The Chief: Tell us about your background and how you found this career.
Karen Kane: I manage communications for Columbia County, and am responsible for all outreach from the Board and the departments. My tasks include media relations, internal communications, public involvement, social media, communications policy and a host of other areas.
As soon as I arrived, I became involved in developing the county's mission, vision and values, and now am heading up Strategic Planning. I've also organized some of the county's advisory committees, most notably the CZ Trail AC and the Parks AC. I'll be moving on to helping Mike Paul, our new Public Health Administrator, with a Public Health Advisory committee.
I am also rebuilding the county's entire website, plus its Intranet site. Another task I've taken on is County branding - we've slightly updated the logo design and are beginning to use it on all of our materials - trucks, banners, business cards, etc.
I chose the job because I knew I could use my extensive background in all the areas I noted above, plus become involved in new tasks. Before I was hired, the county had limited communications. An employee who managed an entirely different department and a contractor got them started, but when I arrived, there was no formal program, no policies, limited web text, no photographs, and three or four different logos. I've worked to pull everyone together and to give county residents a more consistent way of hearing from us and having two-way communications with the public.
Before I came to the county, I worked at Portland Community College in Community Relations, did some contract writing, outreach and web work, and spent 18 years working at Metro's main communications office and as the public relations officer for the zoo, where I managed all PR and did events - I started ZooLights and loved bringing thousands of families and friends together at a time of year when the zoo was incredibly quiet.
What I love best about my job(s) is helping people to understand how government benefits and affects them and giving the public the opportunity to become involved in the decisions their government makes.
Chief: You recently spoke at the Clatskanie Chamber of Commerce. What was the topic of discussion?
Kane: The topic of discussion at the chamber meeting was the describe my job and my current activities, from the hard aspects of having to deliver sad news to getting the word out to the public. We discussed how important that was, and I was able to ask the attendees how they would like to hear from us.
You know, my first day here was tough. It was Oct. 31, 2016, and it went from silly to outright frightening (no pun intended). While I got to work with people dressed in dinosaur and witch costumes, I had to create the messaging and a media/outreach plan for an unfortunate incident where a county employee was accused of embezzling funds. And this was just days before voters decided on a jail operating levy.
Lots to balance there, and it's a good example of how my day to day work life goes!
Chief: How were your remarks received by the audience?
Kane: I think my remarks were received well (you'd have to ask them). I did ask the chamber organizers if my talk was helpful, and they said yes. I had good interaction with the people there. I think people are happy to know what the county is doing in the way of public involvement, outreach and feedback.
Chief: Why is attending functions such as chamber meetings important for county officials?
Kane: It's always good, and important, for county managers and electeds to get out to speak with people on a one-on-one basis. It's surprising how much we do that people are not aware of.
Counties are responsible for many aspects of civic life, from repairing roads to maintaining public safety, to creating recreational opportunities, to bringing jobs/businesses and economic development to the community, to managing elections, to as Commissioner Heimuller says "burying the dead." Yes, if a deceased person has no assets or family, the county is responsible for taking care of them.
And Columbia County does this on a very small budget - as many realize, we were a timber-dependent county, and those dollars are just a fraction of what they used to be. I'm constantly amazed at the hard-working, dedicated people who work here. I have the privilege of working with every department on a wide range of projects and see how this staff works with integrity, frugally and collaboratively.
I want county residents to know that - all too often government is the "bad guy" but we're there for the people, their roads, their public health, and for the decisions that will make all of us grow and be prosperous.
Chief: What opportunities do you see for county and city to work together?
Kane: I think there are many opportunities. The county is beginning to build a strategic plan, and we can't effectively do that without public input and the input of the cities. We need to understand their growth plans, their aspirations, and their needs to determine where they and the county can work together to create programs and functions that benefit everyone, whether that be supporting infrastructure needs near OMIC and Port Westward to becoming involved in the recent tourism initiative.
Right now, we are conducting a broadband study, funded by Business Oregon and the Oregon Lottery. Better digital communications will help all people in all cities. As you may also know, in the buildup to the tourism initiative, county business owners, leaders and others were asked what Columbia County's main attractions are. The top two answers were the river and the CZ Trail - two areas where our Parks Department is working to improve and develop with new parks and safety improvements.
We're also amending our zoning ordinance to allow for Accessory Dwelling Units in certain areas outside cities. This affordable housing is surely a benefit to cities and residents; by increasing opportunities for those with low and moderate incomes we can help people stay in their communities.
We're also just now ending a survey on ways to make CC Rider more effective for county residents. CC Rider has limited funding, but we want the cities to be served.