Freedom of the Press? 

Mayor's Office Wants Media Out of His Committees

Last week, for the second time in recent history, the mayor's office showed Portland that it "believes in freedom of the press, but..." apparently only if they write what Team Mayor Tom Potter wants to read.

"I believe in the freedom of the press, but I've seen recently the damage that the media can have in propagating overall untruths and inaccuracies, which can be communicated to the broader public," said the mayor's public safety policy assistant adviser, Jared Spencer, at a meeting of the mayor's racial profiling committee in North Portland last Thursday, June 21.

Spencer was responding to a suggestion by the committee's facilitator, Kristin Lensen, that the committee's next two monthly meetings be closed to the media, for the purpose of "relationship building" between the participants.

Almost all of the committee members opposed Lensen's suggestion, with representatives from Oregon Action, the ACLU, Northwest Constitutional Rights Center, and Portland activist group Copwatch speaking out vehemently against it.

Even police union head Robert King, who has been the subject of much media scrutiny in the committee, opposed the idea.

"I think I'm one of the people around the table with the most to lose in terms of having skin in the game," added Police Chief Rosie Sizer. She also opposed the idea, though she blamed "a certain amount of posturing" on the presence of the media. (So far, only the Mercury has represented the media—other outlets have pre-empted the proposed media ban by not showing up in the first place.)

The mayor's office is apparently still smarting from coverage of the mayor's Street Access for Everyone (SAFE) oversight committee. Following intense media scrutiny, Commissioner Randy Leonard held the committee to account for failing to deliver on its promises to provide more services for downtown's homeless before making it illegal to sit or lie on the sidewalks on June 14 ["Whose Streets?" News, June 14]. As a result of Leonard's objections, city council voted 3-2 to delay enforcement of the sidewalk obstruction ordinance until those services are in place.

It's the second time in as many weeks that the mayor's office has tried to bar the media—specifically, the Mercury—from a committee meeting. After city council's June 13 vote on the sit-lie ordinance, Spencer called to say the next morning's meeting of the SAFE oversight committee would be for "committee members only," which is against Oregon public meetings law.

After having this pointed out, the mayor's office changed its mind.

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