A banner outside Portland City Hall last week, as City Council took up a new police contract
A banner outside Portland City Hall last week, as City Council took up a new police contract Dirk VanderHart

Activists and local civil rights organizations aren't the only ones asking Mayor Charlie Hales and the rest of Portland City Council to put off a new contract with police.

Following a highly charged hearing last week—in which representatives from Don't Shoot Portland, the ACLU of Oregon, Portland Copwatch, the Sierra Club, and more urged a delay of the contract—City Auditor Mary Hull Caballero issued a memo to council, requesting a hold on the ratification vote.

As with many memos Hull Caballero sends to council, it's strongly worded. It reflects an ongoing concern that her office, which includes the city's Independent Police Review (IPR), hasn't been kept in the loop on these important topics.

"A significant overarching concern is that the proposed collective bargaining agreement was negotiated with no notice to community stakeholders, in a break with previous contract negotiations," Hull Caballero writes. "IPR was not notified that the City was engaged in collective bargaining with the [Portland Police Association], and the City did not request IPR input. We are concerned that the veil of secrecy that has enveloped the proposed contract and its creation stands to do long-term harm to the City’s efforts to build a stronger police accountability system."

As of Monday afternoon, there was no indication council would further slow approval of the contract. It appears council will vote next week on a "tentative agreement" [PDF] that includes ratifying the deal. As we've reported, that contract would give union members a 9 percent pay increase over three years, among other perks, in exchange for the union dropping outstanding grievances and agreeing to do away with a rule that gives cops two days after shooting someone to speak with internal investigators.

Officials estimate the pay bumps will eventually cost at least $6.6 million a year, money that hasn't been budgeted for. There'd be millions more in increased pension and disability costs.

Since the city's tentative agreement with the union also contemplates a forthcoming policy on body-worn cameras, Portland officials were forced to unveil a draft agreement [PDF] between the city and the union for what that policy could look like. That, too, has drawn concerns from police accountability advocates and the auditor's office, though it'll be subject to changes in the future.

"From my perspective, this current version of the policy would set back oversight,” IPR Director Constantin Severe said last week of the draft body camera policy.

Hales has sort of reacted to these concerns. Following last week's hearing—which had to be hurriedly recessed at one point because of profanities being hurled at council members by one man—the mayor said he'd push back a final vote on the contract by a week, while council reflected on the testimony it heard and mulled any necessary amendments.

But Hales told the Mercury on Monday that he still had at least three votes to pass the new contract, a point others in City Hall confirmed. And Hales said he didn't envision submitting any changes to the ordinance. He'd already suggested inserting a sentence into the agreement with the union stressing that the public would get input on the body camera policy.

"That’s the only amendment I'm going to offer," Hales told the Mercury. "I don't believe there are going to be others."

That won't be welcome news to activists and advocates who want stronger police oversight provisions in the new contract deal—for instance, provisions that make it easier to fire bad cops, and permission for IPR investigators to compel testimony from police officers during investigations of citizen complaints (they currently rely on the police bureau's Internal Affairs Division to help with investigations).

Those activists have called on Hales to push off action so that Mayor-elect Ted Wheeler can usher in a new contract—a move that would both delay the agreement and ensure Wheeler is held responsible for its contents. But Wheeler, in a vague tweet storm last week, seemed to indicate he was cool with the contract being passed before January.

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That's what Hales plans to do.

"It’s taken nine months to get a vote on a police contract that just addresses wages, getting rid of 11 grievances, and throwing out the 48 hour rule," Hales said Monday. "How long would it take to get a contract where everyone’s wish list is addressed?"

Here's Hull Caballero's full memo to city council [PDF].

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