An air of curiosity hung thick over the Portland Building last week.
After months of repeated outbursts, profanities hurled at Mayor Ted Wheeler and other city council members, and routine meetings taking far longer than they should, we were told to expect something new. Wheeler had a plan for combatting the protests, and he wasn't offering details in advance.
What was clear is that the strategy was created under duress. Commissioner Nick Fish had recently taken the perhaps-unprecedented step of forbidding his office and bureau staff from setting foot in City Council meetings, calling a particularly raucous meeting on March 22 "the worst council hearing I've attended since I was elected."
Fish, a former employment lawyer, said he was no longer willing to subject his staff to harassment from the crowd—then he reversed course. Deciding Wheeler had put together a solid plan, Fish rescinded the order.
"It's fair to say the mayor intends to use all the tools available to him, and his patience has run out," he told me. "I'm now satisfied that we will in fact be restoring order in our council meetings."
So what were these brave tools?
Admittance tickets, for starters.
Upon entering last week's hearing, attendees had their bags run through by contract security guards—a first in my experience. Then they were presented with a dated, numbered, salmon-colored ticket of unclear significance: "CITY COUNCIL, March 29, 2017."
I asked a guard what it was for. He wasn't sure.
I queried staffers in a couple commissioners' offices. They'd not known these were coming.
Eventually, a spokesperson for Wheeler told me the tickets were meant as signs of security clearance, like a hand stamp at a bar. They were to show that you'd been checked, and didn't have anything on you.
There was another tool, too, also wrought from cardstock: a notice that security guards will apparently hand to anyone who's interrupting proceedings going forward.
"You have engaged in disruptive behavior affecting the orderly conduct of the Council meeting," it reads in part. "You are directed to immediately leave the council meeting. You will be subject to removal and arrest for trespass if you do not do so."
This isn't too different from the verbal warning Wheeler has delivered at meetings again and again, and he has rarely had anyone removed or arrested. Now, perhaps, there is a suggestion that the removals and arrests are coming.
But if that's the case, we didn't see any evidence last week. Just two people attempted to disrupt the meeting, and both left voluntarily after being warned they could be arrested.
It might seem like a promising start—until you consider the fact that the building was on lockdown.
As the city council meeting proceeded placidly, police were outside the Portland Building, arresting protesters who were demanding justice for Quanice Hayes, the 17-year-old killed by police in February.
Which means there's still an air of curiosity. We now know Wheeler's plan. Will it work when he actually lets people in the building?