MUCH OF the focus on federal police reform in Portland over the past few weeks has concerned a controversial decision—pitched by Mayor Charlie Hales and City Commissioner Amanda Fritz—to appeal a federal judge's order that the city return to court every year and prove it's doing everything it promised.
And that's as it should be. The city's narrowly crafted legal challenge—enshrined in a 4-0 vote by the Portland City Council on Wednesday, October 22—was seen as a slap in the face by several police accountability advocates whose trust Hales and his predecessors as police commissioner have spent years courting.
The Albina Ministerial Alliance Coalition for Justice and Police Reform (AMA), which received enhanced "friend of the court" status in the legal wrangling over Portland's reform deal with the feds, has even accused the city of using the appeal to "exclude the AMA Coalition from participating" in oversight of the reforms.
Worse, Reverend Kate Lore, a member of the AMA Coalition's steering committee, offered her resignation as a member of the city's Human Rights Commission in the hours after the council vote. Her decision, announced in the comments of an Oregonian article, came after she begged the council not to follow through with what Hales and Fritz had sought: "Given your repeated claims that the city's in compliance, given your repeated claims of transparency, then I must ask what then are you afraid of—and is that fear really worth damaging the healing that's taking place in our city?"
But all that hubbub comes at a consequential time for two other variables in city hall's police reform equation. And both deserve far more attention than the crumbs they've been receiving.
On Wednesday, October 29, at 2 in the afternoon, the city council is due to discuss the three men hoping to serve as the reform deal's "compliance officer/community liaison"—an awkwardly descriptive name for the outside contractor who will be in charge of gathering data and making sure Portland's reforms are being implemented as agreed upon.
The city's been down to three finalists, as we first reported, since September. And none of them, for various reasons, have been seen as a lock for a job that pays $240,000 a year (admittedly with the idea that some of that money could be spent on hiring a few employees to help share the load). The hearing will be the last chance for the public to share their thoughts before an eventual council decision.
Just as important, the city's also discussing—albeit far more quietly—how to seat a 15-person "community advisory board" meant to guide and challenge whoever's chosen as compliance officer.
Fritz and others are hoping to throw out part of the board's selection process—something the city negotiated years ago. The big idea, back in 2012, was to elect five at-large board members at a big public meeting where anyone who showed up could vote.
But in 2014? That's no longer the preferred method.
Fritz, in a personal meeting with advocates earlier this month, said she's become increasingly worried that kind of big hearing might be gamed by one or more groups whose members show up en masse and try to run a slate of candidates.
She also wants a better way to draft people with lived mental health experience—important because the police reform deal is meant to address findings that Portland cops engaged in a pattern or practice of using excessive force against people with mental illness.
That sounds good. But there's a problem. The city's deal with the feds says the board must be up and running 90 days after the deal's approval in court. That happened August 29, putting the deadline for the board in late November.
That deadline may have to slip. (Although Fritz cites another clause that gives the city 60 days after the compliance officer is chosen to field the full board. She says the feds are cool with that.)
Fritz is calling for meetings to figure out an alternate selection process—which would delay the board from starting until early next year.
"I'm very open to any and all suggestions," Fritz said at her meeting.
I've got some. This big of a change should land on the council agenda. And sooner. Not later. And let's make sure that the new process for picking a board isn't any worse than the one the city's ditching.