The council fight over Dan Saltzman's recent flag-lowering resolution is symptomatic of the pall hanging over Portland City Hall lately. Two weeks ago, Saltzman proposed lowering the City of Portland flag once a month on the date that corresponds to the number of children who have died from abuse, neglect, or violence in the previous month.
On its face, the resolution was typical Portland city government. Why tackle the tough stuff when there's something superficial? See also: Randy Leonard's attempted condemnation of the Made in Oregon sign, or a certain ongoing effort to rename a street. This time however, let's give Saltzman his due. Aside from seeking to raise awareness of child abuse with his flag-lowering resolution, the commissioner has been a passionate advocate for Portland Children's Investment Fund, which gives $13 million a year to provide safe and constructive after-school alternatives for kids, and prevent child abuse, neglect, and family violence. At least he's put his money where his mouth is.
Blogtown commenters (blogtown.portlandmercury.com) have somewhat tastelessly pointed out that the plan has drawbacks: If 11 children die in November, how do we tell the difference on Veterans Day? What happens if 32 children die in a month? And so on. (In a surprising development, the average blog commenter's sense of humor leans toward the dark side.)
Actually, I'm more troubled by the open resistance to Saltzman's resolution by City Commissioners Randy Leonard and Nick Fish. The pair said they were concerned that lowering the flag would confuse Portlanders, and worried that lowering the flag for abused children might mean that other groups would come forward, seeking to have the flag lowered for their causes. I felt that Fish and Leonard's opposition came across as petty, especially as I listened to some of the emotional testimony in council about the death of abused kids. The two commissioners could just as easily have gone ahead with the resolution, moving their minor reservations to the backs of their minds. But instead, they decided to burn goodwill by making an issue out of it.
Two days before the fight, Saltzman had called Leonard a bully over Leonard's sign condemnation effort, and I don't think it's coincidence that Saltzman was sent a strong message two days later—regardless of whether abused kids were involved. If this kind of petty bickering is what we've been reduced to, it might be appropriate to lower the City of Portland flag for good.