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A communicator at heart

TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Beth Smolens is eager to apply her many years of organizing experience at the City Council level. Beth Smolens comes from a family of writers.

All three of her brothers, in fact, have carved out careers in the writing world: Peter is a technical writer, while Michael is a political editor for the San Diego Union-Tribune and John writes fiction. Though a nurse by trade, Smolens herself has always enjoyed writing — particularly in the sense that it allows her to edit herself, to labor over a particular message or thought until it is just right.

And so when Smolens decided to run for City Council this past summer, she knew it would be an adjustment. There is no “delete” key when you’re standing in someone’s living room or chatting with voters at a coffee shop; carefully considered words must instead be constructed on the fly.

It was a leap of faith, to be sure, but Smolens found she was ready for the challenge.

“That was my biggest fear, that I would say things that are wrong,” Smolens said. “But I’m finding that’s not the case, that the more I get out there, the more I am able to connect with people, communicate, find out what they’re interested in.

“I’m finding that they want more from the City Council than they’re getting.”

A native of Wellesley, Massachusetts, Smolens moved to West Linn in 1996. In 2006, after her children had moved out of the house, she bought a house in the Willamette area. Her next-door neighbor happened to be then-City Councilor Jody Carson, and it was at that point that Smolens’ involvement in city politics began in earnest.

“Jody came up to me and introduced herself and said, ‘I’m your new neighbor,’” Smolens said. “We became very good friends and she got me involved in the neighborhood’s centennial celebration.”

Doing public relations work for Willamette’s centennial celebration in 2008 led to many other opportunities. Perhaps most importantly, Smolens co-produced a “Living History Tour” as part of the celebration, and the event was so popular that it has since become an annual staple in West Linn.

Around that time, Smolens also started attending Willamette Neighborhood Association meetings and was elected president of the association in 2008.

Smolens was heavily involved in the neighborhood association until 2013 when she decided to “take a back seat” and throw her full weight behind the founding of the West Linn Historical Society.

Creating the Historical Society was a logistical necessity, Smolens said, “mostly to house the programming for the (Living History) Tour, because up to that point the tour money was kind of imbedded in neighborhood money. And it really needed to be in a nonprofit so we could get grants, that kind of thing.”

The experience of running the West Linn Historical Society, which was formally established as a nonprofit in 2014, proved instructive in Smolens’ decision to run for City Council.

“My real skillset I’ve honed over the past 10 years while I’ve been involved with these groups has been writing, editing, organizing and administrating events — the heritage events,” Smolens said. “So that skillset, while I’m sure it’s going to be useful in a leadership role as well, that’s where I thought my skills would continue to grow — in that nonprofit realm.”

Smolens’ decision to run came on the heels of the Sunset Primary School construction controversy last spring, as well as the slew of city staff departures that had taken place throughout 2015 and 2016. She’s no stranger to delicate staffing situations, either, having been a staff member at OHSU during the nursing strike in late 2001.

“As a nurse at OHSU, I got involved in what we call ‘unit-based practice committees,’ and these are designed to take and communicate to a larger governance of nurses the problems that are occurring in a unit, whether it’s staffing, whether it’s workflow, whether it’s protocol,” Smolens said. “Once the strike was resolved I started working on that committee to try and improve the communication process and governance.

“I’m just one of those people that really believes in collective information from everyone helping us to come up with the right answers for how things should work.”

In her downtime, Smolens loves riding horses — one of her dreams is to ride a horse in a parade — and gardening. Mostly, she loves spending time at home with family.

“I’m very much a family girl,” she said. “I’m really grounded ... I’m not really a touristy type of person who is going to go and do a lot of traveling, so having my fun at home is kind of my thing.”

Editor's note: Due to a typing error, an earlier version of this story mistakingly stated that the OHSU nursing strike took place in 2011. It actually occurred in 2001. The Tidings regrets the error.

Patrick Malee can be reached at 503-636-1281 Ext. 106 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..