FOR EVIDENCE that Portland’s new police contract continues to be the city’s leading civic drama, look to the unprecedented closed-door meeting Mayor Charlie Hales held with roughly 70 city employees Monday.
Amid brief bouts of activist chanting outside (“Charlie, resign now!”), the mayor met with a pre-screened audience in the Portland Building to address concerns about the contract, and the violent clash between cops and Don’t Shoot Portland protestors it produced on October 12.
In a tenure that hasn’t been without drama, the gathering marked the only time Hales has met with employees in this manner to address concerns. And it offered some interesting moments.
For starters, there was Hales’ response to the argument that the contract should have been negotiated in public, as happened with the last Portland Police Association (PPA) contract in 2013.
“That was theater,” Hales told the employees. “That was not actually the negotiation.”
This is the same mayor who made a show of pushing for that “theater” in 2013, saying: “Portlanders are simply not going to stand for negotiations that are completely closed.”
Hales, in fact, sought to downplay the contract’s ability to spur meaningful reform, telling his audience it did just three things: Bumped officer pay, eliminated the hated 48-hour rule, and did away with 11 outstanding grievances filed by the PPA.
That’s an oversimplification. For instance, the new contract now includes a provision allowing cops to retire (and begin taking pension payments) and immediately resume work at the police bureau. An agreement signed between the city and the union alongside the contract lays the groundwork for an unarmed band of “community service officers,” and ensures the union has final say in a forthcoming body camera program.
There were also plenty of questions for the mayor at the rap session.
Someone wanted to know how some community members could be so angry about a contract Hales sees as an unqualified success.
“We’re in a national electrical storm,” the mayor said, referencing the nation’s current focus on police abuses, “and I walked outside with a coat-hanger.”
Hales got a chance to bemoan the state of the media, when an employee suggested the reports on the October 12 protests were biased. He spoke to a black employee who feels unsafe calling the police. And, more than once, he faced skepticism that the response from cops during the recent protest was always in step with the threat activists posed.
Dante James, director of the city’s Office of Equity and Human Rights, said he saw evidence cops showed “great restraint” while facing off with protestors outside City Hall. But he took issue with how police had cleared activists from the building in the first place (they’d been setting up tents and gathering in the hallways).
“You’ve got someone being shoved out the door almost horizontal,” James said.
Others said the decision to push protestors outside seemed unwarranted. Hales said he regretted that had happened, but that protestors holed up on City Hall’s second floor had disrupted city business.
“If people can’t get in and out of their office without running a gauntlet, that’s unacceptable,” he said.
Most galling, Hales and Police Chief Mike Marshman repeatedly refused to comment in detail on cops’ actions on October 12, saying the incident was under investigation by the city’s Independent Police Review.
Some audience members shook their heads at this. Others accepted it. And the ultimate effect of the meeting, as the employees hustled out and back to their jobs, was anybody’s guess.