With the dawning of a new month (October, if you haven't flipped your calendar page yet) comes the dawning of a new era of security at city hall. Meaning, there now is security. On Monday morning, October 2, the building kicked off its new entrance procedures—and while the new process was only a couple of hours old, it was already proving to be a gigantic joke.
Historically, visitors to city hall could choose the SW 5th entrance or the more ornate 4th entrance—at both, the security presence was little more than a Wackenhut employee who would say hello. Now, visitors can only enter on 4th and are met by a pair of security guards who are required to ask two questions: "What is your destination?" and "What is your business at city hall?"
When I explained that I was with the media, and that I was simply stopping by to check in on Portland's elected officials, I was asked for identification. I complied, but then was told that not everybody has to show ID—in fact, if I had said, "I'd just like to see the building," I would have been allowed in with no further questions.
Call me crazy, but I have a hard time believing that anyone who really did intend to harm a city employee or elected official would say so. And in the absence of a metal detector, nobody with a weapon would be stopped. Unsurprisingly, none of the city staffers I spoke with felt any safer with the new procedures.
At best, the nosy security guards create one more minor barrier between the public and their local officials. At worst, the procedures send a message to Portlanders that city government is open only to people with "legitimate" business at city hall. And that would begin to undo years of effort to keep the doors to local government wide open.
I'm told the procedures are part of Mayor Tom Potter's "vision" to balance public access with security—just like his limitations on public testimony at council sessions are meant to balance citizens' constitutional rights with his unwillingness to listen to people whose testimony isn't "legitimate."
Both of the mayor's changes push the public further away from local government—even if the practical ramifications are minor, the message they send is unmistakable: Go away. And this from a mayor whose single-issue campaign platform was "being open to the public."
Perhaps, as one staffer put it, "The mayor is just scaaaaared." That's certainly how it looks.
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