Council voted 5-0 to pay the county $456,250 this morning for 10 jail beds used by the city's secret list program over the last year. Initially police commissioner Dan Saltzman had placed the funds on the city's "consent agenda," where items are not discussed before a vote. But Copwatch activist Dan Handelman pulled the resolution from the consent agenda.
"I think it is a mistake to put something this controversial that has landed the city both in court and into the headlines onto the consent agenda," said Handelman. "The ordinance refers to those who are enrolled in the program but I think this is related to those who are on the city's secret list."
"If the program is so successful, why not have a full and thorough discussion about it before putting another half a million dollars into the program?" asked Handelman. "How do you know you are on the list? How do you get off the list? I also note that the list has targeted primarily African Americans in a city that is predominantly white."
"I really want to encourage you to stop sweeping programs like this under the rug by putting them on the consent agenda," Handelman continued. "We are watching."
"Thanks, Dan, I think your point about putting things on the consent agenda is a fair one," said City Commissioner Dan Saltzman. "We missed the boat and I apologize."
Then he voted to re-fund the program.
"I respect Dan [Handelman] a lot, however I'd respectfully disagree with his characterization on the council voting on a number of programs like this as questionable," said City Commissioner Randy Leonard. "I don't just support this program, I created this program, back when Tom Potter was mayor, and the reason I did was because of the desperation criminals find themselves in when they are drug addicted."
Leonard touted the oft-cited 80% reduction in repeat offenses by the top 400 offenders on the list as justification for the program, once again, this morning. "When it comes to constitutional issues I've led on this council with my deeds and my words," said Leonard. "This is not an example of that, this is saving peoples' lives."
"This is one of the reasons Portland is unique, not only in this country, but in this world," said Leonard.
But the city has been warned that unless it changes the program, it is likely to face a class action lawsuit filed by ACLU partner attorney Elden Rosenthal. You can read more about the secret list here.
"I do share some of the concerns about the lists being based on arrests rather than convictions," said City Commissioner Amanda Fritz. But she also voted for the ordinance.
"I think the concerns of transparency and protecting an individual's civil rights are shared by everyone on council," said Mayor Sam Adams. "But I too am impressed by the success of the program and we are working to make sure that those are two values that are mutually inclusive."
Shortly after the ordinance passed, council accepted a cash donation from parking lot owner Greg Goodman to fund "solar powered trash cans" downtown. Portland Business Alliance vice president of downtown services Mike Kuykendall was also instrumental in providing the bins, which will prevent homeless people from collecting cans for recycling in the downtown core. Adams touted the "sustainability" of the initiative before Kuykendall rolled a slick three minute video about the "big belly" bins, that quoted the mayor of Brisbane saying the bins prevent "pests rifling through the trash." Nobody mentioned the bins' impact on downtown's homeless, indeed, homeless Commissioner Nick Fish praised the "public private partnership."
"One of the things I've learned over the last five months is how much the Portland Business Alliance contributes to the community," said City Commissioner Amanda Fritz, who recently extended the PBA's beloved sit/lie ordinance by six months.
Update, 12:38 After the council session, I caught up with Leonard to ask whether he would now be averse to be publishing the list, after all.
"I don't understand the resistance to publishing the list," he said. "As far as I know, arrests are public record, so it seems as though publishing the names on the list does not affect the integrity of the program, which is basically to save people's lives. And if I was in charge of the police bureau we would have published the list, but I'm not."
"I've asked police officers and people involved in the program, why not just publish the list? The city attorney's office has some caution, but that's not uncommon in the legal community. They're very cautious. That's what they do. But I think sometimes it's important for the political leadership to make decisions based on the city attorney's advice but also, broader public issues. And that's what I try to do."