Danny Hellman
The first email came on Thursday afternoon. It announced that city commissioner and mayoral hopeful Jim Francesconi was proposing a resolution calling for better police training and more diversity in hiring practices. Within two minutes, another email arrived. This time from Mayor Vera Katz, furious that Francesconi was trampling on her political turf.

"This type of stunt is election-year politics at its worst," read the press release. "It is unprecedented for a commissioner to try and use a city council resolution to micro-manage a city bureau not in their charge."

As mayor, Katz oversees the police bureau. Under city rules, only the elected official who manages a bureau can suggest changes of operation. But Francesconi claims he's grown tired of waiting for the mayor to step up to the plate. Four years ago, he points out, the city commissioned a Blue Ribbon study on racial profiling--but little has changed, even though the study found problems, such as glaring differences between how police deal with white and black motorists. And in fact, since the study's conclusion, two African Americans have been fatally shot by police during routine traffic stops.

The ordinance, co-introduced by Francesconi and commissioner Randy Leonard, demands that the police chief provide a report within 60 days about what training protocols are being implemented to better prepare officers to deal with racial and mental health issues. The ordinance also called for information about what the bureau is doing to diversify its work force. These concerns have been lingering for years.

"I'm not sure what the mayor has done to push for better training," Francesconi told the Mercury. He went on to say that he introduced the ordinance "to air it out."

Three weeks ago, the Albina Ministerial Alliance (AMA) presented their concerns about the police to city council. The AMA has led community-based forums and investigations into recent police shootings. Essentially, they asked city council to stop talking about making changes and to do something. Francesconi says their request inspired him to introduce the resolution.

"The premise," explained Francesconi, "is that public safety is all of our responsibility."

But not everyone has been so magnanimous. The proposed resolution has ushered in a bare-knuckle political brawl at city hall. The mayor's office called Francesconi's ordinance political grandstanding and claimed he was short-circuiting the political process.

"This is insulting to myself and to Chief Foxworth, who is already working hard and making progress on the issues outlined in this resolution," the mayor's press release stated. "I suggest Commissioner Francesconi pay greater attention to managing those bureaus that are in his portfolio, such as the Portland Bureau of Transportation, where there are key issues awaiting resolution."

On Thursday afternoon, the mayor gave the ordinance a stern smack down and announced she would not introduce it at the upcoming council meeting on Wednesday, July 14. That decision leaves the ordinance in limbo. If Francesconi can gather support from the other three commissioners, he can force the ordinance through over the mayor's objection.

Both the ordinance and the mayor's reaction have exposed the rising tension between the city's elected officials. The political fireworks are also being seen as proof positive that the current city council has trouble working together. One of the main complaints leveled at the council is that each member lords over his or her bureaus, and there is little cooperation between each other to resolve community matters.

The mayor's spokesperson, Scott Farris, said police chief Derrick Foxworth is already undertaking steps to improve police training and to diversify the work force--and subsequently, Francesconi's ordinance is redundant. "I don't see how this resolution will speed the process up," he asserted.

"I don't think the mayor is in opposition to Francesconi's goals--diversity in hiring, better labor relations. But you have to give a guy a little time [to make changes]," Farris said, referring to the relatively newly appointed police chief.

Farris also admitted "it may sound kind of petty, like the mayor is having her toes stepped on." But, he added, it could also set up a precedent where council members introduce changes to other members' bureaus. "That could be chaos," he concluded.

Against Katz's wishes, Francesconi has promised to bring the ordinance to council to force a vote on Wednesday (after press time).

by Phil Busse