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November 7th, 2001 Chris Lydgate | News Stories
 

Lolenzo's Toil

     
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Piecing together the jigsaw puzzle of Multnomah County's fractured mental-health system was never going to be easy. Increasingly, however, it appears that County Chair Diane Linn must worry not only about the shape of the pieces, but also their color.

Last month, citing the urgent need to reform the mental-health system, Linn yanked Lolenzo Poe--the county's most prominent African-American administrator--from his post as director of the Department of Community and Family Services and offered him a new post coordinating children's programs.

Poe, who is in Nevada dealing with a family emergency (his daughter was injured in a car wreck), hasn't yet indicated whether he will accept the offer.

But Poe's ouster has spurred howls of protest from members of Portland's minority communities and sparked an awkward spate of ethnic head-counting.

"I've known Diane since her youth," says Margaret Carter, president of the Portland Urban League, who visited Linn last week with a delegation of Poe supporters. "I've always thought of her as a diversified thinker. But the community is concerned about the staffing patterns at the county. She's got five white males in charge--there's no diversity of thought."

In truth, Linn's top two lieutenants, chief of staff John Rakowitz and chief operating officer John Ball, are both white guys, as are the top three mental-health administrators, Jim McConnell, Peter Davidson and Jim Gaynor.

But Linn's personal staff also includes Laura Bridges, a Latina; Becca Uherbelau, a Pacific Islander; Ken Chang, an Asian-American; and Steve Novick, who refers to himself as "a really short white guy whose left hand is made of stainless steel."

In addition, Linn's cabinet--the county's seven department directors--includes five women, one of them, Cecilia Johnson, an African American.

Finally, the five-member county commission includes two Latinas (Serena Cruz and Maria Rojo de Steffey), two white women (Lisa Naito and Linn) and one lone white male (Lonnie Roberts).

Linn says that race had "absolutely nothing" to do with her decision to reassign Poe. "What we're trying to do is deliver the best mental-health services," she told WW. "I want to be held accountable. I want to be measured by results."

In the current environment, however, it appears that Linn will be judged as much by her progress in racial arithmetic as by her refashioning of the mental-health system.

 
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