Works and Days

Multnomah County Commission, Reed Winter Externship, Sarah Canavan

Sarah Canavan, sophomore economics major, participated in the Reed winter externship program, working with Reed alumna, Christine Lewis '07, policy director for one of the Multnomah County Commissioners.

            I returned from a trip home to Texas for the holidays just a day before my externship with Christine Lewis at Multnomah County Commissioner Jules Bailey’s office. After my first semester at Reed, my trip home allowed me to reconnect with my family, my home and my past, and I was able to return to Portland and begin my externship with a renewed sense of self and purpose. I sat down with Christine to discuss the goals of my week stint as an intern at the Multnomah County office. We discussed my initial questions and planned which meetings I would attend and how I could learn more about data and research methods that play a part in the policy design at the office. After some discussion, we decided that I would shadow Christine and others at the office in their roles at the office and help do some thorough research into proposed levee reevaluation. 

            I’ve been a resident of Portland for five years and since living here have been marginally involved in local politics (voting in local elections, primarily) and my experience as a daily bicycle commuter has led me to participate in several bicycle and transportation advocacy groups or events (Shift2bikes, Oregon Walks, etc…) My academic and career interests lie in public policy design and analysis but I had never really seen what the working environment in this field would actually look like. What I got out of my externship was the opportunity to see county level policy being shaped, in fact, I really felt like I was seeing democracy in action. The process is an amalgam of inspiration, empowerment and frustration. The flavor of board meetings was similar to the Socratic method of Reed conference classes but with the meticulous minute taking of a senate meeting. I went to four board meetings; Home for Everyone Coordinating Council, Board of County Commissioners Meeting, Local Public Safety Coordinating Council and Oregon Solutions Levee Meeting. Going into detail about the different meetings and my observations from my time at the office could take a long time, so I think I’ll share some of my most interesting observations.


 1) In order for a board of a particular initiative to be effective, representatives from with several different backgrounds and areas of expertise come together to discuss policy initiatives. For example, the executive committee for the Local Public Safety Coordinating Council included Charlie Hales, Mayor of Portland, local Family Court judges, members of the police bureau, academics, lawyers and so on. The wide breadth of experience represented at these meetings facilitates a multi-perspective discussion of the intended outcomes and challenges of new policy. 

            2) I was given the opportunity to do some independent research for the Commissioner regarding Portland’s levees, which are currently not meeting federal safety standards. In order to assess how the county can and should go about assessing the communities prioritization and interest in levee repair, I did research on communities that had gone through similar levee reaccreditation processes. 

            3) Christine Lewis works as the policy director for Jules Bailey’s office and the coolest part of her job is that she gets to make in-depth investigations on an incredible range of policy topics. While I was externing, Christine was learning about e-cigarette issues in Portland as preparation for policy design regarding vapor cigarette regulation, as well as the levee issues, homeless advocacy, criminal justice and imaginably several other issues. I think this part of the externship was the most exciting revelation for me. 

            I am sure that my experience at the Multnomah County office will be integral in my understanding of politics on every level from the city to the federal as I follow my career path in policy. If anyone reading has questions about my experience, or want to get together to hear more about my externship, talk policy or democracy, please feel free to contact me! Thanks to the Center for Life Beyond Reed, Christine Lewis and Jules Bailey for making this opportunity possible for me

Tags: winter externship, public policy, local policy