Finally, months after Mayor Sam Adams "laid down a marker" in his State of the City Speech (as Nick Fish put it this afternoon), the Portland City Council unanimously approved the creation of a new Office of Equity and Human Rights.

Dan Saltzman is watching you.
  • Dan Saltzman is watching you.
A party was planned for the lobby of city hall, immediately afterward. And applause—sustained and in defiance of usual council chamber protocol—erupted when the gavel dropped. Kind words abounded. Adams hailed the vote as a triumph for Commissioner Amanda Fritz, who endured heavy criticism as the effort to build the office nearly ran aground before her colleagues arguably stepped in this summer to help her rescue it.

"There is no more important use of taxpayers' money than making sure that everyone has access to good jobs, that everyone has access to city services," Fritz declared.

It was a good time. Until, that is, Commissioner Dan Saltzman decided to land at least one good shot, reminding everyone that the celebration might be a bit premature. Noting the $1.1 million office budget this year, a one-time expense, he gave a warning: No action, no funding next year.

"$1.1 million can buy a lot of swimming pool hours, a lot of mental health crisis workers. I'll be watching very closely. If the Office of Equity and Human Rights does nothing more than brown bags and diversity dialogues... then you will not have achieved success. You need to achieve tangible practices, things city employees and city supervisors can get. I will not be supporting $1.1 million in ongoing funds if you fail. But if you succeed, and i hope you do, we will all be better off."

There may yet be bumps. Some advocates speaking today still say the city has yet to summon the courage to tackle racial inequities. "My hope is that once the office of equity exists, it won't take us three years to figure out how people of color are included," said Jo Ann Hardesty, the ex-state legislator formerly known as Jo Ann Bowman.

And not everyone thinks $1.1 million is enough. Said Sharon Gary Smith, director of outreach group McKenzie River Gathering: "I want multi-millions of my money spent to ensure everyone my city has access to equality and opportunity."

We'll see next year if Fritz and Adams' colleagues share that sentiment.