I'VE BEEN ASSURED it's just a coincidence that the three city commissioners who have raised preliminary questions about Mayor Sam Adams' plan for a new City of Portland Office of Equity are all straight white males.
Fresh concerns about the office—and the $1 million in ongoing cash that the mayor wants to give it—emerged this month after Adams announced his vision for how Portland should spend its $26 million budget surplus.
Randy Leonard sounded the funniest note of discord, poking at the lofty, potentially duplicative aim of the new bureau by joking to the Oregonian that he'd create an "Office of Awesomeness."
Later, Nick Fish—a former civil rights lawyer who's still weighing the mayor's plan—suggested making the funding temporary, so the council can wait a year before committing permanently. And Dan Saltzman has at least wondered whether some cash might be shifted to other efforts, like rental housing inspections, which arguably also serve "equity."
Second guessing, and council-driven changes, always follow the mayor's initial spending plan—which, even in a good year, means pitting one commissioner's pet program or bureau against the others. Should the city spend more money on homelessness prevention programs? Should we spend more on the police bureau? What about new equipment for the fire bureau?
But the roster of skeptics, in this case, might raise eyebrows in the community if their concerns—however valid—wind up turning into outright opposition.
There was little surprise that Adams was going to spend heavily on the new office. He made its creation a signature element of his last State of the City speech, when he announced that Amanda Fritz would lead the office.
Adams wants to allot $525,000 in new funding to the office, while also folding in the current office of human relations and its budget. No new funding would be spent, however, until the council approves an actual plan for the equity office's scope and structure. That process has yet to take wing—discussions so far have cast the office as a hub for promoting equity in bureaus citywide, much like the new bureau of planning and sustainability.
(The public will be able to sound off at length at a budget hearing next Thursday, May 19, and then again at a community hearing on the equity office June 17.)
It's fair for the other commissioners to quibble. The office's work plan should be focused and might need to be revisited. It shouldn't duplicate other jobs or be no more than a political show pony. And it needs public support.
(That's something Fritz needs to work on, frankly, having raised ire among those who should be allies. Fritz has been too quiet on why she fired the former director of the office of human relations and has had the Human Rights Commission plotting a mutiny—reportedly asking to be reassigned from Fritz—that the mayor had to put down.)
But let's also look at what the status quo's gotten us: Black flight. Poverty and blight throughout the Eastside. Mistrust of the police in certain communities.
Could something new—a citywide commitment to change—really do any worse?