YOU'VE HEARD the superlatives. The city's latest labor deal with the Portland Police Association (PPA), in the words of bullish officials like Commissioner Randy Leonard and Mayor Sam Adams, is both "historic" and the "most aggressive" set of reforms "in a generation."
During last month's vote to approve the contract, they especially hailed what they saw as a pair of triumphs for the city: a new drug-and-alcohol policy that might, maybe, someday, allow for random steroid testing; and what the human resources bureau has called union "buy-in" on a series of police oversight reforms approved last summer.
Their message to residents, activists, and cops was essentially this: Yes, this new contract will cost $17 million over the next five years. But it was worth it! We promised we'd bring those union leaders to heel, and we did!
That was what the public mostly heard—a message dutifully picked up by many media outlets in town. But as for union members? It seems they were told something very different.
The Mercury recently learned about the contents of a union PowerPoint presentation on the contract, something shown to all members before they voted. And on the slides explaining key provisions on drug testing, the new Police Review Board, and the city's Independent Police Review (IPR) office, two curious words appeared on each: "Favors PPA." As in, doesn't favor the city.
There are a few important reasons behind the label: The drug policy is "treatment first." New contract language defines the union's constitutional right to fend off IPR subpoenas. New provisions allow officers greater participation in review board hearings. And now, whenever the union grieves a review board finding, the city must tell an arbitrator that the board is only an "advisory body" and that it doesn't give accused officers the right to call or cross-examine witnesses.
Daryl Turner, the police union's president, confirmed the gist of the presentation. He said he was "surprised" when city leaders trumpeted the union's acquiescence on oversight.
"I'm at a loss when it comes to that," he told me. "You never heard us say that."
City sources beg to differ. They tell me the real victory is that the union, just by acknowledging the reforms in the contract, has given up the right to hold them up with a legal challenge.
But just as important in all this is symbolism. True, the presentation—and Turner's rhetoric—was partly a sales pitch, meant to reassure skeptical members before they said yes. But it's something else: an unfiltered glimpse at union leaders' dismissive attitude toward accountability.
And that's hardly something for Portland to trumpet.