ADVOCATES WHO WORK with sex-trafficking victims had been fretting ever since Mayor Charlie Hales issued his budget on April 30—stunned by his plan to slash funding for a handful of programs that help bust pimps and provide teens a path out of prostitution, among other things.
So they marshaled their forces and flooded a Portland City Council budget hearing on Saturday, May 18, the second of three, in hopes of changing Hales' mind. Victims and advocates, according to various reports, offered potent, heart-wrenching testimony on behalf of their work and warned what would happen if it went away.
But the Monday after, the Mercury has learned, it was Hales' turn to sound off and talk about feeling blindsided.
He called a meeting, sources say, where he upbraided advocates for embarrassing him and strongly urged them not to come to future hearings. Although advocates got most of what they wanted in a revised spending proposal announced the next day, the exchange offered an unusual glimpse into Hales' steely governing style as his first major test—the city budget—heads for council approval on Wednesday, May 29.
"It was a strained meeting; he felt we hadn't let our interests be known to him prior to the [budget] hearing. He came into the meeting blindsided," says Kevin Donegan, program director for Janus Youth Programs' Willamette Bridge Programs and Harry's Mother program. (Donegan also took pains to say, "I do appreciate what the mayor has done.")
Hales' spokesman, Dana Haynes, says his boss matter-of-factly wanted to learn three things: (1) why the city began funding the programs, (2) why they "had not come up" at hearings before Hales drafted his budget, and (3) whether advocates also lobbied Multnomah County.
"He felt like it was an effective meeting for getting information," Haynes says, "and it helped him with the budget."
Hales might be all smiles in public, praising advocates for moving the needle with "thoughtful" and "impassioned" testimony. And his budget, despite closing a $21.5 million gap, dispensed plenty of treats: He went to bat for Southeast's Buckman Pool and surprised his own colleagues with a dubious reversal that saved the cops' mounted patrol.
But, in a theme that reared its head during his mayoral campaign ["You Won't Like Me When I'm Angry," Hall Monitor, Sep 27, 2012], Hales isn't afraid to bite back when crossed. Especially when that happens in public.
Consider Hales' intense discussions with the Portland Firefighters Association (PFFA) over his plan to cut jobs and replace bulky fire rigs with rapid-response vehicles tailor-made for medical calls.
Hales met with PFFA President Alan Ferschweiler early Tuesday, May 21, a day after Ferschweiler wrote a stinging op-ed in the Oregonian complaining Hales' plan might endanger lives. Hales has a fraught history with the fire union, dating to his time as a city commissioner. Still, he was reserved about the back and forth when talking to reporters later that Tuesday.
But Hales' talking points for his meeting with Ferschweiler, obtained by the Mercury, reveal his blunt unwillingness to reconsider his demands. He's also privately refusing to embrace a union plan that would temporarily save jobs through grant money—unless the union reopens its contract and agrees to forgo certain pay raises.
"You are dead serious about the [rapid-response vehicles] and overall savings," the talking points say. "They can either choose jobs or trucks."
Ferschweiler says both revelations, but especially that line, "stung a little bit" when he read them.
"I don't think it's that simple of a thing," he says.
He also says Hales' fight to decertify the union that represents police captains, commanders, and lieutenants—arguing they're supervisors—also has the PFFA worried at a time when both sides are trying to build a better relationship. The PFFA represents some supervisory employees.
"That puts our members really on the defensive," Ferschweiler says.
Hales' response to sex-trafficking advocates has raised some eyebrows among sources who either attended the meeting or were briefed on it but declined to speak on the record.
Donegan, the Janus program manager, said the request to meet came around noon that Monday, with the session set for soon after: 3 pm. The invitees included movers and shakers, "people you have to plan a week in advance to get them in a meeting."
He said he had an answer to Hales' question on the programs' origin story: "The city came to us. The police bureau had concerns." Hales agreed to fund much of what he'd planned to cut, but only for another year.
And he still made cuts, based on what he heard at the meeting: $70,000 for victims services at a youth shelter for young trafficking victims, and funding for a deputy district attorney position that he insisted Multnomah County could pick up.
Curiously, a marked-up draft of Hales' revised budget proposals, obtained by the Mercury, showed full and ongoing funding for the programs, other than the prosecutor post. But the draft indicated Hales' office planned to find cuts and make the spending temporary. His office says the tweaks were routine and part of a "first blush" accounting of budget changes.
The source of the tension with Hales also became clear. Advocates had thought their one-on-one meetings in city hall before the budget, which went well, would suffice. Hales wanted feedback funneled through hearings held before his budget plan was announced—a first for Portland.
"We felt like we had done what we had needed to do," Donegan says. "Now that we know this, it's going to be a different perspective."