The Clatsop County Board of Commissioners has adopted a strategic plan to guide policy priorities.
The plan focuses on five areas: governance; infrastructure; economic development; environmental quality; and social services.
We hope this useful exercise gives commissioners a sharper focus.
In our political endorsements last year, we observed that the county commission had identified the most important policy issues facing the North Coast, but had often missed opportunities to lead.
That pattern continues.
During the coronavirus pandemic, commissioners have not performed sufficient oversight of the county Public Health Department’s response to local virus cases, conducted a critical examination of workplace outbreaks, or pressed for greater transparency so people might better understand the risk and spread of COVID-19.
Since November, the county has reported more than 500 new virus cases — about 66% of all the cases recorded since March — and six deaths linked to the virus, yet county leaders have provided little context to help people make sense of the case count. Many of the public health updates at county commission meetings are perfunctory, with few pointed questions from commissioners.
Even more surprising, commissioners have not raised any questions in public about the death of a Warrenton man last year in police custody. Alexander Jimenez, 34, who had mental health and drug abuse issues, died in April after an arrest for disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. Warrenton police used a Taser on Jimenez during the arrest and sheriff’s deputies and police wrestled him to the ground in the sally port of the county jail. His death was ruled accidental — caused by the toxic effects of methamphetamines, with fatty liver disease and the application of the Taser as other significant conditions.
Commissioners oversee the county jail and Clatsop Behavioral Healthcare, the county’s mental health contractor. They could have asked about the use of force, the medical clearance process at hospitals before people arrested are brought to the jail, booking procedures at the jail and why a mobile crisis response team was never called.
The primary responsibility of our commissioners is to make sure the county manager we pay to run the county on a day-to-day basis and other administrators are doing their jobs. But the county commission also has the broadest geographic reach of any of our local boards, a unique platform to ask questions, set priorities and bring experts and advocates together to share ideas.
The new strategic plan is a helpful tool. In the coming year, we would also like to see more emphasis on these issues:
• Mental health. The number of crisis response calls has increased as people try to cope during the pandemic. Two people with mental health and substance abuse issues — Jimenez and Alaina Burns, a 31-year-old Astoria woman shot after a home break-in near Sunset Beach in December — have died after interactions with police.
While progress has been made over the past few years, significant gaps in treatment remain.
• Homelessness. Hiring a homeless services coordinator is a step in the right direction, but our county needs to be more aggressive in addressing the housing, social services and law enforcement challenges.
• Child care. One of the region’s largest child care providers scaled back last winter, then restrictions on in-person classes at schools because of the virus intensified the pressure on parents who need to balance the demands of work and family.
• Broadband. The social isolation and school restrictions during the pandemic are reminders of the urgency to extend high-speed internet access to rural communities.
• Transparency. The county Public Health Department should publicly disclose workplace outbreaks of the coronavirus.
We do not place the burden on county commissioners alone to solve these problems. Everyone on the North Coast with policymaking ability has roles to play. But we do believe they should help lead the conversations.