Why I'm Running for Multnomah County Commission

By Jeff Cogen of Portland, Oregon. Jeff has been an attorney, a co-founder of the Portland Pretzel Co., president of Hands on Portland, and an aide to County Chair Bev Stein and City Commissioner Dan Saltzman.

Jeff CogenAs a frequent reader of BlueOregon, I’m delighted to make my first post today to share some thoughts with you about my campaign for Multnomah County Commissioner.

When my wife Lisa and I moved to Portland 13 years ago, we were drawn by the city’s optimism and strong sense of community. The people here believed they had an important role to play in shaping government and helping it reach solutions to the city’s problems. And they believed that those solutions would be based on their own goals and values.

This attitude was no doubt based on Portland’s well-known successes in the 70s: revitalizing our downtown, turning freeways into parks, and laying the groundwork for a regional light-rail system, to name a few. Lately, though, it seems that we have been more inclined to reflect on these past glories than to develop a fresh vision for the years ahead. We can’t rest on our laurels if we want Multnomah County to remain a wonderful place to live.

The County faces new and daunting challenges that require strong leadership. Too many people have no access to quality health care; too many children lack the support they need to thrive; our mental-health system is a shambles; and criminals are released every day without having served time for their crimes, while the County’s new $60 million jail sits empty. The Wapato prison is a monument to government incompetence -- the kind of foolishness that undermines people’s trust in their elected leaders.

I’m running for Multnomah County Commissioner because we need a credible, efficient, and accountable local government. When government is working as it should, it reflects the values of the people it serves, and it works hard to put those values into action. Only when the County Commission restores that social contract will we be able to reengage our community in the task of working together to tackle our problems.

I envision a County Commission that is willing to make fundamental changes to the way it operates in order to address our challenges. Sometimes this means taking a chance on new ideas. One example is the Children’s Investment Fund, which voters supported because we offered a new way of doing business: by law, we can only fund programs that are proven by research to work, and we limit our administrative expenses to 5 percent. Fully 95 percent of the fund goes directly to programs serving kids.

Since government doesn’t have the resources to meet all of its goals, we must be more creative in working with available resources. In my work for City Commissioner Saltzman, I’m leading an effort to make Portland the first city to get all the electricity used by City government from wind power. The City spends $14 million a year on “dirty” power that comes from coal-burning plants and hydroelectric facilities that are killing salmon. Under our plan, we’ll contract with a local wind-energy company to generate the City’s power on wind farms in eastern Oregon.

A transition to wind energy will not only brand Portland as a leader in the emerging green economy, but it will also stimulate economic development, create jobs and revenue that will help bridge the urban/rural divide, and help us meet our environmental goals. Wind energy won’t cost us any more than we’re currently paying -- it might even save us money. I’m eager to bring this kind of vision to the County, and to take the lead on projects that are both ambitious and fiscally prudent.

I would also like to see open-source software installed on every computer in every County office. Multnomah County currently spends almost $3 million a year in licensing payments to Microsoft. As my 7-year-old son Alex recently told me, “Bill Gates already has enough money.” Alex may be Oregon’s youngest open-source advocate.

Multnomah County needs a new generation of leadership -- leaders with fresh ideas, vision, and the skills and experience to get real results. That’s the kind of leadership I’ll bring to the County Commission. Thank you for your interest in my thoughts -- and now I look forward to hearing yours (either here in the comments or to [email protected])

And by the way, I’d love to see you at my official campaign launch party this Thursday at the Mississippi Ballroom (833 North Shaver Street). The party will run from 5:30 to 7:30. Please join us - no need to RSVP, just show up!


  • Steve (unverified)

    I am considering the candidates - What is your idea on fixing the Sellwood Bridge and how will you fund it? How about opening Wapato and how will this be funded? In general, what cost savings ideas do you have in mind or are you thinking of tax increases? Thanks.

  • Tired of Platitudes (unverified)

    All I read from your post is the same old bromides every candidate gives us, along with a tilt toward windmills.

    Sorry, but "fresh ideas, vision...." I am asleep already. Come back when you have something to offer other than small ideas wrapped in the same failed ideology that has run Multnomah county into the crapper.

  • Jim Clay (unverified)

    How wonderful to see this announcement! Jeff Cogen is exactly the kind of person we need in public service today: progressive, energized, creative, articulate and decisive.

    No I’m not running his campaign. But I have known Jeff for several years, and I had the opportunity to work with him a few years back in creating innovative child and family advocacy initiatives. He knows how to get things done, and he knows the importance of integrity. He also knows the strengths and weaknesses of County government, and could bring a new and much needed style of open leadership.

    Thanks Blue Oregon for allowing Jeff to introduce himself. We would all do well to get to know him better.

    And Alex is already 7 years old!!!!? My how time flies!

  • Norm! (unverified)

    Which district is Jeff Cogen a candidate for or is it a county-wide position?

    Green electricity and open-source software are great ideas regarding the county's internal management. However, it would be nice to hear more about how Mr. Cogen will enhance the actual services the county provides to its citizens. The county has the unpopular jobs of caring for the neediest and most vulnerable members of our community while also keeping criminals off the street. How does Mr. Cogen propose to do to actually improve the county's services within its budget restrictions?

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    The County's got a tough job and its going to get tougher. The I-tax that ends next year currently funds $30 million worth of County services, and the current talks to extend the school funding part of it haven't even contemplated extending the funding for human services and public safety.That needs to be part of the conversation. We also should consider whether a public safety levy could help fund Wapato.

    However, even if these funding sources were to come to pass, the County won't have remotely enough money to take care of all the need taht's out there. It's imperative that the County do a top to bottom reappraisal of the way it does business. Not only will that help save money, but it will help convince taxpayers that they are getting a good value for their tax dollars, which will make any future tax increases mkuch more likely to succeed.

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    Norm, Jeff is a candidate for District 2 - currently held by Serena Cruz, who is term-limited out. A district map is here.

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    Also, I'm supporting Jeff Cogen because he's exactly the kind of leader we need around here. He's started a small business that grew to employ dozens of people, he helped save one of the best nonprofits in town, and at the city he's been doing important and visionary work on energy that actually saves the city money.

    This isn't, btw, an indictment of any other candidates - several are friends of mine and have and will serve our community well. But Jeff is an extraordinary talent.

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    What would you have done differently on gay marriage?

    How do you propose dealing with the inequities in how Eastern MC is treated by the region?

    What are your plans for economic development?

    Do you believe the training and maintenance costs of open source software will exceed the $3,000,000 in licensing? (Honestly, not to be insulting, but I don't think your seven year old's opinion about rich folks ought to guide public policy. I bet he likes IPods but do we worry that Steve Jobs is worth 10 billion?)

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    Thanks for taking the time to talk to us here on Blue Oregon.

    However, I noticed one thing-- you talked about Portland several times. You do realize there is more to Mulnomah County than just Portland, right? The current Commission seems to forget there is anything east of 122nd.

    There's the true eastern Portland-- it goes on for many blocks past 122nd. The parts of Portland from the river through 82nd are more like Central Portland.

    Then there is Gresham, Troutdale, Wood Village, Fairview, Corbett, Maywood Park, part of Lake Oswego, and the unincorporated areas of the city.

    What are you going to do to help balance out the severe inequity in the way eastern Multnomah County has been treated? What do you think of suggestions that the Commission Districts be reorganized so that eastern Multnomah County is represented by more than one Commissioner?

    The push for the eastern part of Multnomah County to start its own county is getting stronger and stronger. What would you do to show people out here that they are indeed a part of the county (for more than just paying taxes) and to get their fair share of services?

  • Ted Blaszak (unverified)

    GO JEFF GO!!!!

    I have known Jeff for close to a decade now, since he owned his soft preztel bakery and I want to tell you fellow Blue Oregonians he is awesome!!! Just the type of new energy we need at the commission.

    He's compassionate, democratic, and progressive. He cares deeply for the least fortunate among us and is very hard working. He is a real policy wonk who knows the ins and outs of every little county and city initiative, but still gets the big picture. One of the smartest dudes I've ever meet. He's had a lot of on the job training, working for Bev Stein and then Dan Saltzman.

    But beyond the issues, the extensive experience, and the numerous other qualifications that make him a great candidate, the reason why I'm supporting Jeff, he's sooooo cool! I know that may sound stupid, but this guy is just cool as all get out. You just want to sit down and have a beer with Jeff. And quite frankly this county commission could really use a someone a little less uptight on it.

    So this year vote cool, vote hip, VOTE JEFF !!!!!!!

  • Steve (unverified)

    "It's imperative that the County do a top to bottom reappraisal of the way it does business. Not only will that help save money, but it will help convince taxpayers that they are getting a good value for their tax dollars, which will make any future tax increases mkuch more likely to succeed."

    Mr Cogen - Can you give us any details on what reappraisal means in real terms? I would like to give you a serious consideration, but endorsements don't count as much as solid plans and I think any voter would be curious about how you are going to save MC money. THanks.

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    Wow, so many good questions...OK, let me try to respond without having this be a twenty page post:

    On open source software - it seems clear from looking at other governments and businesses that have moved to open source that there will be savings. But that's only part of the equation. The money that we will spend on training and maintenance will be hiring local people in an economic niche that our regional economic development strategy has targeted as a key industry for the future of our local economy. By making this move the County is using its buying power to boost the local economy.

    On Gay Marriage - I strongly oppose discrimination against anyone based on what they look like, what they believe, who they love etc. The County Commissioners' hearts were in the right place. However, the way they carried it out was inept. Excluding Lonnie Roberts and having no public hearings before unveiling what even supporters have to acknowledge was a huge change undermined the effectiveness of what they did, changed the public debate from the civil rights discussion we needed as a community to one about a flawed process, and undermined peoples faith in Government as a fair, transparent institution.

    On East County - I live in Portland and the district I am running for is entirely within Portland, so I have been focusing much of my attention in this campaign on Portland. However, I am very aware that poverty and other social ills have been migrating east and that the needs of East County residents are grwoing much faster than the rest of the Community, and they haven't been getting their fair share. the County needs to do more to recognize the changing demographics and increased needs in east County.

    On a top to bottom reappraisal - I think the County needs to bring in outside expertise (hopefully pro-bono or grant funded)to assess its administrative overhead costs (which are very high), its program delivery models, and the system of care (or in most cases lack of a system)to make sure that we are spending every dollar we have as effectively as possible. I also think that local government needs to be more creative in finding ways to spend the dollars it has in a manner that can leverage other social goals - that's what the wind and open source examples are designed to highlight.

    Anything I missed? Thanks for all of the great questions and comments. Jeff

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    We realize the position is completely in Portland. Only one seat covers this area, which is why the area gets so little attention by the Commission.

    This is why many people out here are starting to push for a change in the districts. The districts should be changed so that eastern Multnomah County has 2 seats on the Commission. They would be shared with parts of Portland, but a Commissioner couldn't win elections and ignore this part of the county.

    So many people seem to forget that Gresham is this state's fourth largest city. The estimated population last year was just over 94,000 people. But the way it's treated by the Commission, you'd think it was a tiny little town that can be ignored. The city has more people in it than some counties, I'm sure. Put it together with Troutdale, Wood Village, Fairview, and Corbett and we could easily be our own county (more than 120,700 people)-- and Portland would feel the affects since it would no longer get to spend our tax dollars on itself.

    I live in Portland and the district I am running for is entirely within Portland, so I have been focusing much of my attention in this campaign on Portland.

    That's exactly the problem. Commissioners have to stop looking at it as "I represent Portland." They have to look at it as even though they were elected by a part of Portland, they are there for the entire county. They should think about the greater good of the entire county.

    Until County Commissioners do that, eastern Multnomah County will continue to be left behind.

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    Good responses. I would like to hear a bit more about your economic development strategy. Let me give you a specific example to respond to: why is the Gateway area, which ought to be a growth area, doing so poorly? What is Vancouver doing along Mill Plain Blvd. that we are unable to do in Portland? Are our development policies too focused on downtown? How can we attract (or do we want to attract) major corporate and industrial development to Portland or MC?

    But let's get to the real issues. Someone mentioned soft pretzels ...

    Are you willing to admit that the best soft pretzels are made in Philadelphia and that no West Coast wanna be can compare? ;-)

  • Ruth Adkins (unverified)

    Thanks for posting, Jeff.

    Kari, will there be posts like this from all the other candidates, or just this one as an "endorsement" post?

  • james (unverified)

    With all due respect, you answered Steve's question about specifics with a tap dance. He asked for details on what you mean by "reappraisal," and you offered a two pronged program:

    Prong 1: hire a consultant Prong 2: be creative

    I am underwhelmed. With solutions like this Mult. Co. is sure to be in its malaise for many years to come.

    Your response copied below.

    On a top to bottom reappraisal - I think the County needs to bring in outside expertise (hopefully pro-bono or grant funded)to assess its administrative overhead costs (which are very high), its program delivery models, and the system of care (or in most cases lack of a system)to make sure that we are spending every dollar we have as effectively as possible. I also think that local government needs to be more creative in finding ways to spend the dollars it has in a manner that can leverage other social goals - that's what the wind and open source examples are designed to highlight.

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    OK, so on the issue of changing how the County does business, I want to point to a model that I know: the Children's Investment Fund, which I mentioned in my original post.

    This was created by the voters of Portland (sorry Jenni, even though the need is great in East County, the voters there simply weren't supportive)in 2002. It was designed to help kids, but the reason I think it passed is that we offered a new way of doing business for Government. There are three key ways in which the Investment Fund isn't buiness as usual, all 3 written into the ballot language: 1) we only fund programs proven by research to work (you might think that's a no brainer, but its not how Government typically works) ; 2) we limit out administrative expenses to 5% so 95% goes directly to ptograms, and no big bureaucracy can emerge; and 3) we are audited by an outside auditor annually to make sure we are doing what we promised the voters we would do. We need to infuse that sort of efficiency and accountability into all aspects of local government, and Multnomah County will benefit greatly from it.

    On economic development, I have a few thoughts. First of all, the County needs to act like economic devlopment is its responsibility, too. Too often the perspective there is "we do social services, the city and state are responsible for economic devlopment". That needs to end. Aside from everything else, one of the County's primary tasks is to alleviate poverty, and having a strong, vibrant economy is a critical part of fighting poverty. The County should use it's buying power in a way that helps local businesses. The County should, where applicable, make its regulatory environment conducive to businesses, especially small businesses that are the backbone of our economy. I'm not a big fan of tax breaks to attract business, though there may be times that these are worth it. These need to be scrutinized very carefully.

    But probably the most significant threat to our long term economic development is the appalling lack of funding for education and workforce training: from our K-12 system that faces a meltdown next year with the end of the I-tax, to our community college, university and worker training programs that compete for scraps in Salem. If we are serious about creating a thriving economy in the 21st century, we need to invest in our people - starting at early childhood and continuing throughout their careers.

    Finally, on to the important matter of soft pretzels. Philadelphia is indeed the motherland of the American Soft Pretzel. New York ain't bad, either. But let me assure you, in the 1990's, at least, Portland had the goods. Not only were Portland Pretzel Company Pretzels truly delicious, they were organic, and therefore a more sustainable pretzel. But don't take my word for it, come on down to my campaign kickoff party tomorrow (mississippi ballroom - 5:30-7:30) one night only- the rebirth of the Portland Pretzel Company - the first hundred lucky people will get a rocking good pretzel. thanks. jeff

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    There's a big reason why people in eastern Multnomah County don't support this stuff. They see taxes and such voted in, but see very little in return.

    This area constitutes over half of the physical area of the county, yet it gets so little.

    Until just recently you had to drive all the way to about 125th/Division to get to a WIC/County Health Office. Then you're sent even further into Portland for the checkups needed to get your WIC. I had WIC from 2003 into 2004 and I had to drive to the Mid County Health Clinic to get on the program. Then I had to drive into SE Portland (around 34th and Powell) to get my 1 year-old an eye check-up so that we could get on WIC (the classes were all for infants, not older babies on solid foods).

    When the county does start talking about putting a county office out this way, it's a criminal justice center in the middle of an area we're trying to revitalize and reduce crime. The community was completely against it, yet the county kept pushing.

    They've seen so little of anything from the county and the state that their reaction is to vote down every single item that comes before them regarding taxes.

    Of course people out this way are going to be this way-- when they see their dollars being spent in Portland, why should they approve any tax increase? We have more rapes per capita than Portland (Portland has 58.6 rapes per 100,000 residents; Gresham has 74.3). Does the county or the state help us to reduce that? No. We have more auto thefts than Portland (Portland 1109.0 per 100,000; Gresham 1291.5). Has the county or the state done anything to help with that? No.

    The crime index for Gresham in 2003 was 490.8-- the higher the number, the more crime. The national average was 329.7. In four years it's gone from 361.2 to 490.8. Portland's crime index was going down until 2003, when it increased just over 25 points.

    The area has seen so little help for the taxes it has paid that it has turned completely anti-tax. Without proof that they will receive their equal share, this area is not going to vote in any taxes. While taxes will pass without this area, you're likely to see a formal push for a new county to be started in a new county/area tax is passed.

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    Ruth, you wrote: Kari, will there be posts like this from all the other candidates, or just this one as an "endorsement" post?

    I hope that there will be others. The other candidates are welcome to submit a post whenever they'd like.

    As I told Pete Sorenson, I may be supporting the governor, but this forum is an open one -- and you'll note that Pete has taken advantage of that.

    As anyone who's followed my work over the years (including at X-PAC), I'm a big believer in open forums. Good, thoughtful people are always welcome.

  • foxtrot13 (unverified)


    Do you really believe that East Portland votes against taxes because they don't see a return directly?

    Could it be that there are issues beyond just pure return on investment that motivate the way these people vote?

    Could it be that they just aren't "greedy" but acutally have conscerns that trascend taxation and relate to acutal policy decisions?

    And I can tell by your posts Jenni that you are a critical thinker and I do respect your opinion though I disagree with it.

  • Ruth Adkins (unverified)

    Thanks, Kari--I was just askin', not meant as a slam on you or the site. It read to me like an endorsement, so just wanted to clarify whether other candidates are invited to post, as well. Thanks!

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    I don't see it as greedy when people would like some of their tax dollars spent on themselves. It's not as if the area is doing great and doesn't need the money. We have horribly overcrowded streets, high crime rates, too few cops, an overtaxed fire dept, almost no park system, etc.

    They want their fair share of the money to be spent here because things are steadily getting worse. People are afraid to be out on the streets of Gresham at night because you could be shot. A lot is made of shootings in downtown Portland, but what about Rockwood?

    For the most part, people out here aren't greedy. They want to see the money they pay in taxes come back in the form of maintained roads, adequate police and fire protection, the ability to get rape kits tested so that we can catch these rapists, etc.

    I mean, Multnomah County was expecting the city of Gresham to give it millions to maintain roads and mow the shoulders. These are roads that the residents of Gresham already pay taxes for maintenance and mowing. Why should they have to pay again? Why should the city have had to resort to going to the state legislature to get the county roads within Gresham turned over to them as well as the taxes that were supposed to maintain them?

    This has absolutely nothing to do with greed. This is about wanting a community that is safe.

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    Now that the issue of Gresham and surrounding areas leaving the county has reared its head again (news story), candidates for county commission have got to address the issue.

    Using the excuse that you don't represent the area just isn't going to work anymore. If elected, you would be part of the elected body that runs the county-- a county that could be 400 square miles smaller in 2007. As such, people living in this area need to know whether or not things would change with the new make-up of the Commission, or do they need to proceed with efforts to leave the county.

    <h2>Some have tried to bring up an inaccurate assumption run in the Nov. 7th Oregonian. The county's chief financial officer recently threw out some numbers regarding the amount of taxes each city/area receives in relationship to the amount they paid. However, what many overlooked is that these are not actual numbers-- they were hypothetical ones. What he did was take the county's tax total, divide by the population of the county, and then multiply by each city/area's population. These numbers assumed that everyone used, and had access to, the same amount of county services. That's where those numbers came from. No real numbers exist regarding how much tax dollars each jurisdiction receives from the county.</h2>
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