Today's morning city council session was a study in contrasts, a back-to-back showcase of Portland's strengths and weaknesses. First, the passing of a resolution aimed at eliminating plastic shopping bags statewide—introduced with all the self-congratulatory cooing that you'd expect from a city government that sees itself as a beacon of sustainability.
Then, something the city isn't quite so proud of: the paying out of the remainder of a $1.6 million civil settlement to the family of James Chasse Jr.
Mayor Sam Adams, who spearheaded the plastic bag resolution and is also police commissioner, was home sick today, participating by speakerphone. He thanked the three cooperative state legislators in attendance (Ben Cannon, Mark Hass and Jackie Dingfelder). "I'm pleased to offer to city council a resolution that within 18 months will help ensure that plastic bags are banned," he said.
Members of the Ban the Bag coalition and Environment Oregon filed in to testify in favor of the ban. The only dissenting voice was from outspoken curmudgeon Terry Parker, who said it's a sign of a "growing cloud of socialism catering to a specific piece of [the council's] inner circle."
The council adopted the resolution unanimously, and the next step is for state legislators to take it up in January. "Please don't think that your work is done," Commissioner Amanda Fritz told the city.
Then almost everybody left, and it was time to pay reparations for a four-year-old case of police brutality.
This part was not so easy. The young idealistic bag-banners had cleared out and just a smattering of hardened activists and journalists remained. "Voting on this [settlement] is beyond unpleasant," said Commissioner Randy Leonard. "This is one of a few votes I'll always remember."
The Rev. Dr. LeRoy Haynes of the Albina Ministerial Alliance offered testimony before the council, saying that the case "unmasked a pattern of excessive or deadly force by some officers" in the police bureau. "I pray it will be used to reform all aspects of the bureau," he said. "James Chasse Jr. did not die in vain, and the struggle will continue."
Adam's phoned-in (What? That's what it was!) testimony was somber and contrite, though he framed the payout as a welcome conclusion. "This brings to a close a very, very tragic, troubling chapter in our city government," he said.
Not so fast. "We've made improvements, but we have more to make," he added. And at the very least, there will be a few more minutes of testimony: tonight at 6 pm the council will hear the results of an independent audit of Chasse's death in custody.
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