Hundreds of Businesses, Organizations and Residents Signal Support of County DEI

A letter with sign-ons from more than 780 organizations, businesses and community leaders was sent to the Clackamas County Board of County Commissioners this week, urging them to scale up the county’s diversity, equity and inclusion efforts — even as members debate the possibility of defunding the office.

The letter and lists of signatories includes nonprofit service providers, education leaders, businesses large and small, as well as concerned residents, including nearly a dozen from Canby.

During budget discussions earlier this year, Clackamas County Commissioner Mark Shull proposed defunding the Clackamas County Equity and Inclusion Office, calling the nearly $830,000 in proposed funding (which pays for programming and three full-time employees) an “unnecessary expense” that “only foments friction.”

Several other commissioners signaled their willingness to consider such a move, though the board of commissioners and budget committee members ultimately voted 9-1 to table the proposal.

The July 6 letter urges commissioners to consider the office as an essential investment, critical to ensure a welcoming, safe and prosperous community.

“The Clackamas County Office of Equity and Inclusion is an essential piece of our region’s shared values of safety and inclusion,” said Cole Merkel, co-director of HereTogether and an Oak Grove resident.

“By prioritizing the values of equity, this office empowers marginalized voices, addresses systemic inequalities and works towards a more welcoming Clackamas County.”

Merkel says the letter shows that “creating a community where every individual is valued, respected and has an equal opportunity to thrive is not a partisan issue.”

“Diversity makes our community stronger,” he sais.

The letter was sent to the Clackamas County Board of County Commissioners today in advance of their policy meeting on Tuesday, July 11, when they were initially expected to discuss plans for the Office of Equity and Inclusion. That discussion was later rescheduled to August 1.

The letter’s signers said they want commissioners to not only retain the office, but expand the county’s work on equity and inclusion.

“By prioritizing the values of equity and inclusion, we attract talent, enhance productivity and cultivate innovation,” said Trey Winthrop, CEO of Bob’s Red Mill.

“Supporting this office is not only morally imperative but also economically advantageous, as it paves the way for a prosperous Clackamas County where everyone can thrive and contribute.”

The letter was also signed by a number of current and former state and local elected officials, including the mayor or city councilors of Lake Oswego, Milwaukie, Oregon City, Gladstone, Estacada and Wilsonville, state representatives Mark Gamba, Annessa Hartman and Kayse Jama, and former commissioners Sonya Fischer and Ken Humberston.

“I wholeheartedly endorse and advocate for the continued support of the Office of Equity and Inclusion,” said Lake Oswego Mayor Joe Buck. “The work of this office will foster a stronger sense of community, attract diverse businesses and create an environment where every resident can thrive.

“The work of this office is not only essential for building a respectful and equitable community, but also contributes to our county’s long-term economic growth and success.”

Read the letter and list of signatories on our website here.

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