentives makes sense?

KM: Absolutely. It’s less expensive to film here, but without incentives, it’s hard to convince financiers to base production here.

SG: What about economics? What effect do you think an increasing film industry would have in terms of attracting more industry?

KM: I have to speak from what I know, and we keep growing. We’re not stopping. And if you couple that with increased tax incentives and the film festivals we keep starting, I see that synergy only promoting more growth. I think a cap of film incentives is the only thing that could stop that.

CA: And we have this crop of film majors who will, to be honest, work cheap!

KM: Yes! I mean, I don’t want to promote the abuse of interns, but I think it can work really well for all parties because internships provide these amazing connections and introductions for students, and help keep costs down for film crews.

CA: Another thing about Leverage— which I have not watched consistently because it’s not a very good show — is that to set a show like that in Portland, I think it recognizes that we are a big enough city to supply those stories. For instance, if you want a CSI-type of show, it’s CSI in Las Vegas, Miami, New York… but CSI Topeka wouldn’t be very convincing. So, Portland has to be big enough to have the plausibility.

SG: Do you think that would have happened ten years ago?

CA: In terms of size, yes… but I think it’s a change of recognition. Probably in the last 15 years, Portland has started making an impression on people who don’t know geography at all. There are people who knew that there was a big city somewhere out north of San Francisco, and they figured out it was Seattle. If you’re from New York, you had a hard time holding in your mind that there could be multiple big cities out in this cold, wet part of the country. And you knew it was Seattle because of the Space Needle, or Bill Gates, or knowing they made airplanes. They needed something iconic to hold onto to keep that recognition. And now, people know that there is a Portland.

KM: And I think it’s fascinating because we’ve got three very different TV programs. There’s Leverage with the big-city feel. And there’s Grimm, which keys into the whole fairy-tale aspect. And there’s Portlandia, which is a standup comedy routine about all the silliness of Portland. And the city can sustain all three of those images. That’s fascinating… we’re big enough.

SG: You sound proud.

KM: Yeah! I am!

SG: Most of Portland seems to take a certain pride in all the attention being paid to the city by television audiences. Do you think the surrounding suburbs and counties that are part of the metro area feel neglected?

CA: In general? Probably. In the last election, Clackamas County voters were definitely saying, “We don’t want to get Portlandized”. And some of it is cultural. There’s an idea that “If Portland is really like these Portlandia people, we don’t want them out here!” There’s always been that city/suburbs idea.

Portlandia obviously is focused on the city, because I don’t think there’s a whole lot of Portlandia fodder in Gresham. But because of their focus, the other shows can be anywhere, and people can identify with them a little easier. There are criminals and bad guys and fraudsters that sometimes hang out in the suburbs!

SG: Right — Leverage did an episode recently about sabotaging a big-box retail outlet out in the suburbs to save the local mom-and-pop hardware stores.

CA: All right! There’s an urban-studies theme!

SG: Any other thoughts on Portland and its TV image?

CA: Well, we’ve had this kind of hip, progressive, cool brand, and simultaneously this idea of being a well-planned city with lots of participation: kind of wonky and less cool. I think the show we could host is something about bureaucrats and city planning – kind of an urban Parks and Recreation.

KM: We should pitch a spin-off! If you can do all those CSI’s, why not a Parks and Rec: Portland?

State of Flux: An interview with former Secretary of State Phil Keisling

The nation may be out of a recession — officially — but times are still tough for Oregon. Per capita income is just 90% of the national average, while the state’s unemployment rate hovers stubbornly at 10%. Voters voiced their displeasure last fall by ousting incumbent lawmakers left and right. Republicans gained an equal share of the Oregon House of Representatives, while Democrats barely held on to the Senate and governorship. Going forward, key challenges for legislators on both sides of the aisle will be narrowing a yawning budget gap and creating more family-wage jobs, says Phil Keisling, who served as Oregon’s Secretary of State from 1991 to 1999 and recently joined Portland State University’s Mark O. Hatfield School of Government. Perhaps the biggest challenge of all will be putting partisanship on the shelf. In the following interview with Metroscape, Keisling weighs in on politics, poverty and public service. The interview has been edited for space.

MB: To start off with, let’s talk about your new job. In July, you joined Portland State University as the first permanent director of the Hatfield School’s Center for Public Service. What’s the center’s mandate, and what are some of the projects you’re working on now?

PK: The general mission of the center is to connect the extraordinary assets of the university, specifically the Hatfield School of Government — faculty and students — with the real-world problems of the public and private sector — governments and nonprofits. These real-world problems seem to be getting a good deal more complicated and difficult, rather than easier, as we move forward. We’ve identified three broad categories. One is very obvious, and that is education and degree programs. We run the executive master in public administration degree for full-time, working professionals in the public/nonprofit sector who want to get additional knowledge and get the credential. Many of them have just a bachelor’s degree. Or, if they have a master’s, it’s just very domain-specific — for example, someone who’s a biologist in a fish and wildlife department but who’s looking at managing. Portland State has the only program of this kind in Oregon. It’s very much targeted at people who have 10-plus years of [professional] experience.

We also have an array of training programs in leadership development. For example, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, every year for the last decade, has had us put 12-15 people through a leadership- development program that’s co-produced. This means that our faculty members sit down with their key managers and work on a shared curriculum that people use to help identify the next generation of leaders, push them forward, and give them more skills and knowledge.

We also have international programs. We see leadership development and what we offer not being confined solely within the borders of Oregon. In fact, one of our professors here, Marcus Ingle, has been working with colleagues on a Ford Foundation grant that involves a new leadership program called Emerge. We’re field-testing it in Vietnam. We’re working with the Ho Chi Minh Academy helping them development the leadership skills for the challenges they face as an emerging country, particularly around sustainable development — economic, environmental and social issues.

The third broad category is what I call research and consulting. We do very specific, tailored projects for both government and non-profit organizations. We’re talking with some folks in the non-profit world about creating a “State of the Nonprofit” report to benchmark a lot of key metrics about the impact and reach of nonprofits here in Oregon. We helped Clackamas County evaluate the results of a four-day work week pilot project. They used our evaluation and decided to go forward with it on a permanent basis.

There are probably 15 discreet programs here. Some are very specific about topics. For example, we have one focused around the “smart grid,” which is fast emerging as part of what we call the “new energy economy.” We offer programs that take natural resource managers on our field trips, one week at time, three times a year, to look at what we call “wicked” problems on the ground.

MB: You mentioned “smart” grids. You were in the technology sector prior to coming to PSU. What spurred you to make the switch from hightech to higher education?

PK: Yes, I spent 10 years as an executive with a software services company based in Beaverton, called CorSource Technology Group. We did a lot of computer software programming work on behalf of clients. I enjoyed the time immensely, but at the end of the day, I love public policy issues. I made a decision at the age of 55, the kids were beginning to get off to college, that it was time for me to return to my first love in life. I was talking to a lot of people about what to do next, and someone mentioned this PSU job. I threw my hat in the ring. It’s a wonderful opportunity, and it’s an institution I’ve increasingly grown to respect over the years. And though I’ve been a Democrat for virtually my whole life — Mark Hatfield, for whom this school is named — is one of my political heroes.

MB: Let’s turn to state politics for a moment. During the next legislative session, the Oregon House of Representatives will be split evenly between Democrats and Republicans; Democrats will have a slim majority in the state Senate. … You studied pre-election and exit polling, so what were the biggest local and national forces that led to the GOP gains in the November election?

We are a poor state, economically. That has enormous implications for how we think, and understanding that this is not something that you just flip a switch on.

PK: To me, the most interesting set of statistics goes as follows: CNN does extensive exit polls on a national basis. In the 2006 election, those who described themselves as Democrats or Republicans voted about 90-93% for their tribes. That was also true in 2008 and 2010. In 2006, about 30%, though, of American voters described themselves as independents. And in 2006, they voted 58 to 39% for Democratic candidates. But wait: I think what they were really doing, more precisely, is they were voting against Republican candidates. That’s the important distinction to make. In 2010, that group went 18 points against the Democrats — a swing of 37%. It’s a remarkable swing, if you think about it. The other 70% of voters basically stayed static and shouted at each other across an increasingly large divide. So you have this 30% of the electorate that is basically the deal-maker, and it has been in recent elections.

I think this is the key to American politics — just who are these independents. What do they want? How do they think? What really makes up their disgust at both major political parties? And I think disgust is not too strong of a word.

Increasingly, when people are voting against things, the danger is that either political party takes their having more numbers than the other party as having a mandate to do things. And I think there was some overreaching that the Democrats who were in control went through. I think you’re almost beginning to see some of it already with the Republicans who overreached before, which led to the change of power in 2006.

So politics in this country right now is almost kind of suspended between these kinds of on-and-off cycles between these two poles. I happen to be a really big believer that we need to rethink the whole framework. I worked in both 2006 and 2008 on a ballot measure here in Oregon that would change the underlying rules of politics, creating a true open-primary election. Everybody runs and everybody is on the ballot. Every voter gets an identical ballot and sees all of the names. Every voter can vote for whomever they want, regardless of their party, regardless of their candidate. The top two go to the finals, regardless of their party. It’s a pretty sweeping kind of change, and it’s been something other than academic at this point because Washington voters approved it and ran the system for the first time in 2008. California voters approved it, and they’ll run it for the first time in 2012. When and if it gets revisited in Oregon, I don’t know. It got rejected at the ballot in 2008, though the last poll was 70% in support, 27% against.

We have a system where voters increasingly look at the choices and setup they have and say: “I’m not really happy with how this plays out, but I’ve got to vote one way or another.” And in 2010, the Republicans were the beneficiaries of that. But if they overreach, if they misread this (election) as a sweeping mandate, if they get into a “my-way-or-the-highway” mode — which I’ve seen Democrats do as well — I think you might see another swing in 2012. And remember, in presidential elections, a lot more people vote.

MB: You cited the significant shift nationally amongst independents. Did we see as big of a shift here in Oregon amongst independents?

PK: Not in the governor’s race. It’s interesting, especially if you look at the razor-thin margin of victory for (John) Kitzhaber. The CNN (exit) poll had Kitzhaber losing this self-described independent group by only 9%. I did a calculation that if he had lost by 13% — still ahead of the 18 points, on average, in congressional races — he’d be watching the inauguration of Chris Dudley on television. (Kitzhaber’s) ability to hold the independents better and not defect is one way to explain the election. But lots of other things can also explain the election. Kitzhaber did better amongst older voters than Democrats did, generally.

At the legislative level, my guess would be that voters acted more like they did with congressional races. You had those independents probably going 15 or 20 or 35% in favor of the Republican. I think that helps explain the flip in some of these (suburban Portland) districts. In the Oregon Senate, two seats were lost, and in the House, six seats were lost. This resulted in an unprecedented 30-30 tie in the House.

MB: You mentioned the risk of overreaching by the political parties after past elections. Given the slim majority that Democrats have in the Oregon Senate, what advice would you give to Kitzhaber in terms of governing?

PK: Well, I won’t be presumptuous to give him advice. But from what I’ve seen so far, he understands the dynamics in similar ways as I see them. I think there’s a tremendous opportunity here. It forces a governor to govern from the center out, not from an edge in. By necessity in the House, in order to get anything passed — even the smallest bill — you’ve got to find votes on both sides. On major things, you probably don’t want to pick off just one vote and have a lot of 31-29 votes in the House. That’s not very sustainable. Whoever it is that’ll be the one [dissenting] vote in the caucus, the pressure will be just enormous.

I think (Kitzhaber) will be able to say to the more liberal people on the Democratic side: “Look, this view got repudiated at the polls.” Also, he was not the favorite choice among some of the major interest groups; he did not get the support of the Oregon Education Association and SEIU. They either stayed on the sidelines or endorsed Bill Bradbury in the Democratic primary. (Kitzhaber) will be able to say that we’re not going to be able to deal with this revenue shortfall by increasing taxes.

He can also say to the Republican side: “I’m a Democrat. This state did not go bright red like some of the other places, so let’s try to find common ground. The $3.5 billion budget shortfall, that’s a big challenge. And since we can’t tax our way out of it, we’ve got to look at how we’ll be able to get more value out of existing programs.” So, I think this election result positions not only him, but any of the legislative leaders, to also want to govern in this particular way.

MB: Recently, Kitzhaber proposed that Oregon develop 10-year budgeting practices. What are the pros and cons of taking a longer view?

PK: The framework that he’s talked about, and this makes sense to me, is an outcomes-based framework where we’re not just caroming from every two-year [budget] cycle. We’re more reliant on a single tax than any other state. And the tax source we rely upon — personal income tax — is the most volatile tax. We have these huge swings up and down. So, particularly, with a state like Oregon, when you make a budget decision and you do it between sessions, you need to embed it in a framework of what you get for this money. You need to start ranking and prioritizing programs based on their outcomes and then being pretty honest and brutal about what’s working and what isn’t. You don’t cut across the board and act as if every program is equal.

It’s a new way of looking at the budget. It’s been talked about a lot, conceptually. (Kitzhaber’s) challenge, and he seems ready to dive into it, is how do you take that theory and framework and operationalize it. So the place to watch over the next year is not the place we always watch — which is the Oregon Legislature — it’s the management of state government. It’s how life changes at that operational level as the governor directs his people. How do they start managing in very different ways that can tell the public, “Here’s what we think we’ll get measuring against our goals.”

At the end of the day, remember, the governor is the head of the executive branch. And during the campaign, Kitzhaber was often asked how he would approach the governorship differently. I really like the answer that he gave, and that is: “In the previous eight years, I often viewed the job of governor as the 91st legislator, but the governor’s job is first and foremost the CEO job, the chief executive officer of the state of Oregon.” So, he’s going to ask the legislature for a lot of things, but the management going forward is his job one. My guess is you’ll see an enormous amount of change there. Hopefully, the legislature will give him the tools that he feels he needs to do it. At the end of the day, good management is not Democratic or Republican; it’s just public.

MB: Beyond the budget, what are the toughest policy fights and easiest wins Kitzhaber faces?

We are a poor state, economically. That has enormous implications for how we think, and understanding that this is not something that you just flip a switch on.

PK: I don’t think there are any easy wins now. Everybody knows that getting more jobs, particularly family-wage jobs, is extremely important. We’re 90% income, per capita, compared to the national average. It’s the lowest since 1929. Washington State is 106%. The two curves are diverging, and the gap has never been bigger, in my lifetime. We are a poor state, economically. That has enormous implications for how we think, and understanding that this is not something that you just flip a switch on. It’s really not something that a governor, alone, can fi x. The easiest thing for politicians to do is to take credit for the economic bounty when it comes. Of course, when it goes away, they say: “Do you really think government can do all that much to fi x the underlying forces in our economy?”

There’s a tremendous amount of things that are beyond the reach of government. That said, government must first try to do no harm. Then, government must ask itself where are the places, historically, where we can move the needle. I think that has to do with things like innovation in education, from early childhood all the way up to higher education at places like Portland State.

I mean, we’re below the national average in terms of kids who are proficient at reading in the fourth grade. There are southern states, which we dismiss and look down our nose at, that have done far better than we have. In Oklahoma, 70% of their four-year-olds are in a state-financed early-childhood-education program; we’ve got 7%. According to a 2008 report, our percentage of high school kids who go on to college is fifth-lowest in the country, with even Mississippi, Georgia and others 10 or 20 points ahead of us.

The first step we’ve got to take is acknowledging the reality of where we’re at. We’re a poor state. We’re falling down in education. We have way too little investment capital for the innovators who are here or come here to help them get to the next level.

There are very, very few software companies, for example, that have broken through this glass ceiling of more than $100 million of revenue. What are we not doing that we need to be doing? Those kinds of conversations very much need to happen in a new way, a way that stops the ideological divide — more taxes, more spending, more taxes, more spending. Enough. I would be paying particular attention if I were in politics today to the needs of the generation of men and women in their 20s, just entering this job market. They’re kind of job one. My generation, we’ll muddle through. But it’s even tougher for people in their 20s.

Oregon really has its work cut out for it. There’s been a bit of patting ourselves on the back for doing things differently and better. These last two years have been a real wake-up call.

MB: Is Oregon really doing anything “differently and better” in terms of attracting and keeping clean-technology companies? As you know, over the past few years, solar companies have opened manufacturing plants in Salem and Hillsboro. The wind-power company Vestas just announced plans to build its headquarters in downtown Portland.

PK: That’s a good observation. With what I call “clean energy,” everything from renewables to efficiency, we have an enormous opportunity. We need to look at what it’s going to take to not get eclipsed by everybody else, because, believe me, every state in the country is looking at clean energy as a place to put its bets, resources and energy. We’ve got a great base to build on. But how do we attract the superstars? I was working on this very question before I took this job. I think you’ll see the legislature asked to make investments. And, in a time of great budget challenges, you don’t just want to cut, cut, cut. You want, if anything, to cut and invest. You’ve got to think about what you put money into that’ll become the means by which you pull yourself out of the budget hole.

I think with Oregon’s green reputation, and the work that’s been done here by world-class researchers in terms of wave energy and nanotechnology, there are some places where we probably need to double and even quadruple down on our focus.

MB: Let’s turn to redistricting. The legislature will soon be tasked with redrawing congressional and legislative district lines to reflect population changes. Is there a weaker or stronger likelihood that the split legislature will get the job done than if Democrats still held both chambers?

PK: I certainly would like to see the legislature do its job. But I’ve had some experience here.

In 1991, lawmakers didn’t do their job, so their job fell to me. I did legislative redistricting, and the congressional redistricting, under Oregon law, went to the federal courts. Redistricting is contentious, and political insiders think it’s the ultimate battlefield. But I think the insiders are wrong. Redistricting increasingly doesn’t affect which party prevails, particularly when one-third of the electorate doesn’t like either party.

The other thing is that people are increasingly living and settling in places that fi t their ideological/political views. So in some cases, you almost have to gerrymander in order to get to a competitive district. And it’s not a standard of redistricting law that you have to draw lines to get to competitive districts; it’s to have communities of interest represented. So as the number of self-described independents increases, the lines on the map are going to be less determinant of an electoral outcome. Sure, it will seem to matter to some (legislators). Sure, it will be used to beat each other over the head and make accusations that one side is trying to preserve its advantage. But for the vast majority of Oregonians looking at that kind of food fight — they’re going to go “pffaw.”

Here in Oregon, either the legislature does (redistricting) or doesn’t. If they don’t, the Secretary of State will do the legislative lines and the [federal] courts will do the congressional lines. The legislative lines will probably be settled by the courts, anyway, because even the Secretary of State’s redistricting plan will be challenged. We’re so partisan that anybody who doesn’t like it can challenge it.

I just encourage (legislators) to just keep their eye on the prize. Redistricting is not a prize; it’s a necessity. I hope it’s done in a way that meets the standards of the law, which is keeping communities of interest together. Personally, I wish the legislature well in doing it, but I don’t have a high degree of confidence. But what will determine who wins and loses during the next decade in politics will have less to do with where those lines are.

MB: Will Oregon ever follow Washington and other states and put redistricting in the hands of an independent commission instead of the legislature?

PK: I think if it were to get on the ballot here it would probably pass. The problem would be who wants to take another run at it — the other ballot measure fell short — and when do you set the effective date. See, redistricting, almost by definition, is seen through the lens of a bipolar world that has been the baseline for what we’ve done for over two centuries. It basically says we’re going to assume there’s this inevitable battle between the reds and the blues. I guess I’m more radical in the original sense of the word, which is getting the root cause of the problem. I think we ought to look at the system and ask why are political parties given — ceded — the kind of power they are. Why are they at the center of the electoral universe?

Michael Burnham is a graduate student in the PSU Masters in Urban Planning program.

Job Description: A workforce expert discusses problems, policies, and prospects in the new economy

With the metroscape’s economy struggling and Oregon’s unemployment rate at 12.1 percent—second highest in the nation as we went to press—the editors thought it would be timely to discuss the employment situation, now and for the future, with an expert. We looked not for an economist, but someone with hands-on experience in job development and training who could relate the day-to-day struggle of the unemployed to find work to the policy issues and economic trends within which their quest takes place. Fortunately, the region has such a person in Ray Worden, the outgoing executive Director of the Oregon Workforce Partnership, a consortium of the county public-private workforce boards around the state. Worden’s experience in workforce policy and development encompasses all levels of government and both sides of the political aisle. He was Oregon’s Deputy Manager of the Job Training Partnership Administration, Office of the Governor, under both Vic Atiyeh and Neil Goldschmidt (1984-87); Deputy Director of the National Commission for Employment Policy under Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush; Executive Director of the New Hampshire Job Training Council (1990-98); and Workforce Bureau Manager, City of Long Beach, California (1998-2005). He leaves his current position coordinating seven county public-private partnerships for jobs in June. The interview, conducted on June 9th by Craig Wollner at the Metroscape® office, has been edited for length and clarity. —the Editor

Craig Wollner: First, let me ask you about some fundamental issues. For example, the conventional wisdom is that employment is a lagging indicator, meaning that even though the economy may recover, jobs won’t necessarily come back at the same pace. Is that true and, if so, why?

Ray Worden: The conventional wisdom about coming out of a recession is that there’s a 12 to 16-month lag to return to a pre-recession level of employment. Oregon tends to rebound slower—last in, last out compared to the rest of the country. We do tend to go in slower.

In the past, that was due to our reliance on wood products which built up inventories and had to get them down to rebuild employment. This time is different. The breadth of job loss across the industrial sectors is greater. Before, it was isolated to wood products, manufacturing, and construction. Now, everything is down except health care and government. Leisure and hospitality, is way down. Transportation is down….
We were at 1.7 million jobs before the recession The March-April numbers are at about 1.6 million with 265,000 unemployed, but that doesn’t include people leaving the lbor market. So the fundamentals are so different from past recessions. In the past, unemployment was confined to the uneducated and the unskilled. This time, it’s an equal opportunity recession. Even educated and skilled workers are being let go. Even the Oregon labor exchange system, called 1-Match, has seen the highest level of incidence of college graduates looking help at the employment offices. Ph.D.s, Master degree holders, and so forth are using the system, whereas before, they had their own networks and the ability to seek out employers and get bites of the apple, but employers now are sorting in a way that makes it hard to find jobs. So people like that are using public means.

CW: Oregon ranks second among states in unemployment figures at 12.4% in May (compared to about 9.4% for the nation), even though there was a concerted effort to diversify the economy over the last couple of decades to insulate us from job loss in the more volatile resource-based industries the state was dependent on? If it’s true, why is that?

RW: We have diversified our economy, but the unemployment rate is exacerbated by two additional factors: First, we’ve seen an influx of skilled people coming into the state without jobs because of the quality of life here, and, second, because college grads are not being absorbed as quickly as in a normal economy. In an overall across-the-board downturn, it’s a potent brew.

In fact, as Freightliner completes its plant closure and other losses occur, it’s likely we’ll see 13 or 14 percent unemployment.

In past economies, the discouraged worker factor, the under-employed, or part-time workers were significant add-ons to the base unemployment figure. But I think because of the internet and other communications factors, those might be less of an issue than in the past—at least in metropolitan areas. In rural areas, because of the small size of the communities, the unemployed know when there are no jobs, so they just drop out. But this is a different time.

I’ve been in this business for thirty years and I’ve never seen such a time. It has set us up for a Darwinian struggle, with high school drop-outs and the unskilled as the big losers. That means young people and those without experience are in trouble.

It’s a Darwinian struggle . . . young people and those without experience are in trouble.

The June-July numbers will be interesting because we’ll see if the new college grads crowd the low skilled out. But they themselves will have trouble competing against others with more experience. In the past, the take-up rate for college grads was 90 percent or so, but it will be interesting to see what it will be now. They’re competing against retirees with experience in the fields of interest. In some cases, low skilled immigrants will have an edge against youths.

CW: Has the high school drop-out rate here affected employment figures?

RW: Inevitably. This is a knowledge-based economy and while it may not be obvious now, this is an economy that requires skills and experience. Without the basic skills that a high school diploma is a proxy for, long spells of unemployment and considerable reductions in earnings will be the fate of such people.

CW: What about male-female numbers? Who’s doing better? Why?

RW: Men have had particular problems—80 percent of the unemployed nationally, with the figures playing out similarly in Oregon. But you have to remember that the majority of people in the labor force are men and the sectors in the deepest trouble are male-dominated: manufacturing, construction, professional business services, forest products—all big time. There’s more parity in hospitality, but the sector isn’t as large as those others.

CW: The minority communities have historically had more trouble with employment in tough times. Is that a problem this time around and, if so, what are we doing to remedy their difficulties?

RW: Some minority groups will continue to struggle in the current recession either because of their low educational levels and/or lack of work experience. For example, among “recent immigrants” (last five years) to Oregon, about 40% have less than a high school education according to 2005 Census update. Also, African-Americans have a higher level of high school dropout rate than other groups and, overall, less work experience so I would expect they (as a group) would have more difficulty in obtaining jobs during this recession. In the new economy skills and work experience are pathway to the good jobs in good times…in bad times they ensure better access to any type of job (good paying or not).

CW: One of the things we hear a lot about lately is that the Portland metropolitan region could be a Mecca for “green” jobs. What would green jobs be? Is it possible that the green economy will blossom in a way that would give us a head start on that sector, or is the green economy an illusion as far as jobs are concerned?

RW: To me, green jobs is an organizing vehicle for a whole cadre of existing occupations. For example, wind turbines require maintenance technicians, but the necessary skill sets are what you see in carpenters and electricians and although some skill upgrades may be necessary to participate in the wind turbine industry, the basic skill sets are the same, or at least not that unfamiliar.

One of the values of green jobs is as a motivating factor to get young people into the pipeline, because they see it as the future.

Similarly with solar: There are going to be manufacturing opportunities, but, again, putting in solar heating systems is about plumbers and electricians to install and maintain. So I think it’s being oversold as a coming boom. The general knowledge and skill sets to weatherize and so forth are already there. That’s good. It means we don’t have to start from scratch and we have people who can get up to speed quickly. Bottom line, we’re seeing training courses that are six months to a year, rather than apprenticeships of three to five years.
One of the values of green jobs is as a motivating factor to get young people into the pipeline, because they see it as the future. So it’s not all bad that it’s being over-marketed. This is motivational for the emerging work force—the new young graduates and first time job seekers—that there are jobs out there that are well-paying and in areas where they feel they can be of service. The labor market is schizophrenic. The college grads are motivated to pursue the careers they want. They worked to get to a position where they are prepared for certain kinds of work. It’s the non-post-secondary kids who need to be motivated.

Also, in green transportation we may heave opportunities that could be big, but don’t know yet. I’m thinking of hybrid cars and trucks. Could this region get into that? That could be a very big thing. Engineering, planning, and architecture—where PSU is at the center—that’s another area that could be big in the green economy and create a bigger labor market than is currently foreseen. I would be surprised if the fundamentals become very different. It’s the enhancements—material usage, and so forth—where the growth will probably come.

CW: Let’s talk about the things that you are most familiar with in the work force training. In this region, what are the most successful strategies? Where have you seen the biggest improvements in work force participation due to training programs?

RW: Public policy, because of the money and the realities of having to keep up with the ever-changing needs of industrial partners, had to decouple from industrial training. But now we have a situation where the reputation of the trades is that they are dirty, low paid, back breaking work, and parents all want their children to go to college. But the fact is that we need these jobs filled as people retire from the work force—thousands of baby boomers will be leaving in the next decade in these areas and, going back to green jobs, which is a good organizing principle, these jobs are coming to be seen as not as unglamorous as they once seemed.

Labor market experts will say these jobs will be filled, from out of state, if necessary. But the state needs to be at the table to get our own kids into those positions. Yet more people are dropping out or leaving high school ill-prepared and we’ll be taking care of those people instead of having them become net contributors to the economy and society.

Looking back at the wood products recession of the early 80s, we always thought that the labor market would be self-correcting, that the people without training would be okay over time. Instead, we had big social and economic problems that drained resources. The ripple effects on Social Security, Medicare, and the Oregon state tax system are potentially deadly this time around, in terms of drop-outs and the ill-prepared because of the difficulties they’ll encounter in finding work.

All of that said, the successful strategies involve longer term training. It will pay greater dividends. For the emerging work force, contextual or work-based learning needs to be intrinsic to the educational process. They get motivated by seeing how, say, science, is applied in the everyday world.

Over the last couple of decades, the work force delivery system worked with companies across industries by being a connecting voice with organizing sector strategies, consortia of businesses, and so forth. I mean that before, it was common for work force developers to focus on a single company, to devise, say, a program for Wacker Siltronics. We would take care of their needs and they would be happy. But with consolidation, churning in the economy and the labor market, we’ve figured out that the best thing is to have a strategy across industries. It’s better for financing training and for addressing skill standardization, which is a movement of importance as our work force becomes more mobile than ever before.

Another big improvement is being outcome focused. We now track employee wages, benefits, retention, skill achievement, and other variables. It gives us a quality feedback loop to ensure that our programs are working. We also connect better than ever before to labor market data, so we know what kind of effect we’re having on the key indicators. As a result, we’re now more relevant to job creation and replacement. We’re not just training for training’s sake, but for the reasonable prospect of productive work.

The joke in the old CETA [Comprehensive Employment and Training Act] and JTPA [Job Training Partnership Act] days of the 70s and 80s used to be that we were training basket weavers. We weren’t, but now we can show the effects of our programs. CETA was about what the client wanted because the funds were there. If you wanted to be a hair dresser, no problem, no matter what the labor market said. There was no rigor compared to now.

CW: Are the region’s community colleges pulling their weight with respect to making people job-ready?

RW: For two decades now, the community colleges have been the presumptive deliverers of training, with mixed results. That’s reinforced by the fact that every recent US president has come into office declaring that the community colleges are the solution for preparing the work force. But the reality is that they have an uneven track record. Why? Because their mission is so diverse. They are responsible for continuing education and enrichment. They do college prep. And they have to do work force prep plus customized training. These are niches where they can excel, but not necessarily all at the same time. They’re trying to do too much to be really efficient. They’re way overstretched, under-resourced, and oversold as the solution to everything. On top of everything else, they often can’t compete with the proprietary schools which can deliver training in some fields in far less time at far lower cost. Even so, the proprietary schools often complain that the community colleges have an unfair advantage because they’re subsidized. I think they have to be re-engineered to be more effective.

In New Hampshire, we had to look at whether we could afford for all the colleges to be independent. If not, we could free up more resources. But it turned out to be a disaster to have the local community colleges be coordinated from Concord. Rural areas didn’t want to be dictated to by the state capitol. In Oregon, they wouldn’t want Salem telling them what to do. Anyway, they could be an important tool. They are certainly an important part of the solution to our current problems, along with unions, but right now, they don’t seem interested. In two legislative sessions in a row, they’ve brought the same chart about the health care bottleneck and how they can provide the job training to break it. They are doing what they want to do, but there is more they could do if we could coordinate their efforts and curriculum statewide.

CW: Is the long range forecast for the metroscape positive or negative, in your view?

How we finance our society is a worry, but I just hope we’ll be more invested in growing our labor force.

RW: I think it’s positive. We have an educated work force. We have some English as a second language issues, but for the most part, our people are creative and entrepreneurial. We have a diversified economy (compared to the past) that can accommodate the richness of the metropolitan area. We have good educational institutions supporting our educational needs.

We’re pretty well positioned for the recovery because of our attractive reputation as a great place to live. So I think overall we’ll be in good shape. Place matters. Bright people know they’ll find jobs over the long haul. At the same time, we need to remember that over half of Oregon’s unemployed are here in the metropolitan region.

There’s so much good stuff to build on here that I believe we’ll be okay. How we finance our society is a worry, but I just hope we’ll be more invested in growing our labor force.

Early Inspirations: An Interview with Nichole Maher

Nichole Maher is the executive director of the Native American Youth & Family Center (NAYA Family Center) in Portland, Oregon. On August 6th of this year, she will join the Northwest Health Foundation as its president and CEO. In 2001, at the early age of 22, she took on her executive role at NAYA, and has taken the organization from a yearly budget of $215,000 and a staff of seven to a $10 million budget and a staff of over 100. In addition to her nonprofit leadership, she serves the region’s community on numerous boards, including the Northwest Health Foundation, Oregon Native American Chamber of Commerce, Planned Parenthood of the Columbia-Willamette, National Urban Indian Family Center Coalition, Portland Schools Foundation, and Portland Parks & Recreation.

Born in Ketchikan, Alaska, Nichole is a member of the Tlingit and Haida Center Council of Southeast Alaska. After growing up in Alaska, at the age of 10, she lived and went to school on the Siletz reservation. She graduated from Oregon State University with a double major in public health and American Indian studies. She then received a master’s degree in public health through a joint program between Portland State University’s Mark Hatfield School of Government and Oregon Health Sciences University. Outside of work hours, Nichole plays a mean game of Sunday morning kickball with her team Manifest Destiny and raises two beautiful children, Kekeya (2) and Zodie (3), with her husband, Eddie Sherman (Navajo).

Oscar Arana, one of Nichole’s closest friends and colleagues, as well as a Multnomah County field representative for Senator Wyden, says that Nichole’s biggest strengths are that “she is passionate about leadership, especially for communities of color, and she is young and therefore able to relate to youth—her sense of humor also makes her stand out.” Recently, Nichole was named one of the “50 Most Influential Portlanders” by Portland Monthly.

In the following interview, Nichole discusses her early inspirations and personal commitment to her role as a leader of the Portland urban Indian community.

Leah Gibson: Okay, so we all know about your many accomplishments from all of the media coverage and awards that you have had recently…but what are you most proud of?

Nicole Maher: Well, the thing I am most personally proud of is building a sense of community

among families in Portland. I feel like I get too much credit sometimes. But the other thing I feel so proud of is being able to see other Native leaders grow and take on really important roles and seeing other Native people in really prestigious positions or serving on boards and commissions. And the part of the work I’m most proud of is helping to support more Native people in these types of positions. In the past six or seven years, I’m seeing more and more Native people in these roles, and I just think that our community has so much potential, and so many people are starting to realize that.

LG: Speaking of leadership, what first interested you in getting into policy work?

NM: I never, growing up, thought of myself as a leader. That was not the track I was on, but I think that I’ve always had sort of an impatient personality and a sense of urgency. And I’ve oftentimes lacked some of the leadership skills, but I think that the fact that I was always the person that would show up to the meeting and follow through on most of what I committed to are the things that put me into leadership positions. Over the years, I think I’ve learned how to be a better policy advocate and to gain the skill to hear a policy and be able to translate it into how it would impact our people. And that’s something that’s taken time for me to develop. I remember thinking a million times that “I don’t understand this,” or “I’m sure I’m going to say this the wrong way,” or, “Gosh, if I speak up, am I going to sound really ignorant?” But I’ve also always thought, “If I don’t speak up, the issue is not going to get raised.” Even if it’s just bringing up a point that people haven’t thought of, or being the first person to say it, it opens up a space where a lot of other people can bring it up. Now I can see a red flag from far away. But in the beginning, it was just about raising my hand and asking the question. Every time I felt kind of shy, or felt like, “Gosh, I’m not the person who should bring this up,” I’ve kind of just had to sort of just overcome that fear and really just say, “It’s about the community, and if I don’t speak up, I’m not sure anyone else is going to.”

I never, growing up, thought of myself as a leader. . ., but I think that I’ve always had sort of an impatient personality and a sense of urgency.

In what arenas did this first happen?

NM: Actually, when I was in high school, I really started to notice some severe inequities, like our high school should have been 25% Native American, but all of the Native kids were dropping out and being pushed out and being expelled. We were getting into our senior year, and literally everyone from Siletz was gone, and no one seemed to think it was anything to be concerned about. It was just something that our high school accepted as a norm. And then when I got into college, I really started to see a lot of inequities and racism, so that was really the first opportunity for me to acclimate to that kind of community advocacy. When I came to Portland, essentially NAYA at that time was very small. We were only five people, and what I noticed was that we were trying to do everything for everybody, and we were doing that because nobody else was serving Native Americans. And, essentially…here we were, this decent-sized population with all these needs…I didn’t understand the data then, in the way that I do now. I mean, I suspected, but I didn’t have the kind of concrete thinking. And so, it was being in meeting after meeting with the county or youth services providers where it was just acceptable that our community was left out. It was just the way it was, it wasn’t a big deal, and it was people’s perception that we were lucky to even be invited to the table. And so that’s when I really started speaking up. The first couple of years, we made some really great progress in a lot of ways. There were other areas where now I look back and think to myself, “Oh my gosh, I never would have let that happen now. There’s no way I would have let that slide.” So really, that was the beginning. It was a lot of just, go to the meeting, show up, be really prepared, be really organized, don’t say anything you can’t back up, and ask questions. Just lots of practice. Consistency, practice, and realizing that in this community, when you advocate for what’s fair, what’s right, what’s just, that people will be mad at you. They’ll thank you at the end of the meeting for speaking up, but actually, when you are really trying to change things, and suggest sharing power in a different way, or rocking the boat in typically historically how the power-making has been, you will experience resentment. It’s hard for people to accept that. They appreciate that you are being courageous, but they don’t want things to change, and when you represent change, you will experience a little bit of resentment. So you have to be able to carry that.

LG: You talked about how you were able to notice “red flags”…what do you mean by that, and how are you able to recognize a red flag now?

NM: There are some really interesting code words we use in Portland. People will talk about how “that community of color, they don’t have any capacity,” meaning they are not strong enough, they are not organized enough, they don’t have the right system. But I find that really fascinating, because we have many organizations of color that are bigger, stronger, more organized, and have some of the best outcomes in our entire [Portland] community. When I hear that word, I get very concerned. And I recognize that that’s become a politically correct way downplay the strengths and the attributes of a culturally specific community.

I would say there are major areas where NAYA doesn’t have capacity, but the reason that we don’t have capacity is that we have been systematically under-funded and excluded for, you know, thirty-some years, so it’s almost like punishing the victim. It still happens all the time where you’ll have a room of twenty people and there might be one or two people of color, and they’re making decisions for low-income children. Well, low-income children—about 65% of them are people of color. I feel that every person in that room should feel very uncomfortable making a decision on behalf of those communities. People can have good will and good intent, but we know that when we do not include the community that it affects the most, we make decisions that aren’t in their best interests. White Portland is still very, very comfortable with making those kinds of decisions. So that’s another big red flag for me. And when you bring up, “who’s in the room?” and they say, “well, we invited them and they didn’t show up,” oftentimes people think that’s an acceptable answer, but it’s not. What that says to me is that you don’t actually have the type of relationship that you should have with these communities to get them here. That’s a problem. We should change that, not blame the community.

We like to make this assumption that we’re colorblind in this community, which is ironic, because we have some of the worst racial disparities in the country. And so we keep trying to do big one-size-fits-all models, and there is such overwhelming evidence that that doesn’t really serve any marginalized community well. And the white bias that comes out in those one-size-fits-all models is amazing. I mean, essentially, programs end up being developed in a way that only matches up to what white folks need, and that doesn’t really serve low-income white people well, it doesn’t serve people from outer SE well, it doesn’t serve communities of color well, and oftentimes the policy-makers will try to organize things geographically, which most communities don’t organize geographically. When you organize that way, you leave out some of the neediest people. If you want to change the outcomes, you have to organize it the way that the people need in order to change lives.

LG: Tell me how you came to work for NAYA.

NM: I started as the youth and education coordinator, and I was in that role for six months. And it was really interesting because I knew NAYA for a long time, because I had started as a camp counselor, and I had eventually become the camp coordinator for a camp called Konaway Nika Tillicum, and NAYA used to send youth. So I knew about NAYA because this huge white van would pull up and all these urban Indian kids would pile out. When I came to NAYA, I knew tons of kids because I had been their camp counselor.

When I came to NAYA to be the youth and education coordinator, I was only going to stay for a year because I was on my way to law school. I was signed up to get my joint masters in public health and law degree. I had basically taken a year off to work and make some money. The first day I walked in, they had just moved into the Mississippi building. I had such a special feeling about the place. And at that time, Mississippi was scary. They had bullet holes in the windows and there was nothing on that street. They actually interviewed me in the kitchen. My interview panel included Nora [Farwell], Jeff Roth, Robin Dennis, and Ruth Jensen, who was on our board at that time.

And I loved the questions. They were the toughest questions I had ever been asked. You could just see that there was a social justice lens. It was a huge job. I was supposed to case-manage 270 kids. They hadn’t had anyone in that position for quite some time. We were kind of behind. The community didn’t know me. But at the same time, I loved it. I loved the spirit of the staff. At NAYA, there was just this fierce attitude of “Our kids can do it, our kids are amazing, they deserve the best,” and I loved that perspective. I didn’t really understand urban Indian issues at that time. I had always been in a tribal setting, where you have a set amount of resources or you are tied to the BIA, and with that comes restrictions. But with it also comes resources. So having no resources was like really kind of shocking to me. At the same time, it gave you so much freedom to do what you really wanted to do, and you were in control of yourself, which I loved.

I worked really closely with Jeff. He and I became really good friends, really fast. He was the executive director [ED]. I think he saw potential and had me take on a lot of extra things. Then he got this amazing job in DC. They were looking for a new ED and I was not qualified or prepared. But it was actually Paul Lumley who said, “Apply to be the ED. You have everything it takes. Just apply.” And at that time, I had already started thinking, “Well, why don’t I apply to graduate school here, because I want to stay at NAYA.” So I applied for ED, thinking that I would be lucky to get an interview. I just wanted to get to know the board, and I thought, I’ll stay here, I’ll work, I’ll go to graduate school, and then in five or six years—you know, executive directors change every five to six years—I’ll be ready.

So I did the interview, and I got the position. I think there was a lot of chance and a lot of luck. It must have been nerve-wracking for the board to hire a 23-year-old ED. It must have been so scary for them!

LG: How big was NAYA at the time?

NM: We were seven at the time I became ED. We had gotten a few small grants and tutoring positions. I was so excited. My perspective was [that] “I am going to learn so much more being an executive director than going to law school.” We were in a hard financial position when I became ED. We only had enough money for the nuts of operating. I needed to raise to some money. I needed to learn how to do that.

LG: Is that why you got started on fundraising?

I actually learned how to fundraise at Oregon State University. I was the chair of their powwow for four or five years. We would raise at least $30,000 a powwow

NM: I actually learned how to fundraise at Oregon State University. I was the chair of their powwow for four or five years. We would raise at least $30,000 a powwow. And then, grantwriting, certainly. You learn quickly that it’s all about relationships. Getting a grant is 75% relationship and 25% writing skills. I got my start fundraising on the powwow committee. And, literally, it’s just asking people for money. I’m still learning, though. Every year, we’re getting better.

LG: What made you decide to get your master’s degree in public health?

NM: I always wanted to do public health. I always loved upstream health prevention. I always felt like there was a strong connection between self-determination, being healthy, and cultural pride. So, for my undergraduate degree, I did pre-med public health and American Indian studies. I always thought I was going to go to med school, but then I did several internships and decided, not so much. I mean, I could do it, but I didn’t love it. And then the next option seemed to be that I could maybe do law and public health. But then I got the job as NAYA ED.

LG: What was it like growing up in Alaska?

NM: I grew up in a very rural community. No electricity, no roads, only accessible by float plane. Very, very small community. We lived mostly off the land. We fished all the time. My mom canned—canned deer meat and canned fish. As a kid, I had no concept of what other people ate. Everybody ate the same thing as us where I lived. My dad was a fisherman, so that was a big part of my life.

Pretty much everyone who lived in Kupreanof was homeschooled, and we didn’t go to regular school until I was in fourth grade. By the time that I got to fourth grade, I was so behind. They thought I had dyslexia. But I really just couldn’t read. I really truly believed that school just wasn’t for me. It took me until my junior and senior years of college to get really good at school, but really, I just didn’t perceive myself that way, like for a long, long time. I used to stay with relatives all the time. I changed school a lot, and would stay with my relatives, or friends of my parents. I was always kind of staying with someone. I think that that experience really shaped me, too. It was hard, but it kind of taught me to adapt and adjust, and to survive. My parents were always going out on the boat, and I used to get terribly seasick when I would go fishing with my parents. So that’s part of the reason that my parents would have me stay with people, because I would get so seasick.

The whole reason that I went on to college is because they had a really strong Title XII program and a really strong Johnson O’Malley program at Siletz, so they were always taking us to conferences and telling us that we should just apply to college. I ended up getting into all of these places. It seemed crazy not to go, and so I went. But my first year and a half, I thought I was going to flunk out every term.

LG: When did you move to Siletz?

NM: When I was ten. When I was in sixth grade. We had a lot of extended family in Siletz, and knew a lot of fishermen, so it made sense to move there.

LG: How do you keep your spirit up in the face of criticism?

NM: There are so many wonderful things to celebrate. Any time that I’m in the hallway, and fifty kids walk by to go get tutoring…that is just the most amazing feeling because they are here, they are doing something positive. There are so many reminders all of the time of the hope and the work ethic of the community, like we have single moms in the hardest situations who take the bus all the way out here so that their little ones can go to playgroup. We have so many people in so many hard circumstances who are here and working to better their lives. We have so many people who come to volunteer, like so many of our elders. And our community gatherings; even if we have 700 people and we ran out of food at 600, people still want to be there. That really lifts my spirits because I remember when we didn’t have that in Portland. I remember when we had very few dancers at the powwow, and now we have tons of dancers.

I think having a few people that you can confide in is great, as well. I mean, there have been days where it’s been harder. As NAYA gets bigger, sometimes it feels like the criticism gets bigger, too. So there are those days where it is just overwhelming. But there are also so many positive things. It’s not like I don’t notice the negative, but I’ve always had the perspective that I might as well do something and make some mistakes than be so fearful of criticism that I do nothing at all. The Native community can be very critical, and I’ve seen a lot of Native leaders become immobilized by fear. I’d rather go for it and be criticized than to just play it safe.

LG: Is there anything that you wish you could change over the course of your career and your life?

NM: I certainly wonder sometimes if I could say things better, or what would have happened if I did one thing and not another. Like I’ve mentioned before, there are some policy areas where if I would have been more experienced, I would have never done or said certain things. But they’ve all turned into really great learning experiences. I certainly have no regrets. There are plenty of things I have done or decisions I have made as the leader of NAYA where I’ve felt like I’ve done or said something totally wrong, or I’ve made mistakes and apologized. But I don’t regret it.

LG: Who are your greatest role models?

NM: One of my first, greatest role models was David West. He is the director of Native American Studies at Southern Oregon University. I learned so much from him about how to do really positive youth development. There’s so much of that positive, youthful spirit at Camp Konaway Nika Tillicum [a summer Native American academy program at SOU] that he was involved in. Terry Cross [the director of the National Indian Child Welfare Association] is also someone that I admire. Another person is Laura Harris from AIO [American Indians for Opportunity]. The thing I love about Laura is that she is one who does so much to build up other leaders, and she has the attitude, “We don’t have to be leaders like how everyone else does leadership…we can be our own kind of leaders.” We don’t have to act like white leaders. We don’t have to act like historical leaders. It’s really about creating our own kind of leadership.

  • Portland has the 9th largest urban Indian community in the US.
  • There are 28 Native organizations in the Portland Metro area, with combined resources of over 50 million dollars in revenue that go to benefit the city and the region.
  • Over 60 tribes in Oregon had their tribal status overturned by the federal government in 1953, during the period known as “Termination.” The Chinook tribe, which once inhabited Neerchokikoo, was one of the tribes that had its federal tribal status terminated.
  • Portland is home to members of over 380 tribes from across the country.

LG: What is your biggest challenge?

I just see so many opportunities and so much work, and so much urgency, . . .  it’s so hard to say no when there is so much need and so much work to be done.

NM:I over-commit, and I always see everything as an opportunity to get the word out about the Native community. I’m really trying to get better at it, but I just see so many opportunities and so much work, and so much urgency, and while I understand about slowing things down, I just think it’s so hard to say no when there is so much need and so much work to be done. Balancing that is very hard.

LG: Are there any projects or issues that would be going on this summer that people should pay attention to?

NM: I am really interested in the Native American Report [viewable at]. With the report, we learned that 12% of our population is also our most vulnerable population—our children. I really want to see that population served. The level of disparity and service to that part of the population is criminal.

Leah Gibson (Oglala Lakota) is a freelance writer and a Portland State University alum. She holds a master’s degree in writing through the PSU book publishing program. Leah was raised in Portland and has strong roots in the Portland metro area

Good Planning, Good Health: An interview with Rajiv Bhatia

Rajiv Bhatia, MD, MPH, is the Director of Occupational and Environmental Health for the San Francisco Department of Public Health. He is also a faculty member at both the University of California at San Francisco School of Medicine and the University of California Berkeley School of Public Health. He is a founding member of the Health and Social Justice Committee for the National Association of County and City Health Officials. Nationally recognized for leadership in developing the health impact assessment tool, Bhatia thinks poor health resulting from social factors can be combatted by cooperation among health officials, policy makers, and the public. He was recently interviewed in San Francisco by Metroscape’s® Vivek Shandas.

Shandas: What do you see as the critical public health challenges faced by local city and county government agencies today?

Bhatia: To begin with, our health disparities and our health and equities. While some people are able to take advantage of healthy neighborhood conditions and all of the assets of our medical system, others can’t. And that shows up in life-expectancy differences of a decade, from neighborhood-to-neighborhood, in a place like San Francisco or Portland. A child born today in one neighborhood has 10 years less life expectancy than a child in another area. That has to be the driving and motivating challenge of public health. That’s the beginning, I think, of the challenge.

If that is the fundamental challenge, then one must ask, why? What are the conditions that we have to change? You can go to the public health library and look at public health research and see that the condition that we have to change is social segregation. We separate by race and economic class, meaning that we give children different resources. Some areas have air pollution and noise, and other places don’t. Some people have access to living-wage jobs, and others don’t. Some people have access to quality education, and others don’t. Some people have parks right down the street that have playgrounds and facilities for physical activity, and others don’t.

When you add up all of these differences, you get to the explanation; you begin to understand why differences in life expectancy are as much as a decade from neighborhood-to-neighborhood.

What, then, does a public health department do, understanding that huge health inequities exist from neighborhood-to-neighborhood, and that there are specific conditions that need to be changed? First, they have to realize the obstacles they face in changing the conditions. These conditions – parks, land-use – are not in the mandate and the role of public health agencies. This isn’t what public health agencies are expected to do by politicians or the public – our roles have become much more narrow. A hundred years ago, when public health started, we were responsible for air quality, sanitation, water quality, and other environmental conditions. But all of these roles have been more or less fragmented or segregated to different institutions, and now public health has a much narrower role.

So public health has to figure out how to interact and engage, and help shape conditions that are the responsibilities of other public sectors. And I think that’s one kind of fundamental challenge.

As a society, we don’t really talk about health as product of neighborhood and social environmental conditions.

Another challenge is that people don’t necessarily recognize the problems. I think if you begin to have this discussion with people, they’ll understand what you’re saying, and they’ll get it, and they’ll say, “Oh, yeah, of course having a park nearby is important to public health.” But as a society, we don’t really talk about health as product of neighborhood and social environmental conditions. We talk about health more often as the product of individual responsibility and what nature endowed us with through our genes.

Public health has an important role in changing the frame. Public health officials are asked, “What do we do about this problem of asthma?” their first response shouldn’t be, “We need to get more people to the hospital to take their asthma inhalers.” Their response has to also include that we need to improve housing conditions so there aren’t allergens in the home, that we need to make sure people aren’t living near freeways, where air pollution levels are higher. We need to make sure that moms have paid sick-days so they can take their children to the doctor to get preventative care. That reframing is a second, very action-level challenge for public health.

The third action is to realize that public health doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel. There are community organizations, there are social justice movements, there are people out there who are working to improve environmental conditions. And public health needs to show these social and environmental movements that it can once again be an ally. A particular way to do that is to provide scientific evidence of the linkages between public policy, environmental and social conditions, and health. That should be our role.

The relationship works in a few ways. Public health needs to make people who are already engaged with different policy sectors aware of what public health knows about the public health impacts of different policy decisions. We need to do health-impact assessments to formally bring that evidence to the table in policymaking.

We also have to create a demand for this work. In part, what we need to do is to convince social movements and people that they need to be demanding that public health is involved. There may be innovators and small groups in public health that are willing to be the early adopters of approaches like health-impact assessment. But in order to move the whole institution, you’re likely going to have to create some political pressure on the public health institution to be more engaged in policy outside the sector.

The fourth action is a critical challenge: ensuring accountability. In San Francisco, I see a lot of health policy written into the general plan. It says, “Avoid exposing sensitive populations to air pollution.” But how are we doing that? We weren’t doing that, we weren’t doing that until public health said, “We’re going to fill this gap that our general plan already calls for.”

There are many examples of where we develop a social policy and agree on a policy, but then it’s just not implemented. The most striking example is in school desegregation – we opened up schools to children of all ethnicities and races, but then what happened? Because racism was still prevalent in our society, people moved away, and we have greater segregation by residence now than probably we did several decades ago, which totally undermines the idea of integrated schools.

Shandas: You mentioned the challenge that public health agencies face in interacting with other government agencies. Do you admire any regions or cities across the globe for explicitly attempting to address this issue, places where public health actually work with other government agencies in meaningful and effective ways?

Bhatia: I’m not an expert and haven’t evaluated the healthy-cities movement, which was founded by a group of public health thinkers around the time of the 1986 Ottawa Charter on Health Promotion, which states everything I’m saying in terms of action much more eloquently. And anyone who’s interested in the topic really should go and read that document two or three times, because it created a very clear blueprint.

I would say, just in a cursory scan of the healthy-cities work, while there’s been collaboration, I think the targets of collaboration often have not been very structural; they have been much more downstream. So, while a lot of the collaboration exists, it needs to move upstream to some of the more structural things, like integration. I don’t know of anyone, really, who’s challenged that one.

Shandas: Can you touch on what health impact assessment is and how it actually fits into this healthy-cities movement, or how it fits into the larger challenges?

Bhatia: The health impact assessment was called for in the Ottawa Charter in 1986. And it’s very simple. Health impact assessment is a variety of tools and processes, a toolbox of things that really serves a value or assumption. It’s the idea that when we make a public policy – a social decision; when we make choices together, we should consider how those choices affect our health. When an individual or family picks a house, they ask, “Is this going to create a healthy environment for us?” Health is something that we consider very intimately on an individual and family basis. We need to be making the same type of consideration on a social or collected basis.

So, there is no one way to do health-impact assessment. I think the best health impact assessments are answering questions that are politically relevant to a particular place where stakeholders are engaged in the particular public policy. Good heath impact assessments use the best quantitative and qualitative methods available. And there’s a whole bunch of research tools on the shelf right now that just isn’t being applied to health policy issues.

Health impact assessments should be comprehensive. If you do a health impact assessment and you focus on one health issue, you’re likely to get the wrong answer because, ultimately, choices in social decisions are about tradeoffs; and if you have many health issues related to a public policy, you need a comprehensive analysis in order to understand how to maximize health.

Those are some of the characteristics. Again, there’s lots of ways to do it. You can formally integrate health assessment in an environmental impact assessment process as the National Environmental Policy Act calls for. You can do a voluntary health impact assessment as a collaborative process. But the key thing is bringing the best scientific and community evidence to understand policy levels and questions in a place so that health is considered in the decision-making process.

Shandas: San Francisco has done quite a bit with health impact assessment. What came together in San Francisco that made government agencies consider more seriously the application of health impact assessment on particular projects?

Bhatia: The first health impact assessment showed how our Health Department was able to recognize some opportunity that already existed. It was a 1999 assessment on the living wage. We had a city that was generally favorable on progressive labor policy, and it proposed a living wage for workers under city contracts. Community advocates and political leaders were trying to promote this, while some economic interests were saying, “Well, businesses can’t afford to pay a living wage.”

While it’s important to weigh economic impacts, health officials advocated also weighing health impacts that could provide a counterweight to any economic decision. We saw a tremendous amount of evidence on the relationship between income and health that could be applied to do a very robust quantitative analysis. And then we realized that nobody knew that this was on the menu of public health. And so we went and talked to our legislators and said, “If we did this analysis, would it be helpful?” And they said, “Yes.” And then we said, “Well, why don’t you have us do that analysis?”

That experience taught a lot of lessons, foremost that policy makers and legislators don’t know what public health can provide and how health impact assessment can bring evidence to bear on their decisions. Health officials can’t wait to be asked to do health assessment. We can’t do it by ourselves as a research exercise. We need to engage with decision makers who can use the results of our analysis.

The next step was learning more about health impact assessment internationally. We said, “Let’s try to introduce community residents in San Francisco to health impact assessment.” And over the course of about a year, we had very short workshops in different parts of the city. We found an organization that was willing to host the workshops. And we said, “You give us a policy you’re already working on,” and people suggested farmers markets, green schoolyards, and housing subsidies. And we said, “You bring together a variety of allies and advocates you work with, and we’ll do a very brief participatory health impact assessment – a very different screening kind of assessment – and then we’ll see what the next-steps are.”

Through these dialogues, we simply helped people to understand that the policies they were advocating were connected to health outcomes in very broad ways. And we had to think about how making those health connections explicit would be helpful to their policy struggles. That effort introduced our communities to the idea and gave them the sense that you had a health department that was willing to do more than they were being asked to do.

Land-use planning is displacing people – that’s got to be bad for health.

Some of these groups came back to us about nine months after these workshops and said, “We want you to do a health impact assessment of land-use planning that’s happening in San Francisco.” They said, “Look, this land-use planning is displacing people – that’s got to be bad for health.”

Shandas: Who was this that came to you and asked?

Bhatia: It was PODER (People in Defense of Earth and her Resources), an environmental justice organization. They said, “Hey, Health Department, you’re talking about health impact assessment, and we’ve got a struggle going on. We’ve got people being displaced. We’ve got people losing living-wage jobs and business displacement, and we’ve got gentrification happening. And we don’t think this is really good for our health. We have an alternative; we have a people’s plan for land-use development. Why don’t you do a health impact assessment of our plan, and maybe that’s going to help push our plan forward.”

Over the course of a year, we facilitated a health impact assessment that this organization did on its own. We went to the Planning Department, and the Planning Department said, “Well, look, we understand health impact assessment. We understand what you’re trying to do here, but we don’t want it in the environmental impact process.” They suggested that we do a health impact assessment as a separate process and run it parallel to the environmental impact assessment. They promised to use the information but not to regulate or require compliance based on the findings. The community wasn’t happy about this, but we decided to go forward.

That process went on for a year and a half and produced the Healthy Development Measurement Tool. The outcome of the Eastern Neighborhoods Community Health Impact Assessment process was essentially the policy recommendation that we develop a tool to evaluate land-use projects on health and that we regularly and routinely utilize that tool in the planning process. And that’s exactly what we did. We created the Healthy Development Tool, which is a comprehensive metric, with indicators of community wellbeing, targets for healthy development, and policy design strategies. We’ve begun to apply those measures to the plans that the Planning Department is producing.

Shandas: So you combined community groups, the Planning Department, and the Department of Public Health?

Bhatia: Yes. It’s an evolution. I can’t remember how I imagined health impact assessment going forward six years ago, but we tried something. We got a response from communities. Community members wanted accountability, so it helped us focus. We shifted to using the Environmental Impact Review (EIR) process. While we’ve been able to use EIR, we also realized some of its limitations, and so we’ve shifted again, adapting to what’s working and what’s not working, and where the opportunities are.

Shandas: Do specific projects lend themselves more directly to health impact assessment than others?

Bhatia: You’re raising a really important point. Am I saying that every single public policy should get a health impact assessment? Absolutely not. The goal really is healthy public policy, and assessment is just a means. If you can get to healthy public policy easier and quicker without an assessment, then you should pursue the alternative. At present, though, public health hasn’t had relationships with land-use and transportation planning; we haven’t had many comprehensive health analyses of land-use planning. We don’t know the issues. So, on major land-use planning efforts, I think it’s appropriate to do health impact assessment to identify as many large-scale issues as possible.

Don’t build housing near busy roadways.

However, if you do a few of these assessments, you probably get to the same kind of answers: Don’t build housing near busy roadways, or make sure there’s a park nearby, or a grocery store nearby. You get to some rules, essentially. And then those rules can get translated into general plans, or into zoning codes, or other planning tools that don’t need to be subjects of health impact assessments anymore.
So health impact assessment is a learning tool at this time. Suppose that 30 or 40 years from now, land-use and planning become better integrated with health policy. We may no longer need health impact assessment to make sure that health needs are being put into plans. I’m being optimistic. But there always will be new issues that we must consider, and those then become the subjects of health impact assessments.

I hope that the meaning here is clear. You do health impact assessment where you need to. If the planning director is planning a theater and says, “Look, we know all the health issues; we understand this and we’ve considered them, and here I can prove to you how we’ve considered them,” then we’re fine.

Shandas: Currently, health impact assessment acts as an additional, voluntary level of analysis. It is not mandated at the moment. Should it be?

Bhatia: I think that to the greatest extent feasible, health impact assessment needs to be integrated into existing impact assessment processes. First, there are impact assessment processes that are currently mandated under law. So, because they’re mandated, they have regulatory strength and teeth. Our community members criticize health impact assessment because it doesn’t have any teeth. That’s one reason to integrate it into existing processes. Second, you don’t want to duplicate existing processes because it’s terribly inefficient. Third, health impact assessment is not unrelated to environmental assessment or social impact assessment. Health impact assessment builds upon those other assessments. When I look at air-quality impacts, from roadways, I am using traffic to predict air quality, and air quality to predict health effects. So if I have traffic analysis and air-quality analysis within an environmental review, why duplicate it? In fact, I need the analysis of environmental conditions in order to do my health impact assessment.

What are health officials really trying to do? We are trying to get planners and other people in other fields to understand and consider, value, and use human health. Public health agencies don’t own the

. . . if I really want planners to have ownership of health issues, I need to use their tools.

planning code or make the planning decisions; the planners do. So, if I really want planners to have ownership of health issues, I need to use their tools. I don’t need to call up and say, “I’ve got a new tool; use it.” I need to integrate my work with their tools. We have been integrating our tools into the Planning Department’s environmental impact assessment of air quality, noise, and pedestrian safety issues.

Of course, some people have concerns about integrating health assessment with environmental impact assessment that doesn’t necessarily provide useful information. But that’s an issue of poor practice. We have the ability to do integrated environmental impact assessment right. Perhaps one of the problems – or one of our frustrations – with impact assessment is that it hasn’t adequately considered human welfare issues. By doing an integrated analysis, we may have the best of both worlds.

Shandas: Locally, the draft EIS for the Columbia River Crossing is being rolled out for public comment. It’s Oregon’s largest transportation project in the history of the state. Given your experience, what advice do you have for the planning agencies and the public health agencies involved?

Bhatia: Roadway projects are some of the ripest projects for doing health impact assessment in an integrated approach with the environmental impact statements. And they’re ripe for a couple of reasons. They’re ripe because of the kinds of research being done on the built-environment and health. The research on transportation systems and health is the strongest: the most robust and the most quantitative.

The opportunity is there because the National Environmental Policy Act is very, very clear that when a project affects the human environment, the health effects of changes in the human environment need to be analyzed. The esteemed William Rehnquist supported the position I just gave you. And so you’ve got a legal mandate. Unfortunately, public health agencies have never put this mandate into practice. Nevertheless, I think that the time is right.

Some of the issues that you can analyze with existing tools in a major transportation project like the Columbia River Crossing include local effects on air quality. These transportation projects – roadway projects – generally increase traffic, which means they increase local concentrations of air pollutants along the freeways. You can analyze those effects with dispersion models; we can use those response functions to analyze the indirect health effects.

The existing models look at noise and at sensitive populations. People who might be already living near these roadway corridors are often lower-income, ethnic minorities. So we have guidance for environmental-justice analysis that could be brought in.

We can look at effects on physical activity and pedestrian injuries. When you have these roadway projects, you’re not only increasing traffic on the roadway itself, but you’re increasing traffic going to the roadway and going from the roadway, increasing arterial traffic. Roadway volumes are one of the most important contributing factors to pedestrian injuries, walk-ability, safety, and the rates of walking in our neighborhoods.

Finally, we can look at social cohesion. This is something that the Federal Highway Administration used to be more attentive to in the 1990s. When you expand these roadways and increase traffic, you create a barrier for getting from one place to another. In a sense, you’re therefore creating a barrier between social communities.

For example, what if you double traffic along an arterial? On one side is a household and on the other side is their church. Maybe an elderly person who lives in the household is dependent on walking to church. Maybe the traffic prevents that person from going to church. Whether a church, a community center, or a park, we have to be very attentive to how these transportation projects affect access and to all of the health effects that depend on access.

I really hope that people can get together to articulate the need for health impact assessment for the Columbia River Crossing. The scientific and technical ability exists to do it, and the analysis would not be complete without it.

Sid Lezak: A Portland Life in the Law

On August 2, 2005, Marilyn Yoelin, a volunteer for the Oregon Jewish Museum (OJM), interviewed Sid Lezak at his home in Portland. Lezak, who died on April 24, 2006 at the age of 81, was the longest serving US Attorney in American history. When he retired in 1982, he had served 19 years, but that period was only one—the middle—segment of his three careers in the law in Oregon. He had previously been in private practice and later led in the development of mediation as an alternative to lawsuits. His pioneering work helped make Oregon a national leader in this form of dispute resolution, both in the private sphere and public policy.

The reflections presented here are a small part of the wide-ranging interview that Marilyn Yoelin conducted with Lezak (there are also eight hours of untranscibed oral history by Lezak at the Oregon Historical Society) last century. The interview was transcribed by Anne LeVant Prahl, Curator of Collections at OJM on September 12, 2006.

The excerpt begins with Lezak reminiscing about how he and his wife, Muriel, came to settle in Portland.

—the Editor


Sid Lezak: We just needed to be on our own, independent. One of the things I did was to go to the University of Washington. I had been to California, I had an aunt in California and I had spent a summer in Los Angeles and I will say this: I was smart enough and sensitive enough to recognize that if I had gone to Los Angeles I would have become “one of them.” I would have been caught up in that life. This would have been in the late ‘40s. I actually had talked to people down there when I was there. I had done a tour of the west, knowing that I didn’t want to go south or east. I will never forget the florid-faced… lawyer in the first Beverly Hills law office I went to with a waterfall saying, “You like women? You like sun? You like the beaches? You like money? This is the place for you.” It was a complete turn-off and I recognized that my own weaknesses were such that I would not have been able to resist being a part of that sort of thing.

But I needed a fairly large city and I had gone to the University of Washington summer school. The minute I hit Seattle I knew the northwest was it for me. I hate hot summers and I love the relatively cooler summer (it was cooler then than we are getting these days in Portland). There was a kind of feeling that this was an area where we could be free and build our own lives. And through a peculiar set of circumstances, many people are not aware that I accepted a job with Reuben Lenske…. We didn’t fit and I left after a couple of years….

He was very liberal, politically, much farther to the left than I was. Part of the dividing line in 1948 was whether or not you were a Wallace supporter in the Progressive Party or whether you were a liberal Democrat. I had had a defining experience in my life: the Nazi-Soviet Pact in 1939…. I had been with the American Student Union the Left-Liberal young people’s group and, without being too knowledgeable (I don’t want to indicate that I was particularly sophisticated) I knew that that was the side that I was on.

And I learned, at the time of that split and in later conversations that in fact the leaders of our group were in fact people who were part of the Young Communist League and part of the Communist apparatus. I later learned that there was no question in my mind that the brains and energy behind the Wallace movement was to a much larger extent aligned with the Communist Party. But the thing was that those who were Communists were defending the Nazi-Soviet Pact and that was a wake up call for me. From that point on I was suspicious. And I had other circumstances later in life, like with the American Veterans’ Committee and even with the ACLU, that always kept me aloof and suspicious of folks who not sufficiently aware of the downside of Stalinism and the Communists, who were always too eager to defend it.

One of the things I am rather proud of, notwithstanding my feelings about the Party and the people who were in some cases cheating it out of its dues if not actual members; I was one of four lawyers who were willing to represent people whose rights I thought were being prejudiced by the McCarthy hysteria in 1949. And there were still many people who wondered how somebody [could defend them without being a sympathizer]…. Fortunately something happened that let the government, the FBI in particular which had infiltrated our local [Portland] Communist Party to a very great extent (as a matter of fact the joke later was that… the main financial supporter of this pitifully weak and small Communist Party in Oregon may have been J. Edgar Hoover, because he was paying off informants and so on).

In any event, it started with some immigration cases, the Filipinos who were being kicked out of the Party even though they were largely illiterate. They were working in fish plants in Goose Bay. The union had been organized by people who were Communist to some extent and they didn’t know a Communist from a manicurist, and there may have been something that they did… fortunately we were able to establish in a kind of technical way (a lawyer in Seattle had done it but I was going to represent these folks before Judge Gus Solomon, who ruled against them). [Gus Solomon was a distinguished US District Court judge in Portland from 1949 to 1971, otherwise known as a strong civil libertarian. –ed.] It was something that I have never quite forgiven him for because he knew these people. He and Irvin Goodman and Leo Levinson had been partners and they had represented some of these folks. I was not sore at him for ruling against me in that case. I was sore at him because I didn’t feel that he had given adequate consideration to the arguments that we were making and ultimately he was reversed by the Court of Appeals and the Filipinos were permitted to stay here – I won’t go into the technicalities)

Marilyn Yoelin: Just for a moment to clarify – this was a deportation case?

SL: Yes, these people were being deported.

MY: And when was this?

SL: This would have been in 1953 or ‘54.

MY: So, J. Edgar Hoover…

SL: No, he was not the head of the Immigration Department. But a lot of this case was based upon investigation that was done by the FBI, the Immigration Department and by the most active and enthusiastic “Red Squad” as they called it in the United States under a guy named Bill Brown who later became the head of the American Legion’s so-called Patriotic Sub-set. Very enthusiastic supporter of “red-baiting.”

MY: So, you were an attorney [in private practice] at this time.

SL: Yes, I was an attorney. I came out here and passed the Bar in 1949. But I was no longer with Reuben. I was working, oddly enough, first on my own and the in partnership with Paul Bailey and started representing lumber and sawmill workers and other unions.

In any event, one of the things that I did during the same era was that I became a member of the legal redress committee of the NAACP and something else that I am proud of is that in David Robinson’s basement, (… he was the head of the Portland Rose Society, the first head of the Anti-Defamation league here and his son later became one of my assistants as a US Attorney and has had a very distinguished career as a law professor at George Washington University) in his basement, a group of us met to draft Oregon’s first Public Accommodations Law which ultimately passed the Legislature.

Now, there is a little preface to that that people do not understand. In 1950, I believe, a vote was taken on an initiative about whether or not Portland should have (and this was only Portland) a fair employment practices act. At least I’m pretty sure it was that act. It was one of the major acts providing for penalties for discriminating. The people of Portland voted that down. People forget how reactionary this town was. When I came here all of the elected officials in statewide government were Republicans. The city was quite corrupt. It was only as a result of a City Club report on the extent of the corruption in the city, and particularly in the Police Department and tolerance toward gambling and prostitution, that a woman mayor, Dorothy McCullough Lee (called “Good-Deed Dottie”) was elected and tried to clean it up. Four years later she was thrown out. The old bunch was put back in. Portland was not ready for reform. Then a few years later, partly as a result of congressional hearings on the attempted takeover of vice by Teamsters and internal battles between those who wanted to fight the McClellan Committee hearings [on labor racketeering. –ed.] to push Bobby Kennedy up and gave him a good deal of publicity and credibility and enabled him to be appointed as Attorney General. That’s another whole story.

We gave a $3.00 box of Tillamook cheese to some of our best clients for Christmas. That was the extent of our corruption.

In any event, people simply do not understand how this town has grown. When I came here in 1949, the lawyers were 4 to 1 Republican to Democrat. Now at least 5 to 1 Democrat to Republican…. But back in the 40s it was completely dominated both by very conservative business elements and very corrupt elements in (some, not all of) the unions. The Teamsters and Boilermakers [had] enormous amounts of money left over from shipyard days in the War. Then I was representing unions that were completely—I have to say this—clean. The FBI was very surprised when they went over my records with a fine-tooth comb in order for me to be US Attorney. They found out that there was nothing there. We gave a $3.00 box of Tillamook cheese to some of our best clients for Christmas. That was the extent of our corruption. In one of the immigration cases, the parties refused my advice, which I thought would result in the charges being dismissed. But because these were people who had come over at a very young age, in one case six months and in the other case two years, one from Finland and one from Canada (the accusation was that they had been members of the Party). The Party wanted to make them martyrs and they did.

MY: So they sabotaged…

SL: They did not take my advice and I said, “I can only work for you and be your lawyer. I cannot be a lawyer for the interests that you may have other than those that I see as your best interest as your lawyer. If you have other reasons for wanting to take different advice that is your privilege.” Ultimately, they both were deported. That’s the McKay and Mackie cases. [Hamish MacKay and William Mackie were immigrants living in Portland who were eventually deported owing to their membership in subversive organizations, after years of litigation. Mackie’s case reached the Supreme Court. —ed.]

It was made a cause celebre people on the very far left. And there were some other things that kind of indicated that I wasn’t quite as close to being the Communist supporter and sympathizer that some people thought I was because of others that I represented. I also handled some loyalty security cases of people who were being thrown out of the Federal government (or attempting to be thrown out) because of suspected disloyalty. One of the things that taught me is how frightening these cases are because you got nothing in those days from the government. I see the victory that the Mayfield people have in getting the government to disgorge. [Brandon Mayfield was the Aloha lawyer wrongly accused of complicity in the March 11, 2004 Madrid train bombings. –ed.]

We were absolutely unable to do that back in the 50s during that era. In one of the cases in particular I am very proud of being successful and the person has gone on to lead a particularly distinguished career and I have not gotten her full permission to disclose just who she was. People would be startled to hear who that was. Her whole group of people working with her came to her defense and enabled us to mount an effective defense proving that the problem was not hers but one of guilt by association.

MY: We were talking about some of your first few cases that were revolving around immigration and deportation issues.

SL: Yes …. The important thing is that it was another illustration of the fact that (perhaps foolishly because of the identification that people made between the kinds of cases that you handled and your own predilections) there were people who were startled that a “Communist” like me somehow got appointed as US Attorney. But, as I said, there were reasons why it was clearly known….

There was an interesting battle about whether there should be an ACLU chapter here. The group that wanted to organize the ACLU chapter were the people who had been active in the Wallace camp. The ACLU at this time was going through some of the problems in dealing with some of the same issues that I had dealt with at the University of Chicago and the American Veterans’ Committee, there is no question that there was a tactic on the part of the Communist adherents, if they could not take over, they would make life miserable for the organization. There were a group of us, Alan Hart, a very distinguished lawyer… [Hart, a former chief counsel of the Bonneville Power Administration and co-founder of the Portland firm Lindsay, Hart, Neil & Weigler.—ed.] was one of us, Jack Biddy, Herb Schwab [Schwab helped establish and was Chief Judge of the Oregon Court of Appeals, 1969-198. —ed.] and others—this would have been about 1955 or so—we felt that the moving force behind the effort to organize the ACLU was one that would embarrass the ACLU itself and the community. We resisted it until we could get our forces organized, which we did and had what we considered to be a – I don’t know how to phrase this comfortably because I wasn’t in that much disagreement with the ultimate goals that many of these people had – that was not the issue. It was an issue of style and process.

I mentioned Adlai Stevenson [the Democratic Party’s nominee for president in 1952 and 1956. –ed.], a person who had progressive ideas but who was not willing to do those things to move them that would set people’s teeth on edge. And these people just seemed to glory in combativeness and wanted to demonize the people on the other side. The beauty of much of what was Oregon in the old days was the ability of people – and I was the poster boy in a way in serving under six presidents with the assent and approval of both Democrats and Republicans all those years (and I want to say that one of the things I am most proud of is that there was never an accusation during the 20 years that I was US Attorney that that office was run with any consideration of any consequence being given to partisan. I had retained five of the six assistants that my predecessor had left and a couple of them stayed with me for the rest of their professional lives. And my hiring was not based upon consideration of party. 

I was the poster boy in a way in serving under six presidents with the assent and approval of both Democrats and Republicans all those years

As a matter of fact something that just came up and is on my desk right now: Don Sullivan was the chief of the District Court and when I heard him I thought that he was a Republican and he had changed his registration so that he could vote for Kennedy in the primaries (he was a good Irishman) but again I thought that he was not being hired because of his registration. In his biography, which is in the Oregon District Court Historical Society, he is kind enough to say that the years he served as assistant US Attorney were among the happiest in his life.

That is my legacy – the people who worked there during the years that I was there and the freedom that I had from the kind of political pressures that so many had in other places so that I could hire the best people that I could find with some attention being paid to reaching out to hire minorities and women. The rule that I had was that there was certainly not a quota—no minority or woman would be hired who I did not think was perfectly capable of doing the job—but I would have to say that minorities and women were not in every case, the very best qualified in terms of normal meritocracy standards. In other words I did make an effort to diversify the office because I thought that was valuable at the time. Those were some of the issues.

But let’s talk about one issue before I forget it and then we will drift to something else, and that is, what is the most important decision that I ever made in my life? That is an easy one. Marrying my wife.

Sid and Muriel
Sid and Muriel Lezak.

MY: When did you get married?

SL: 1949. We got our degrees on June 17. She got her Master’s Degree in Community and Human Development at Chicago. I got my law degree June 17, June 16th we got married. And that day we piled everything we could fit into a Ford convertible and drove out to Oregon to settle. I already had a job lined up because I had been out the previous summer. I think she said to me, “Portland, is that the one on Puget Sound?” She was sort of “whither thou goest” and I remember sending her grandmother back a picture of us on the 4th of July when we went up to Timberline and there was snow up there. Her grandmother said, “What has this man done to my lovely granddaughter?” A few years later, after our first child was born, she recognized that just belonging to women’s clubs and doing the housework was not enough of an outlet for her energy and she went back to get her PhD…. That was about 1954, and she was going very much part-time. The only place that she could get a PhD. was at the University of Portland. In 1960 she became a doctor and has had a very remarkable career. She is now a full-professor of neurology, psychology, and neurosurgery at the medical school. She published the first book to try and put the field together and found the best publisher, which was Oxford, and it has just come out in its fourth edition. It is universally accepted as the bible in its field (which means I don’t win many arguments at home). I had to tell her, “Muriel, that book ways 6.2 pounds. If you throw that goddamn thing at me and kill me it will be a lethal weapon and you will be charged with murder.”


MY: You did mention at one point that you served under six presidents. Did you start with Kennedy?

SL: Yes, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan

MY: I’m sure there were a lot of challenges with each administration, with each attorney General that you had to deal with.

SL: We had some battles. People say, “What are you proudest of?” One of the things near the top is the battles that our office fought, along with the wonderful lawyer that I brought over from the Interior Department, George Dysart (who has since died). For many years he tried to persuade the Justice Department to come down on the side of the tribes with respect to their treaty rights to fish for salmon. The state officials were arresting the Indians for doing that which Dysart and the tribes felt that were not in violation of their treaty rights.

There was a case that started by an Indian named David Sohappy, Sr. against the State of Oregon because he tried to enjoin arrest for fishing at their usual, accustomed places and the government, through Dysart’s urging and with my assent finally agreed to join in on the side of the tribes. It took 17 victories in a row over the states of Oregon and Washington (because the political heat was so great on the part of the fisherman in opposition to the Indians). The first case that we won was known as the “Bologna Case” (that is for Judge Bologna, not the lunch meat). It was the first decision that said that Indians had special rights to fish under their treaty that had to be taken into account by the states. Because the states of Oregon and Washington would not accept that decision, the case was taken before Judge Boldt in Washington who ruled that in the absence of any other method of determination, the Indians had the right to take one half of the fish. That sent up an enormous uproar from the sports and commercial fishermen….

Under Federal Law, major crimes on the Warm Springs Reservation were prosecuted as Federal crimes by our office and we maintained a wonderful relationship with the tribal people and law enforcement folks. I am pleased that I continue to have the confidence of those people.

MY: Is it your sense of history that gives you the sensitivity for the disenfranchised from the majority population?

SL: Yes, I think so. It is one of the reasons throughout history that Jews have been in the forefront on Civil Rights movements and movements to protect the rights of disadvantaged in every respect. I am comfortable relating some of that to the extra sensitivity created because of the history that I was raised with.

MY: You have been the initiator or part of the creation of many things that seem to have come to the US Attorney’s office….. I wrote “non-partisanship, public defender’s office project, affirmative action, bringing law clerks, special assistants…”

SL: I was certainly more interested in promoting and in doing things which lead to results which were favorable to those ends than were most US Attorneys. I was seen as being on the left wing of US Attorneys and it was almost a miracle that I was retained. We used to joke about it. I made no bones about my having a liberal agenda….

You are retained or appointed at the pleasure of the United States Senators. What we had was a peculiar situation in which both the Republican Senators, at the time that they decided to keep me (I had been ordered to submit my resignation when Nixon came in and I did) had a meeting and had some information about the way our office was operating… And also I think (being politically pragmatic and looking at it from their standpoint) that they were seeing the composition of Oregon politics changing. They were all moderates, Wendell Wyatt [District 1. –ed.] and John Dellenbach [District 4. –ed.] were the two representatives. Packwood and Hatfield, the two Republicans….

I think that maybe one of the reasons was that they may well have felt that this was a show of their openness by retaining a US Attorney who had proven not to be partisan. It would be nice to say that the only reason was that I was so outstandingly competent in the job, but there were a lot of competent people and there were only a few of us who were retained from administration to administration. Their perception of wanting to reach out to Democrats who had been voting for these folks in large numbers (Hatfield was elected by a large number of Democrats, as was Packwood. Packwood was the first person to get up on the floor of the Senate and talk about doing away with the criminalization of abortion. The women’s groups all supported him).


[The single most difficult problem] … I had during the 21 years that I was US Attorney … was during the years 1965 to 1973 having to deal with Viet Nam draft evaders and trying to make appropriate distinctions. Do you resign because of your protest of the war or do you stay in and try to make the consequences of people having done what they felt was the right thing to do … and I was quite sympathetic with many of them….

And the question was discussed and the decision was made that here in Oregon, having a very small percentage of its domestic product dependent on the military. As a consequence, Oregon was one of the most fertile ground for opposition to the war. So how to accommodate to that? At first we were like almost every other jurisdiction, it was the judge’s prerogative to sentence. And there were sentences to prison that were being given out, two or three years in some cases. But as the war became less and less popular, the judges were reacting to it, our office was reacting to it, we had a wonderful probation officer who came up with the idea that we don’t have to send these folks to prison. We can send them to the Tillamook Forest camp where they can serve for six months doing ecological work….

It was a humane way of handling a very difficult problem. It was also representative of a concern that the courts have some response to public attitudes and policies. I would give more credit to our chief probation officer on that one. It was clear that he thought he had fertile ground with us and with a couple of the judges.


MY: Now you were transitioning out of the US Attorney’s Office and getting into more of the mediation and should we discuss the next step in your career?

SL: It is interesting. If you look back in the Oregonian files you will find a quite long piece in what used to be the Northwest Magazine…. [O]n the front page there is a picture of me standing in front of the courthouse steps, “Sid Lezak – prosecutor, survivor, mediator”…. [W]hat I was doing, without knowing it, as US Attorney, was functioning as a mediator. That was my role, without having been trained for it in ways that I have been since. Without recognizing that that was what I was doing, and not always doing as good a job at it as I would have liked. He [the Oregonian writer] recognized that I stood between my assistants and the courts and certainly between private council and the agencies which wanted us to bring certain actions that we may disagree with. The first fun of being the US Attorney was that you could pick and choose the cases you wanted to try and that was fun. I picked some good ones and we had great times on some of the fraud cases that I handled with most of the work being done by one of the assistants. Then I realized that in the really difficult cases, my function, if I were to be active as the trial lawyer, I could not function as the mediator between the various kinds of interests that were there. So I backed away from being as active as a trial lawyer and concentrated on the role of being mediator. And it was OK with me when someone said to me, “Lezak you are an honest fixer.” That was not a bad description for what I was doing.

MY: That was your tikkun olam [the Jewish concept of performing good deeds to repair the world. —ed.].

SL: That’s right.


SL: I had the good fortune, something that we did initiate with the aid of a former nun at Lewis and Clark Law School, to use Federal funds for work/study for Law students. Nobody had ever done that before. I went back to the Justice Department. Then we had law students coming out of our ears. We had more law students per lawyer than anybody else has ever heard of. It was a great experience, for them to be in the courthouse. You will run across them occasionally, there were about a hundred of them and there are still a lot of them running around Portland. You talk to anyone who worked in our

On the other hand, if you want to have some way to make a judgment about what to do, you follow the advice of a great American philosopher, Mae West.

office. It was not only good for them, they were wonderful for the office as well. They have been great boosters because of their experience and they’ve made me look better than I am entitled to look because it was such a good experience for them. The other thing they liked was “Uncle Sidney’s” advice: you are all going to have choices to make. Let me tell you that the most important word in plotting out your careers is “serendipity.” Serendipity will play a greater roll in your life than any plans that you make. Between rational choices, you might just as well toss a coin because you have no way of telling which among rational choices is going to turn out for the best. On the other hand, if you want to have some way to make a judgment about what to do, you follow the advice of a great American philosopher, Mae West. She said, “When faced with the choice between two evils you either pick the one you haven’t tried before or the one that is the most fun.”

Sid and Muriel

It’s the Principal of the Thing: Guiding a rural school has its own trials

An interview with Tim France, principal of Willamina High School, by Susan Wilson

The difficulties of K-12 education have become familiar to citizens of the metroscape, but they are usually viewed through the lens of urban and suburban schools, with their problems of multi-ethnic populations, crowded classrooms, strained budgets, and the like. Metroscape® was curious about the struggles and triumphs of the schools in the rural areas of the region, so we sent our interviewer, Susan Wilson, a Portland freelance writer, to Willamina to talk to a small town education leader in hopes of glimpsing the realities of schooling kids in that often overlooked setting.

A small-town principal is a versatile member of a close-knit community. When Tim France rolls up his sleeves to get to work, he might be chairing a committee meeting to discuss fundraising efforts, or he might be in a huddle on the football field coaching his team through a winning season. He leads an entirely different kind of team in his full-time job as principal at Willamina High School, a job requires that energetic leadership and a game plan all its own. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
—the Editor

Susan Wilson: You served as a teacher and coach in Powers [southern Oregon[ and in Nyssa [eastern Oregon] prior to assuming the role of principal at Willamina High School. Did you grow up in a small town, and what attracted you to these unique rural communities as an educator and a coach?

Tim France: I grew up in Alsea which is a very small rural town. I ended up going to Linn-Benton Community College for two years before transferring to Linfield (College). I’ve really always liked a small rural town and that’s where I feel the most comfortable. We went over to the east side at Nyssa for three years but it was just a little too far from home for our family so we decided to come back. This is one of the communities that had an opening and we felt it would be a good fit. I wrestled here when I was growing up, plus I know the area from my days at Linfield.

SW: Willamina straddles the southern-most boundary of Yamhill County and the northern-most boundary of Polk County. Tell us, briefly, a little about the community as you know it.

TF: The county lines do run right through Willamina. Our two main communities are Willamina and Grand Ronde. Grand Ronde continues to grow close to the tribe [Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde] and to the casino area. The tribal housing continues to expand. We’ve been seeing growth every year out there since I’ve been here.

SW: It’s commonly known that eastern Oregon has a large share of rural schools. Willamina and other schools in western counties such as Yamhill, are rural in their own right. Given the size of schools in Portland, Salem and the medium-sized communities found further south along the I-5 corridor, do the rural schools of Western Oregon get lost in the mix? Do they have an identity crisis?

TF: I wouldn’t think so, no. We’re definitely not the Metro, definitely not large schools, but as small schools we have our own community. There’s a lot of identity within those communities. With small schools there are a lot of things we can offer. One of those is athletics and that’s one of the things that really surrounds the community.

SW: How often do you have a chance to meet with principals from other parts of the region and throughout the state?

TF: For the region we have basically two things we go to. Willamette ESD [Education Service District] pulls in all of the principals once a month in Salem. Then, all of the Yamhill County principals meet at Chemeketa Community College in McMinnville. In that way, we have a fairly local group. We meet and work on local issues in our local area.

SW: Do you have a chance to serve on working committees where you can truly tackle the problems facing your schools?

TF: Yes, definitely.

SW: Is the headcount for your school pretty typical compared to others in the region?

TF: Just under 300. Other than McMinnville in the general area, Willamina, Sheridan, Amity and Dayton are comparable in size. Yamhill-Carlton is a little bigger, Gaston smaller, and Mac [McMinnville] very large.

willaminaSW: What is the biggest challenge facing the rural K-12 schools in Oregon?

TF: One of the first ones, it’s kind of obvious in its own right because it’s every where in the state, is funding. I feel we are very fortunate with the staff that we have. We took 12 cut [non-paid] days. As a district we decided that would be a lot better than cutting a whole lot of personnel.

SW: Does that apply to everybody?

TF: Everybody. Secretaries, administrators, teachers, custodians, bus drivers—basically, everybody in the district ended up taking 12 cut days. But that really allowed us to maintain staff. We still were meeting our educational minutes so it was an option that we had because of how long our kids go to school each day. It turned out to be the best outcome given the situation.

SW: Aside from funding what are the additional challenges for rural K-12 schools?

TF: Just trying to have all the programs. We don’t have the same resources that other schools have, but we are working together and that makes it easier.

SW: In November 2006, the Willamina School District asked the voters to approve a $9.25 million general obligation bond that would fund renovations and new school buildings. What was the outcome of that bond levy?

TF: I’m trying to remember how many bonds we’ve actually put up, but they’ve all been turned down. Willamina has not passed a bond … since I believe, 1980. We did go out for a couple of bonds, the most recent was last May, and it was turned down. The one before that was turned down [both lost by a small margin]. We are very close to getting a bond passed. I think part of it is getting a great long-term plan for the district and going from there. That’s what we’ve been working on lately, is getting a long-range plan so we know exactly what we want to do. Every bond we’ve put out there has been a little different. We’ve said we need to get a long-range plan in place and decide what we want to do and hopefully go from there. [Editor’s Note: According to the Yamhill County official election results, the November 2006 bond was defeated by 166 votes; the May 2009 bond went down by 58 votes.]

SW: To what extent does your school rely on government funding, such as Title II grants, or private grants to operate?

TF: The district does get some title funds. There’s Title II and Title VII, lots of different title programs. I’d say our elementary school gets a lot more of Title II, and then VII is for Native (students of Native American descent). Our district is about 33% Native and so we benefit from those funding programs, but it’s not like ELL-type funding [English Language Learner], where you get additional weighted ADM [average daily membership]. Basically, it’s just a supplement. From the state you get so much per enrolled student per day for the year. There’s a formula there, how many years of experience your teachers have, how rural you are, a lot of different things that go into that formula.

One thing our district lacks the most is a grant writer because there are a lot of grants out there and that’s something we need to take advantage of. Probably the last really sizable grant we got was an $80,000 grant from the Tribe and that went toward technology. That’s one of the things we are doing again at this point, writing another grant for $80,000.

SW: Was the grant spread over five years or awarded in a lump sum?

TF: No, it was given all in one year. We basically updated our computer labs, got a mobile lab, document cameras and projectors. In the high school here every classroom has a video projector with document cameras.

SW: What is the mobile lab?

TF: We added 30 laptop computers to the library to make a [portable] lab.

SW: Did the recession affect student headcount in any way or did local families tend to stick around and weather the storm?

TF: We have lost students due to parents not having jobs and having left to go find jobs. Has it hurt our community as far as the number of students? Yes, it has. We’re down a little bit from the previous year. Some of it’s due to graduation and having a large class leave and a small [freshman] class coming in. There’s some of that, but there are additional kids who left because their parents had to find work.

SW: You said last year’s graduating class was a bit higher than usual and the incoming class a bit smaller. How many students graduated?

TF: We had 69 who graduated. It was a bigger bubble because there were a few who didn’t graduate. I think we started with 75. The incoming class this year was about 60.

SW: The No Child Left Behind [NCLB] Act requires that school districts be accountable for overall student performance. The Oregon Department of Education publishes an annual report card for each school district that assesses whether the students and the schools have met annual targets for academic performance. How did this initiative change the way you do business in a smaller school district?

TF: Well, of course, you have to look at it…it’s something you have to take advantage of and we feel very fortunate that last year we actually met AYP [adequate yearly progress] in all K-12 areas. We feel a lot of pride in this. We met everything. Not only the high school did, but the middle school did and our elementary. Actually, the elementary school has met it every year, but our middle school and high school have had difficulties. We were right on the line for the previous four years. When I first got here we were down and one area we could not pass was ‘economically disadvantaged math.’ It’s one sub-group that did not meet the standard. And, of course, when you have one subgroup that doesn’t meet, overall you don’t meet.

SW: Is yours a K-8 and 9-12 school system?

TF: No, that’s one of the things we’re talking about in the long-range plan. We have K-5 at that end (referring to the opposite side of the complex) and 9-12 at this end of the building. Our middle school, grades 6, 7 and 8 are actually at Grand Ronde. The middle school was built out there in the 1970s or 80s and it was actually a K-8 building. Then, sometime in the late 1990s, a time when the economy wasn’t doing too well, we ended up closing one of the buildings. The building closed was the oldest, which was then the high school. Prior to that, it was K-5 and 6-8 housed here, Grande Ronde also had K-5 and the one high school was 9-12. So we had four buildings that we were operating. I think it was in 2000 or 2001, maybe, we reconfigured and went down to three.

SW: Do rural schools have a hard time recruiting highly qualified teachers as deemed essential by the NCLB initiative? If so, what strategies are employed to attract such teachers to these districts?

TF: I’d say yes, in that it is hard to find the teacher that fits the right combination of what you need. willamina footballWhen a teacher leaves they might have taught English and drama. Drama isn’t something you have to have a license for, but then the district’s trying to find a great English teacher who can also teach drama. That’s where it gets a little difficult, because at a large school you might have a teacher just for drama. We don’t have just a drama teacher. And so, it’s a matter of finding a teacher to fit the hole.

SW: Do you think your school and others like it are at a disadvantage in trying to achieve NCLB teacher recruitment targets?

TF: There are some things that are harder for small schools. We ask most of our teachers to teach more than one subject. I think that is the piece that is harder for us. It’s not too often that we have a teacher who teaches one subject all day long. Most of them teach one or two subjects because of the need of a small school. If you go to Powers or Alsea, both 1-A schools, they might be teaching three or four subjects each.

SW: What about student performance targets? Are rural schools at an advantage or disadvantage when it comes to meeting the rigorous academic standards of the NCLB Act?

TF: No. If anything, being a small school has an advantage over the large schools in meeting NCLB. The larger the school you go to, the more subgroups you have which gives you more ways to fail. We don’t have all ethnic sub-groups. We basically have White and Native American. At some schools you will have all these other sub-groups who have to meet all the standards. We are fortunate a little bit in that regard. The smaller your sample, the larger your margin of error. Of course, the larger the school you go to, the smaller the margin of error. So, I guess if anything that’s in a small school’s favor.

SW: Tell us about some of the creative teaching processes or other innovations that smaller schools have employed to improve student performance.

TF: One thing we have been doing that other districts do not is working together. We’ve put together a Certified Nursing Assistant [CNA] program through Chemeketa Community College. As schools here, we’re too small to offer CNA ourselves, but when we combine we end up getting a couple of students from here and there. All of us work together to accommodate the schedules to get enough students together. The students take the classes in McMinnville. And, for the past two years, we have had an apprenticeship program. It’s electrical and millwright training.

SW: What do the students walk away with in terms of credentials?

TF: They are doing the first year of the adult electrical apprenticeship program and the first year of the adult millwright. It takes them two years to get one adult year done. They have 1000 hours by the time they get out of high school, so they are well on their way. We’re recruiting them as sophomores. The year right after high school they will complete the other half of the program and have their journeyman license and be in a $60,000-a-year job. Both of these programs want above-average students, those who are doing well academically. I think some of the things that have helped is that kids see the importance of grades a little bit sooner, instead of adopting the mentality, “I want to go to college, when do I have to get my grades up?’ For these programs, they are getting involved as juniors, and so they need to have their grades up freshman and sophomore year.

SW: How do your students stack up in terms of academic performance, compared to other schools of similar size in Oregon?

TF: The state sends out a report where they compare us to same-size districts and same-size population and we’ve been doing well the whole time. And this last year was, of course, a higher mark for us as we ended up meeting in all areas. The percentage of high schools that meet all AYP’s is smaller. We were one of the schools out of, I think, 69 that passed.

SW: Is it 2012 that you’re supposed to be meeting all NCLB standards?

TF: Well, we are supposed to be meeting the standards every year, but I think it’s 2014 where we are supposed to be at 100% [achievement]. We want every kid to be successful, we want everybody to achieve this. The practicality of it? I think it may be a little far-reaching to say that every single student will do it. You have health issues. You have so many variables that aren’t allowed as exceptions. Sometimes education isn’t the top priority for a kid. It’s “Where am I sleeping tonight, or where am I going to get food tonight?”

SW: What is the drop-out rate for rural schools as compared to their urban counterparts?

TF: Quite a bit less. I think our drop-out rate was about 3% last year out of about 300 students. For us, that’s high. Many years it’s down to 1 or 2%. At a small school it fluctuates a lot more, because the smaller you are the more the percents change. One year I think there was a 9% drop out rate, that was a spike, and then the next year it was down to 1%. The new thing is they are going away from the drop-out rate to a four-year completion system. They’re calling it the Cohort Graduation Rate. As kids enter as freshmen, they will have four years to graduate. The completion rate needs to be at 90%. They can start at another school and transfer here, but starting their freshman year they have four years to graduate. And so, there’s some little flaws to the system. We want all students to graduate in four years. That’s the goal. We encourage non-graduating students to come back for a fifth year, and the new system wouldn’t count those students as completers. The reason our drop-out rate is low is because we do retain some kids in that fifth year. They feel it is worthwhile to come back to get that diploma. With the new standards, there isn’t that incentive. To meet the standard, they would have to finish in four years. And we’re talking about a regular high school diploma, not a GED, not an adult education diploma, not a modified diploma. We have some students who are in special education who graduate with a modified diploma. They wouldn’t meet the new cohort graduation rate.

SW: Teen pregnancy has been in the news a lot lately. How does Willamina High School’s pregnancy statistics stack up compared to other rural schools through Yamhill and Polk Counties?

TF: Well, last year we were high. We were in the news; there was media coverage on it. When you’re a small school you’re going to have those abnormal years. Lucky for us, it was just an abnormal year. This year we are at zero. I would say that’s unusual, and if we get through the whole year with no pregnancies, that will be an abnormal year also. Each year we typically see two. We count parents as well as pregnancies. So, if the baby’s father is in our school as well, we count that. Last year, I think we had 12 students identified as teen parents, and this year we are at zero.

SW: Did you do any education programs? I know you have a health center on campus.

TF: Yes, we have a health center. Part of what happened last year, is we have allowed them to offer contraception. That’s one of the things that hit the media: should schools do this? As a school-based center, the district gets to say whether the [independent] clinic can do planned parenthood on school property. The school district decided “yes” and allowed that the decision would be left up to the medical professional in the clinic. If the student opts to use birth control the parents will be notified. If they go to an off-campus health center, then the parents don’t have to be notified.

SW: Did the parents support it?

TF: We had some discussions as to whether it should be allowed. A lot of people who were opposed to it weren’t necessarily parents of the kids. Surveys we did in the district were in favor of making it available. If they want to use it they will, and if the kids use it their parents will know about it.

SW: Do you know what percentage of last year’s graduating seniors planned to attend (trade school, community college or four-year university)?

TF: It’s been running about 30%. We have to keep track of it. We have some that go into trade programs, but most go to community college. I’m a product of one, and, especially from a small school, it’s not bad to go to a community college and get your first year or two. There’s some financial gain from this choice as community colleges are a lot less expensive.

SW: How does this compare with other schools in the district and with larger schools?

TF: The question is, how many kids will get into college and stay in it? At larger schools there may be a higher percentage of students who go on to college, but how many of them stay in for a term or two then drop out? That’s one of things we try to push. Have a plan of what you want to do after high school mapped out.

SW: If the local kids do not go to college at the traditional age, do you have a feel for what type of jobs they are getting after they leave high school?

TF: We have a major employer in our area with the tribe and its casino. A lot of our students work there during school and actually end up with full-time jobs by the time they graduate. For some kids, that’s been a pretty good source of employment. Some of the jobs out there lead to decent wage. Some of the students have gone into the timber industry and are making a go of that.

SW: Does the local veneer plant, when it’s up and operating, employ mostly adults or do the high school students get jobs there?

TF: Not many of the high school kids go right into that. We’re doing the millwright program and that’s through Hampton Lumber Mills.We didn’t have any students in it last year, but Hampton has provided two apprenticeship slots for millwrights here in Willamina. We’re hoping this year that we’ll get at least one or two of our sophomores to fill out the applications, do well in the interviews, and get positions. Last year Hampton offered a total of five apprenticeship spots to kids from Willamina, Sheridan, Amity, Dayton, Yamhill-Carlton and McMinnville. It gets to be selective because they want kids who are doing well, but it’s a good opportunity for those who make it.

SW: How many join the military?

TF: Every year we have between one and three. One year we had about five, so that was a bigger group. We have invited recruiters into our district. They come to the school and make a presence two or three times a year.

SW: Today’s rural schools have evolved considerably since the era of the one-room school house. In your dealings with officials across the state, including other educators, what are the myths or prevailing misconceptions about rural schools that exist today?

TF: Probably, one of the misconceptions is that we don’t teach them anything. That we are just too small. But I do think that we offer a quality education and lots of opportunities to the kids. I think, if anything, we have more opportunities for them. More of our kids get involved in extracurricular activities than the larger, more urban schools.

SW: What kind of extracurricular activities?

TF: FFA [Future Farmers of America] is a big one, athletics, drama, choir, band. We have Club Med, a program for students looking to get into health careers, SMILE [Science and Math Investigative Learning Experiences]. It’s an after-school program that OSU [Oregon State University] promotes starting in the fourth grade to student populations that historically might not go on to college. Students who complete the program get some tuition for OSU.

SW: What changes would you like to see in your district in the next five years?

TF: Part of what we’re trying to do is the long-range plan. Of course, it hasn’t been finalized yet so I can’t tell you what that plan would be. But definitely moving the district forward would be great. One of the things I see, and it would cost money but well worth the investment, is a grant writer. I think that would be something our district would be looking forward to having—a great grant writer.

SW: Is there anything you would like to add that would give us a glimpse into the life of a small-town high school principal?

TF: I should speak to the different roles that a rural school principal plays. We have the same requirements of background and education, we’re still in charge of the reports that go to the state, and the budgeting, but there are a few more hats. One of the hats I’m wearing is the fund raising. I just got done coaching football. At larger schools you don’t even remotely consider having a principal coach.

SW: How common is that to have a principal who also coaches, and were you recruited with coaching in mind, or did that come about later?

TF: The smaller the school, the more common it would be. At 4-A schools, and higher, it’s unusual. You get down to some of the 1A schools and your superintendent might be a coach. When I took the job as principal, I was not going to coach. An opening came up for assistant coach and I was going to help out. Then, right before the season started, our head coach got sick and was out all summer. When it came down to the start of the season he couldn’t do it, so that’s how I got started coaching here.

SW: What are some of the other hats that school principals wear in a smaller school?

TF: We get involved in the youth programs and we help out in the other factions, such as working around the school property. We have some days when we go out and do things in the community. We had a pond cleanup down here and we’ve had students and community members come in on a Saturday to help out.

Growing Wisely in Vancouver, Washington: An Interview with Anne McEnerny-Ogle

LM: How has Vancouver changed since you were first elected to City Council in 2014?

AMO: One noticeably big change is the increase in people experiencing homelessness. Prior to 2014, it wasn’t on our radar the way it is now. A large number of people started to lose their housing and at the same time our city began experiencing a very low vacancy rate, which only exacerbated the problem. Suddenly we were asking, what is homelessness and how do we deal with this? An increase in tent camping, the need for homeless shelters and day centers, tiny houses, accessory dwelling units—these are all issues we never faced before. We were very good at providing police, fire, streets, sidewalks, sewer, water, and parks services, but didn’t know very much about homeless services. Suddenly we realized that we had to jump in and start working on this.

“There has been a sea change of thought about our role in affordable housing and homelessness, and we’re still working on it. It’s not an easy problem and we’re going to need the help of our community partner. . . “

We put together an Affordable Housing Task Force who made a series of recommendations to council to help address homelessness and affordable housing issues. One of their recommendations was to place an Affordable Housing Fund measure on the ballot. And in November 2016, the voters passed it. The Affordable Housing Fund will provide $6 million a year for seven years to be used to help address affordable housing and homeless issues in our city.

Prior to 2014, our thinking had been that the County organization was solely responsible for homeless issues in our area, but since then there has been a sea change of thought about our role in affordable housing and homelessness, and we’re still working on it. It’s not an easy problem and we’re going to need the help of our community partners to help us address it. It’s a huge issue.

LM: The affordable housing bond measure has gone into development, and new buildings are under construction, is that right?

AMO: Yes, we’re very excited about that. The Affordable Housing Fund includes funding for buying, building and preserving low-income rental housing and preventing homelessness through rental assistance and housing services. In 2017, $4.4 million was awarded to local housing agencies to fund 100 affordable housing units and several housing rehab projects.

In 2015, we revised the city’s camping ordinance to allow overnight camping on most publically-owned property, excluding parks. But what we want is to get all the necessary services in place that will help people with the assistance they need to transition into permanent housing. We have been using Affordable Housing Funds to help get people into housing, and we will be considering the allocation of funds for homeless facilities this summer. I heard that Mayor Ted Wheeler made an announcement in his State of the City address that they have a new homeless shelter coming. We’ll see if we can do something similar here.

LM: I’ve read about Vancouver’s new accessory-dwelling unit (ADU) ordinance. Is that something that you expect people to embrace?

AMO: Oh yes. The recent ADU ordinance minimized restrictions to keep costs down. People now have the ability to put one ADU on their property, attached or detached, in the basement or above the garage. They don’t need onsite parking. We revised the owner-occupancy piece. More and more people are considering ADUs. My hope is that ADUs stay in the affordable housing category, that they be used for family members or rented at an affordable price, and don’t become an Airbnb. I’m hoping that we don’t have to write an ordinance that requires that ADUs be used only for residential purposes. Fees were reduced to encourage people to increase density and create affordable housing opportunities, not to provide income opportunities. The county is now looking at ADUs too.

LM: You also mentioned tiny homes. Is that something you anticipate developing in Vancouver?

AMO:  We’ve had a few non-profit developers approach us about building tiny home villages and we’ll continue working with them. We require the same infrastructure for tiny homes as for other homes, like sewer, water, everything underground. And tiny homes must sit on a foundation, not on wheels and axles. You could use that as an ADU in your backyard, but it still needs the infrastructure. We have a business in Vancouver called Blokable. They make rectangular-shaped, steel modular units that can be used for housing, which could be very beneficial for affordable housing developments.

LM: What are all the different ways that we can provide housing for people for different periods of time, or in different situations? And what is the cost difference?

AMO: The market phased out boardinghouses years ago, but now is the market ready to bring back Single-Room Occupancy, where you share bathrooms, showers, and laundry space? And mobile home parks, maybe we also need to rethink mobile home parks in our community. A developer here asked if they could build apartments that were only 600 square feet. It was kind of shocking because that seemed much too small. Then you go to Ikea and you say, oh, it’s not too small. But it was a sea change for us to think about what we allow and what we encourage. I think more developers are looking at how to build housing that’s affordable, because $1,500 a month rent is not affordable for two people and $1,000 is not affordable for one person. People are struggling.

LM: The templates I’ve seen for those are still very expensive, boutique, and they’re for young professionals. I don’t know if it’s the finances that aren’t penciling in, or people just haven’t quite made it there yet. It will be interesting to see what happens.

AMO: It will be. I’ve also heard that that purpose-built, modular units are still very expensive. The land is another big expense. Out in the rural areas you might find land, but then you have the transportation and parking challenges.

LM: It sounds like with all the new development downtown that’s only going to get worse.

“We will continue to encourage diverse housing and transportation options in our future economic and community development planning.”

AMO: More and more people are living, working and visiting our city, they like all the amenities that an urban environment provides and we’ll see an even greater influx of people once our new waterfront development opens. We will continue to encourage diverse housing and transportation options in our future economic and community development planning. We are also sensitive to the issues surrounding redevelopment of neighborhoods, we don’t want people being displaced or pushed out of their homes because they can’t afford to live there anymore.

LM: Any suggestions?

AMO: The city recently applied for the new Opportunity Zones Program which is a federal program designed to incentivize new business investments in underserved communities. But we’ll have to look at any future investments through this program very carefully so that we’re not accepting great opportunities for our benefit that should be for the benefit of those that are still there. 

LM: I have a question about the waterfront development, but then also all the development that’s been happening downtown. I’ve been reading about all the new building permits that have been issued….

AMO: In the past year, we’ve issued nearly 2,000 building permits citywide.

LM: And how many new restaurants are there downtown?

AMO:  Forty-eight new eating or drinking establishments have opened just in downtown Vancouver in the past five years.

LM: That is remarkable.

AMO: I know!  It’s very exciting.

LM: I was wondering how this will change the role that Vancouver plays in the region, and the way that people see the city.

“We’re balancing keeping our small town feel and all that people love about Vancouver, while also becoming a vibrant, urbanized city.”

AMO: We are the second largest city in the Vancouver-Portland metropolitan area with a population of approx. 183,000 people. About 3,000 new people are moving to Vancouver every year. Folks are coming here for a number of reasons. We have temperate weather, access to recreation, great restaurants, brew pubs and coffee shops, parks and trails, lots of trees and fresh air. Families feel comfortable here and it’s a great place to raise children. And with the opening of the waterfront development, even more people will be coming here to visit our new waterfront park and the restaurants that will open there. Managing future growth has to be done carefully. We’re balancing keeping our small town feel and all that people love about Vancouver, while also becoming a vibrant, urbanized city.

These are interesting times. We used to be so dependent on the federal government for lots of things. Now, not so much.  Since 2014, when I joined city council, I think our council has realized that if we’re going to get something done, we need to take care of it ourselves. We recently implemented new revenue sources as part of a streets funding initiative to improve our streets.

LM: I read about that. As a resident of Portland, I was very envious of the street maintenance project that’s being launched.

AMO: This summer, we’ll be putting about $10.5 million into repaving and preserving streets in nearly half of Vancouver’s neighborhoods. We realized we needed street work. Our streets were failing fast and the dollars we had couldn’t keep pace. State and federal agencies weren’t going to fill that gap for us. We needed to do it ourselves, so we developed a long-term streets funding strategy to address pavement conditions, as well as improve mobility and upgrade major corridors. We prioritize every one of our projects, nail down the costs, and report back to the community each year on how much money we collect and where it’s spent. It’s working. Last year, 2017, was the largest on record for summer pavement work. This year will beat that. And we are gaining the critical local leverage we need to get grants for the major projects our community needs. In addition, last year we adopted a Complete Streets Policy which will guide future improvements such as more pedestrian and bike-friendly roads.   

Our public sewer and water are ratepayer-funded, city owned-and-operated utilities. They pay for themselves. We don’t like debt. In recent years, we’ve made it a policy to ‘pay as we go’ and avoid debt wherever possible. As any remaining utility bonds are paid off, the funds we had used for debt go back into improving utilities.  

This council has diverse backgrounds and lots of strength. They have very strong voices. They are looking for innovative ideas on how to solve our problems.

LM: Vancouver city government has a reputation as being more efficient and working better than some of the other cities in the region. What advice would you give to other local jurisdictions?

AMO: I look at our sister cities on this side of the river and I think we’re doing well. It’s all about teamwork and collaboration. Helping colleagues work together is not easy, and I haven’t nailed it all down completely. But it goes back to creating a level of trust. Talk to me about your concern, councilor. Tell us what you are finding. I find our dinnertime together is helpful. New councilors bring in ideas, or they’ve been off to a conference, listening to what’s going on in the rest of the world. Go and see what Durham or Eugene or Philadelphia is doing, come back and share what you’ve learned. Your colleagues are a rich resource. When you’re collaborating with and trusting of each other, it’s easy to vote in support of someone’s idea. We have a great council, very diverse, young and old, parents, not parents, grandparents, different jobs. What I think it comes down to is this: is the community your focus, can I trust you, and can we work together on these issues for the good of our community?

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Building Interfaith Bridges: Dirce and Nohad Toulan’s Contribution to Interfaith Diaglogue

A conversation with Rabbi Daniel Isaak, Sister Mollie Reavis, and Imam Mikal Shabazz

Moderated by Mark Rosenbaum

In early January, 2014, the Institute of Portland Metropolitan Studies brought together key leaders of Portland’s faith community to remember Nohad and Dirce Toulan’s contributions to interfaith dialogue. What follows are excerpts from that discussion.

Mark Rosenbaum: What a pleasure to be here. I think all of us were shocked at the circumstances that took Nohad and Dirce from us. But we are now resolved that their legacy shall be part of what propels us forward in our working with community.

One of those strong memories, and their strong presence, was in the field of interfaith relations — Nohad, a very devout Muslim, a very learned man, and his wife Dirce, a very devout Catholic and very learned herself. They were married for over fifty years and were able to sustain their individual religious values and perspectives, while at the same time embracing the diversity of the community around them. Their example was and is extraordinary, and one we want to focus on today.

We have a panel here of people who are very familiar with Nohad and Dirce and their work in the community. Allow me to introduce them to you. Rabbi Daniel Isaak is the head Rabbi of Congregation Neveh Shalom. He grew up in San Francisco and taught Hebrew there, and was an undergraduate at the UC Berkeley where he graduated in 1971. He served as the Rabbi in Hackensack, New Jersey before coming to Portland to lead Neveh Shalom. 

He has a very distinguished career in Portland and I won’t go through all the involvements he’s had except to say as it relates to our conversation today. He leads, on an annual basis, the community Passover Seder, which brings together some 150 clergy, politicians, community leaders, and various religious organizations to share in this most colorful ritual and reenactment of the Jewish, what he calls, Master Story, which is absolutely right. 

He, like many people, was inspired after 9-11 to say we need to do something more in terms of our interreligious outreach. And so he was instrumental in organizing a Muslim, Jewish, Arab dialogue group the purpose of which is for participants to learn about each other, come to trust each other, so that they might discuss, with respect, the most difficult issues which divide us. In addition to that, he’s very involved with the Ecumenical Ministry of Oregon and the work that they do.

We also have Imam Shabazz whose background is quite impressive. He defines himself as a Muslim thinker, faith leader, father, grandfather, husband and businessman – a great number of mantles to wear. He is the founding member, director, and Imam of the Oregon Islam Chaplains Organization. He’s also very involved in prisoner reentry, a key area that is, of course, not normally highlighted, but can have such a profound impact on our state and on individuals. And in that capacity, he serves as Director of the Al-Hijrah Fullway reentry residential facility and a member of Mercy Corps Northwest’s ROAR Reentry Alliance. He is a promoter and participant in regional and national interfaith communication and collaboration, with long established working relationships with Jewish, Christian, and nondenominational faith-based organizations. He works to build bridges of understanding and common good to our shared living space. He is, in addition, the former award winning Chair of the City of Portland Bureau of Development Services and Diversity Development Committee, and founding member and Co-Chair of the Diverse Empowered Employees of Portland.

Finally, we have Sister Mollie Reavis, who has been involved with Nohad and Dirce as well. A native Oregonian, born in Portland, and raised in Medford. She graduated from St. Mary’s High School in Medford and entered the religious life as a Holy Names novitiate at Marylhurst here in Portland. She earned her BA in Mathematics at Marylhurst and spent forty-four years as a teacher and administrator in Catholic high schools, most recently at St. Mary’s Academy in Portland.

During her early years she also earned Master’s degrees from the University of Oregon and the University of San Francisco. She has received grants from the National Science Foundation and spent two summers at Princeton as a Woodrow Wilson scholar. In the fall of 2001, Sister Mollie participated in a sabbatical program at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago and began to study Christian-Muslim relations. She has attended two summer conferences on ChristianMuslim relations at Georgetown University. Since ’03, she’s been a member of the Institute for Christian-Muslim Understanding in Portland and she considers it a great blessing to be able to interact with Muslims and Christians of various denominations. After serving at St. Mary’s Academy for 32 years, Sister Mollie retired in ’08. She continues to live at Holy Redeemer in Portland and engages in interfaith dialogue and leadership. 

So, welcome to our panel and thank you for joining us. Could you spend a minute and talk about the state of interfaith relations in Portland at the time you first were involved with one another. How would you characterize that circumstance in Portland at the time? Rabbi Isaak.

Rabbi Isaak: I came from a community that had a very active interreligious community. It was a smaller community than Portland. And I was quite disappointed that a similar interaction didn’t exist here. Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon is certainly a wonderful institution that gathers together the evangelical community, and the Archdiocese and mainline churches. And has also reached out to the nonChristian community, even so they are simply an ecumenical group.

When I came here, I didn’t know if there were any Muslims in the community. They were very quiet. I mean, I did meet a few leaders through this interreligious committee. But, I would say that many in the community, if they knew Muslims in the community, they didn’t know who they were because they didn’t have a public presence. In many ways that changed after 9-11.

When I came here, I didn’t know if there were any Muslims in the community. They were very quiet. I mean, I did meet a few leaders through this interreligious committee. But, I would say that many in the community, if they knew Muslims in the community, they didn’t know who they were because they didn’t have a public presence. In many ways that changed after 9-11. – Rabbi Isaak

Imam Shabazz: Well, the state of interfaith relations at that time was somewhat benign. My community involvement was with, and had been, and continues to be with the ministries of Wallace D. Fard Muhammad because, on a national level, we were engaged and were encouraged to be engaged with interfaith dialogue and understanding across the board. In fact, Chiara Lubich, who was the head of Focolare Movement with the Catholic movement and who was a Catholic nun, was a very close friend of my Imam. So that movement was already happening on a national scale.

Here locally, we were moving in that direction, having those dialogues. And, the first engagements that I’m familiar with, that expanded that work, were with Rabbi Rose and Rabbi Ariyeh Hirschfield. Rabbi Rose and the Jewish Federation of Portland came to the forefront during the Bosnian war. That’s when we intersected with the National Conference of Christian and Jews, and, also with the Albina Ministerial Alliance.

There was this work that was going on but as a whole, there was very little work going on that we were aware of. So when I met Dr. Toulan, in that period of time there was a little activity.

There was no circumstance that brought everyone together until 9-11. And then, as we used to say all the time, as we started to become very much in demand to go speak in various churches that, you know, we were country before country was cool!

There was no circumstance that brought everyone together until 9-11. And then, as we used to say all the time, as we started to become very much in demand to go speak in various churches that, you know, we were country before country was cool! -Imam Shabazz

Sister Reavis: At the time I first met the Toulans, I must agree with the Rabbi and the Imam that there were some interfaith relations going on in Portland but certainly, not as much as after 9-11. I did attend some of the Collins lectures that Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon sponsored. And I know that it started out basically as an ecumenical Christian organization, but I believe they had begun to include some interfaith partners. Not as many as they do today.

My interfaith relations had to do mainly with families of students that we had at St. Mary’s Academy. We had several Jewish and Muslim girls, and I got to know and appreciate their families. But it was informal. Just among people who were willing to reach out and get to know one another. So, when I look back, I think 9-11 was just a milestone. I mean, it really was the event that woke us up to the fact that we really didn’t know that much about one another.

Mark Rosenbaum: One of the things that’s interesting though amongst the three of you is that 9-11 became a galvanizing time which you did not use to separate or to inflame circumstances, but rather used as an opportunity to bring people closer together and to learn. And that’s terrifically instructive. Imam Shabazz, you have talked about how Dr. Toulan would quietly, as you put it, tutor you from the sidelines in terms of message and impact. But do other panel members here remember times of how the Toulan’s involvement assisted you in your interfaith efforts and understanding? Sister Mollie?

Sister Reavis: Well, in 2013, Mr. Wajdi Said, I think many of you probably know him. He and the Reverend Chuck Cooper started this group called the Institute for Christian Muslim Understanding. And at the present time, Dr. Jan Abushakrah and I are the current Co-Chairs. But I remember back in 2013, September 11th, our very first public event, that Dr. Toulan was one of the main speakers, along with Dr. Dave McCreery from Willamette University.

Dr. Toulan was willing to share his gifts and talents, and was so generous that he spoke twice at some of our events. But at the first one, I always felt that he got us off to a very good start. The topic was the importance of understanding each other.

Later on, I heard him speak at so many different venues, the topics ranging from things like Arabs and Muslims in the media, the then the current and changing situation in Egypt, and also misunderstood passages in the Quran, holy places, Christian and Muslim perspectives and so on. He just…I think as it’s been mentioned, he was very learned and very generous in sharing his knowledge with others. 

I heard him speak at so many different venues, the topics ranging from things like Arabs and Muslims in the media, the then the current and changing situation in Egypt, and also misunderstood passages in the Quran. . . -Sister Reavis

There was a letter written in 2007 by, I believe it was 138 Muslim scholars, “A Common Word between Us and You.” This letter focused on the foundational principles of love of God and love of neighbor in all three of the Abrahamic religions. Conferences and workshops have been held about this letter all over the world, including here in Portland where we had dinners and discussions and so on. I just always felt like, you know, Dr. Toulan must have been a very busy person. But, Dirce and Nohad would show up and just be willing to participate in conversations with whoever wanted to speak with them.

Mark Rosenbaum: Imam Shabazz, any further comments, thoughts about how he impacted interfaith relations?

Imam Shabazz: Well, as has been stated, his presence in lending his influence, there was no doubt that Dr. Toulan’s influence, politically, economically, and intellectually was greatly respected. And among the Muslim, particularly the Arab students, he was the one person in the community that some disagreed with but very few were willing to challenge. And that went a long way, because what it did was it held at bay the excitement to promote or to push forward an agenda that may have been extreme. Even though some extreme behavior did manifest itself, it was very difficult to come from a cultural point of view, a language point of view, a political or religious point of view and claim Muslim, and then run up against Dr. Toulan’s presence and his influence because he was a stabilizer. 

He was a stabilizer. Because it was very difficult to deal with him, because his reach was global, not regional and local. So he was a very stabilizing entity within our community at a time when stability was definitely needed. And he would do it in such a way that did not put himself center-stage as a dictator or controller. And he never really even identified himself as a community leader. He just identified himself as an intellectual person who knew and understood his religion, the value of the Muslim community integrating into society and addressing societal needs not from a selfish self-image, or selfish position, but from an inclusive position. And that’s what he did. And he did it very, very well.

He was a stabilizer. . . he just identified himself as an intellectual person who knew and understood his religion, the value of the Muslim community integrating into society. . . -Imam Shabazz

His key was always in education. Utilizing education and engagement to change the circumstances.

Rabbi Isaak: There are two things that I could add. One, was the he really knew the Arab world. I remember when the when the United States was going to war in Iraq, he spoke about how Iraq was really very different from his home in Egypt. And that the Iraqi people, the country, and the diversity, the problems, and the way people react in Iraq was different from Egypt. That somehow we have this amorphous sense that the whole Arab world is the same. And he was able to say, you know, there really are differences from place to place, from Morocco all the way to Iraq.

The other thing that I think was very important: in our dialogue group, the Muslim participants were very reticent to be self-critical. Now I don’t know what went on in private conversation, but in our conversations. We Jews are always self-critical. And I think some in the group misunderstood that as being, I wouldn’t say disloyal, but not Zionist or supporters of Israel. But Dr. Toulan understood that, because he could also be self-critical. Selfcritical about the things that were going in the Muslim world. The lack of leadership that upset him enormously.

I came, in particular, to hear his presentation during the elections in Egypt. And, he was very, very hopeful and very optimistic. And, he discussed Salafi’s as different from the Muslim brotherhood as distinguished from … he was very hopeful.

The last conversation that I had with him, he was very, very discouraged, about the future of Egypt, the future of his homeland. But he could share those kinds of things without feeling that someone was going to use it against him in some way, that he could be honest and forthright in all those kinds of things.

Maybe to summarize what I’m hearing, perhaps from all three of us, there was a kind of respected nobility about him. You know, whether it’s holding down the young people…[group chuckling]… or whatever. You know, when he spoke, when he expressed an opinion, it was not simply something off the top of his head. It was something that was really very important.

. . . there was a kind of respected nobility about him. . . You know, when he spoke, when he expressed an opinion, it was not simply something off the top of his head. – Rabbi Isaak

There is an article in today’s New York Times by Thomas Friedman in which he quotes from a new book by, I think, a foreign minister in Jordan, who says that the issue is an internal Arab problem in the Arab world. And it has to do with having a sense of understanding between all the groups. As I read that article this morning, I thought to myself, Nohad could have written that book. He also had the sense of love, but also ability to be critical.

Mark Rosenbaum: Your comment about self-criticism, Nohad loved many things, the United States, of course, being one of them. He could sit down instantly and tell you what was right about U.S. foreign policy, in his opinion, and what was wrong. And that dialogue you talk about he’d enter into, as it relates to interfaith work is part of an academic exercise that brought the nobility and integrity he had which was, I’m willing to examine any position and discuss it from a position of thoughtful context. And that’s what made him, I think, a such a great partner through the years.

Sister Reavis: I would like to just mention, Mark, that I once met Nohad and Dirce at an anti-war demonstration and also at a protest march. As you can imagine, they were probably the best dressed people there. [Group chuckling] They stood out. I thought about that when you were saying they had sort of a nobility about them. And I thought, it must be a worthy and good cause for them to show up.

I once met Nohad and Dirce at an anti-war demonstration. . . they were probably the best dressed people there.

Mark Rosenbaum: So let’s conclude. I’ll summarize these last two questions in a way. How would each of you characterize the state of interfaith relations today? So here we are many, many years since you first met the Toulan’s. And then, what steps do you think need to be taken in the next few years to embrace and move forward the ideals that Toulan’s embodied?

Imam Shabazz: Well, if we look at the dialogue, the conversation, the relationships that have been established, and the level that they started on and where they are, I think there’s a lot of collaboration, communication and conversation at the top but it needs to filter down. It needs to filter down and it needs to be seen more among the adherents. It needs to get some traction in that regard. I think right now we seem to be event oriented. And when events come up we galvanize. Then we start talking to each other. But, we need to expand that conversation forward into the general populations. That self-accusing spirit that Dr. Toulan displayed, or that self-reflection, I think most religious groups and communities probably need to do a little bit more of that and recognize where we stand in terms of interfaith and recognizing each other, and the principles that we all share. 

The disagreements that we may have, without being disagreeable, that’s all well and good but on the fundamental primary level, in our society at least, we’re still struggling with the issue of race. As Dr. Martin Luther King pointed out many years ago, eleven o’clock on Sunday is the most segregated hour in America. So we still have some hard things to deal with, in terms of how our positions are translated in terms of social, economic and political justice in our country. That’s something yet to be really given some traction. Get the conversation going, at a grassroots level, and deal with the major issues that we have in our country.

We can talk, and I go to many churches and I’m surprised, even at this date in time that some churches—I don’t want to say what areas, you know, Oregon City, Lake Oswego, whatever, Northeast Portland—they’re still very segregated. And among us, among the Muslims, we too have a level of segregation among ourselves that we have to work through. So, the work is yet to be done. We have a model but the work is still to be done.

. . . the work is yet to be done. We have a model but the work is still to be done.-Imam Shabazz

Mark Rosenbaum: Sister Mollie?

Sister Reavis: Well, I think that what we could do in the future is to follow the Toulan’s example, of being generous with our time and talents. Going maybe out of our comfort zones to meet people of other faiths and cultures. And, recognize our shared humanity. That we have a lot more in common than we do differences and then have the courage to speak out when we hear, perhaps on the radio or TV, or on the Internet, people spreading fear through, you know, half truths and innuendos. 

Any religion that’s been around for a long time has chapters that we aren’t all proud of. And, I think we need to acknowledge that. And maybe this is what both of you mentioned about being willing to be self-critical of the things that need criticizing but then move ahead on what we have in common.

I also have noticed that if the religion has a scripture, people who tend maybe to be extremists, cherry-pick verses. So I would suggest that we all become familiar with our own scriptures and those of other religions as much as we can, so that if we hear just one verse, and it doesn’t quite sound right, at least we can get a broader view and know the true messages of the other groups’ scriptures. I’ll stop there.

Mark Rosenbaum: So Rabbi Isaak, how would you characterize the state of interfaith relations today? And how do we build on the Toulans’ model to move forward?

Rabbi Isaak: I think in some ways our local community is way ahead of what we read about in the newspaper—mosques that can’t get permits to build. You know, what happened in the Ground Zero, and the kind of scandalous behavior for a country that really believes in diversity and pluralism. But I think I would agree with Imam Shabazz that the issue has to do with trust and goodwill and it has to filter down from the clergy to the rest of the people. We have to have more opportunities to get to know each other. 

. . . I would agree with Imam Shabazz that the issue has to do with trust and goodwill and it has to filter down from the clergy to the rest of the people. -Rabbi Isaak

I mean, think about what has happened in terms of our understanding and acceptance of homosexuality. It’s happened as a result of people getting to know each other. People having experience, sometimes with people in their own families, and, thereby, breaking down certain problems.

But, you know, in all of this, America is this wonderful experiment that doesn’t exist anywhere else. My good friend Shakria Ahmed from the Bilal Mosque, told a story—he’s from Bangladesh—he told a story of taking his son to visit his parents. It was within two years or three years of 9-11. And he prepared his son and said, now we have Muslim names. We are going to Bangladesh. I want you to know that we undoubtedly will run into trouble. People will ask questions. People will be suspicious. And, his son listened to him. And he told this story and became very emotional.

And he said, so we come home and we land in the United States in San Francisco. And he says, the fellow who’s looking at our passport, looking at where we had just been, looking at our name, and said, where are you going? And they said, we’re going home to Portland. And the fellow looked to them and said, welcome home. And, you know, and his son hit him in the elbow and said, see Dad, this is America!

Mark Rosenbaum, a long time friend of Nohad and Dirce Toulan, is the President and CEO of Rosenbaum Financial, Vice Chair of the State of Oregon Welfare Review Commission, Chair of the Multnomah County Commission for Children and Families, and Vice Chair of Oregon Mentors. In addition, he chaired the Board of the Oregon Region of the National Conference of Christians and Jews from 1983 to 1986.