Another day, another problem for Multnomah County Chair Diane Linn, now in a standoff against three fellow commissioners, this time over the county's $320 million budget and how best to keep inmates in jail.
The shorthand to the squabble: Linn had reached an agreement with the sheriff's office to open 171 jail beds with money that's available for one year only. But Commissioners Serena Cruz, Lisa Naito and Maria Rojo de Steffey-a majority of the five-person board-have a plan to open 15 jail beds permanently and another 57 with city money, also available for one year only.
The trio blames Linn for the impasse, accusing her of cutting private deals and leaving them out of the loop.
If the charge sounds familiar, it's because critics of the board's endorsement last year of gay marriage made that very accusation against Linn, Cruz, Naito and Rojo de Steffey.
In the middle of this current fight, Linn answered WW's questions about the budget, the county income tax and her re-election bid next year.
WW: Why didn't you seek the other three commissioners' input?
Diane Linn: I dispute that claim entirely. We have had a very, very open public process and open communication among each other [since] we started last September. We had good thoughtful conversations. I'm in very close communication with all the department directors. I talk to each one of them, including the sheriff, including the DA, including community justice, in terms of public safety, about how their programs fit together to make the system work well.
What's blocking a compromise with the other commissioners?
I think we need to come to an agreement, not just with the five of us, but also with the sheriff on what configuration actually makes sense to keep the community safe. I'm still hopeful that at least one member, if not all, will see the importance of that between now and Thursday. We have a disagreement, and that happens in public processes all the time.
But why do continue with them?
We had a disagreement more than a year ago over the public apology I issued over the process related to same-sex marriage. They made it very clear that they disagreed with that. I have to accept and respect that. But I don't think it should continue to have any bearing on the job we have to do right now.
What will we do with jail beds after this year's one-time funding gets spent?
We have an agreement with the City of Portland...which will allow us to look at all of our budgets together.
Isn't it possible that the jail beds opened this year will be closed next year?
That's possible. We've opened and closed dorms at Inverness over the last 10 years. I think we have a community crisis today.
How does this budget prepare for the disappearance of the county's temporary income tax next year?
My choices were to buy down debt and cut down costs going forward. We're basically leveraging the money we have into next year.
Do you support renewing the I-tax?
I don't support it. We made a promise to this county that we would [eliminate] the tax. It was a temporary tax. We're prepared to live without that money. Everything is going to be on the table for consideration. There's a whole variety of [areas that might be cut]: health and human services, library services, animal services. Everything we do is going to need to be evaluated.
How is the county better off now compared to when you became the board chair?
I've been able to help lead mental-health reform efforts [and] champion school programs, now serving about 10,000 kids in after-school and social-service support to the highest-need kids. We brought the I-tax measure to a community...to support schools and basic services, for a three-year period. Bringing back a full school year three years in a row and providing supports to other services. Balanced the budget three years in a row, with cooperation with the sheriff and the DA and the board. We maintained our bond rating throughout that whole time, replacing reserves even during the toughest times.
Do you expect major support next year from gay and lesbian communities when you run for re-election?
I'm very proud of my position on civil rights for gays and lesbians. I reflect the values of this community.
The county Board of Commissioners will vote Thursday on a budget.