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Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Mayor's Human Rights Committee Meets...Let's Hope It's More Successful Than Every Other Committee Tom Potter Has Convened

Posted by Matt Davis on Wed, Nov 5, 2008 at 4:43 PM

The mayor's human rights committee has met for the first time this afternoon, chaired by County Commissioner Jeff Cogen and Maria Lisa Johnson of the mayor's newly created office of human relations. The mayor began by giving the committee a rousing speech:

"You folks are going to be a lightning rod sometimes and people will be criticizing you," he said. "But I want you to know that when you are speaking the truth to power, it's always the right thing to do."

"I see a reporter from the Oregonian and Just Out here," said the mayor, who knows damned well which paper I work for, but for some reason, chose to dish out the pointed snub. Perhaps it's because I'm the reporter who covered his racial profiling committee every session for the past two years, chronicling its near complete failure to achieve anything concrete. "And I hope that the media will continue to cover these meetings."

Yes. We'll be here.

"There are issues that sometimes don't get discussed because sometimes Portland is just too polite to discuss them," he said. Or too passive aggressive, Tom?

"But we have to figure out how we're going to focus and what our core values are going to be," he said.

Bingo. That's the first time someone mentioned the need for the committee to focus, and you can be absolutely sure it won't be the last. The mayor mentioned that "just recently a function was being held in a city building that was derogatory of people with mental illness, and they were renting a city facility, and fortunately Maria Lisa brought it to the attention of the city...and it was prevented."

I don't know which incident he was referring to, and I didn't get a chance to ask the mayor, because he just left after 20 minutes. But no matter. I'm sure there'll be further incidents referred to obliquely that never get properly fleshed out. Cogen began the meeting, too, by saying the committee needs to establish its "focus."

Don't get me wrong. I want this committee to work. I want it to set ambitious goals that honor the time of those sitting on it. But having watched the efforts of the racial profiling committee over the last two years, not to mention the Street Access For Everyone Committee, whose role, it turned out, was to target the homeless with an unjust law effectively prohibiting their existence, and watching this committee meet this afternoon, I have to say: I'll be surprised if it does anything other than frustrate those who have given their time to come sit on it. Then again, I've admitted today to being cynical, and I'd like nothing better than to see the committee succeed in ways I can't imagine.

If that's not "speaking truth to power," I hope someone can tell me what is. I'd ask Tom Potter, but like I say, he already left.

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