Multnomah County Chair Ted Wheeler gave his "State of the County" speech at City Club on Friday, February 12, just a week after Mayor Sam Adams gave a State of the City speech that barely mentioned police accountability or better funding for mental health ["State of the Twit-y," Hall Monitor, Feb 11].
In stark contrast to Adams, Wheeler began his speech in earnest by referencing the 2006 death in police custody of James Chasse Jr.—a man suffering from schizophrenia.
"No crisis has focused my administration more than the death of James Chasse," Wheeler said. "We're thinking differently today because of the lessons we learned from that tragedy."
He referenced a mental health panel put together by former Mayor Tom Potter to look into the problems raised by the tragedy.
"We met one on one with many of our citizens who deal with mental health on a daily basis," said Wheeler. "We asked ourselves some uncomfortable questions. For example, is it okay that the largest providers of mental health services in our society are our prisons and jails?
"There needs to be a place in our society where people can go in the midst of a crisis," Wheeler continued, referencing his effort to open a new crisis assessment center by 2012. And then later during questions, City Club member Ed Hershey, communications director of SEIU Local 503, asked Wheeler if he agreed with the city's contention that the Chasse case should be tried outside Portland because press coverage of the incident may have biased potential jurors.
"I do believe you can find impartial people in this community on any number of subjects," said Wheeler. "I do believe that there are people in this community who are open minded, and that's all I need to say on the subject."
Wheeler also said that the relationship between advocates for the mentally ill has shifted in the wake of the Chasse case.
"We agreed that it was time to move on from an adversarial relationship and stop coming to loggerheads, and advocate for better funding at the state level," he said.
Wheeler said the "values that guide him" are "being responsible and being responsive."
I've quoted his speech so extensively because in essence, it's the speech I wish the mayor had given a week earlier. Still, there's always next year, and I hope Mayor Adams was paying attention. Maybe even taking a few notes.