Portland City Hall is on alert this morning, as City Council prepares to take up a new contract with the city's largest police union.
Cops are standing guard, city commissioners' offices are all locked at the advice of security, and council chambers are nearing capacity.
The tension marks a collective bargaining agreement that has vastly different importance for different groups: Black Lives Matter protesters, civil liberties groups, the city's auditor, and more think the contract is being rushed, without enough provisions to bolster police oversight. Mayor Charlie Hales and the Portland Police Association are big fans of the agreement, saying the pay increases it contains will help curb a widening staffing shortage in the police bureau.
Last week's hearing on the matter had to be hastily recessed when one member of the public began cursing at Hales. Activists remained in council chambers chanting "Black lives matter!" The previous Friday, activists demanding an audience with Hales flooded the building, following police shootings around the country.
Meanwhile, the actual hearing on the contract that plays out this morning isn't going to be all that substantive. Last week, city council pushed back a vote on the contract in order to consider citizen concerns. But Hales told the Mercury on Monday he doesn't plan to open the floor for new testimony at today's hearing, and doesn't anticipate any changes to the contract beyond an amendment he offered to clarify that citizens will have input on a police body camera policy.
And it looks as though Hales has the votes to ink an agreement with the police union, regardless of the controversy. According to people in City Hall, commissioners Nick Fish and Amanda Fritz are supportive of the deal, and Commissioner Dan Saltzman is considering it. Commissioner Steve Novick appears to be a solid "no."
That doesn't mean mayhem won't ensue—either this morning or when a formal vote is taken to ratify the agreement, likely next week. The accountability group Don't Shoot Portland has vowed to do everything in its power to stop the agreement from taking hold.
Update, 12:40 pm: Things devolved considerably at council shortly after we posted. Joe Walsh, a regular council attendee, took umbrage that he couldn't comment on an item about homeless services, and began screaming at Hales (as is his wont). "You're a bum!"
And it went from there. Before long, two activists—David "Kif" Davis and Laura Vanderlyn—had been arrested, presumably for trespassing after Hales excluded them. Teressa Raiford, of Don't Shoot Portland, refused to leave after being excluded, and other activists formed a human chain around her to prevent her from being removed. As of now, they're still in council chambers, City Hall has been put on lockdown, and police are all over the place.
"At this point we are not planing on making further arrests unless directed by City Hall security," says Portland Police Bureau spokesperson Sergeant Pete Simpson.
Update, 1:48 pm: Council never reconvened. After repeated huddling by City Hall staffers and an impromptu tête-à-tête between some council members, Hales made the decision to call it a day.
Council will come back into session tomorrow afternoon at 1 pm, the mayor's office now says, but will limit access to council chambers while commissioner take up the police contract. Media will be allowed, as will people who'd been signed up to testify. Everyone else will have to watch on the city's livestream.
Here's the official notice.
The move raised questions about other items City Council is slated to consider that might warrant public comment, including a proposal to tax companies that pay their CEOs egregiously, and details of the city's far-reaching Comprehensive Plan. City Attorney Tracy Reeve told reporters that city council doesn't have to take public testimony.
"Public meetings law does not require that public comment be allowed," Reeve said. "It requires that council conduct its business in public."
Still, Hales' office plans to open up chambers to the general public after the contract has been discussed as long as there are no outbursts, according to his chief of staff, Tera Pierce.
Here's a tweet storm that better captures what has to be one of the more dramatic city council meetings ever. (Side note: The police contract still hasn't been discussed).
Oh boy. This council hearing is already devolving. Recessed after Joe Walsh starts flipping out.
— Dirk VanderHart (@dirquez) October 5, 2016
And Jo Ann Hardesty and Teressa Raiford are screaming at each other.
— Dirk VanderHart (@dirquez) October 5, 2016