Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler Doug Brown

The head of Portland's volunteer police watchdog board tried for nearly five months to set up a meeting with Mayor Ted Wheeler, the police commissioner.

The mayor's office finally scheduled a meeting this afternoon, a day after the issues were brought up at the board's meeting and shortly after the Mercury sought comment from Wheeler's spokesman about why the requests have gone ignored.

Citizen Review Committee (CRC) chair Kristin Malone said at Wednesday evening's CRC meeting that her October 2016 request to meet with Wheeler was fruitless and she was told recently she'd have to fill out a out a generic form on the city's website if she wanted to talk with him.

"I don't know that I would doubt that he would talk to me, I'm just running into real roadblocks in getting a meeting," Malone told the Mercury on Wednesday. The CRC, created in 2001, operates through the city auditor's Independent Police Review (IPR) office, responsible for hearing appeals from people unhappy with how the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) handled their complaints against officers, among other duties.

This afternoon, Malone told the Mercury in an email that she "was able to finally get a call back and a meeting scheduled to talk with him about CRC issues. It's not much, but I'm putting it in the 'win' column for the week!"

But the frustration about the lack of communication was evident last night.

"We've always met with the mayor," said CRC Vice Chair Julie Ramos after the meeting. Ramos said her contact on city council, Commissioner Amanda Fritz, has almost always been responsive: "I call her person, they know me, they put me on the calendar." Fritz has appeared at number of CRC meetings.

Malone said she tried to set up a meeting with Wheeler in the fall through his campaign website. She didn't hear back until mid-January, after Wheeler was sworn in, when a Wheeler staffer said, essentially, "hold tight, we haven't forgot about you."

"It's now March," Malone said yesterday.

"We periodically meet with city councilors to let them know what the CRC is doing—these are our concerns, this is where we need more support, these are the issues we're seeing," she explained. "And, especially, the chair usually meets with the mayor, as the police commissioner, to make sure that there's still a line of communication with everything we see here to the person who's ultimately got the final say."

Malone tried to set up another meeting with Wheeler after last week's city council hearing, where Wheeler and the four other city commissioners had the final say in a police discipline case earlier heard by the CRC. Wheeler and Commissioner Dan Saltzman sided with the PPB and against the CRC with their vote to exonerate the officer who used a Taser six times on a mentally ill and epileptic bicyclist in 2014. They were outnumbered by the three other commissioners, however, who sided with the CRC who ruled the police exonerating the officer for the Taser usage was unreasonable.

"After the hearing with him in city council, I reached back out {to the mayor's office) to say 'is there anything you can do get this train moving?'" Malone said. "And the answer we got from the mayor's office was 'please fill out our web form," which she did on Monday.

The generic form on Wheeler's page on the official city website is used by any group who wants some of the mayor's time.

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Asked for comment for this story on why Wheeler hasn't had meeting with a CRC member since Malone first tried scheduling one in October, Wheeler spokesman and former campaign manager Michael Cox said "We received her scheduling request Tuesday and are working to schedule the meeting." Shortly later, he said "I just checked back in with Scheduling, and this meting is now on the Mayor's calendar."

Wheeler, naturally, is still warming up as mayor and figuring things out, especially when it comes to police oversight issues.

At the January 26 meeting of the Community Oversight Advisory Board (COAB)—the citizen board created to oversee the United States Department of Justice-mandated changes to the PPB that's been largely neglected by City Hall recently—Wheeler appeared not to know what the COAB did and didn't know the members on it before showing up. The city allowed the COAB's term to expire a few days later.