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Friday, September 2, 2011

Big Turnout to Support Office of Equity

Posted by Sarah Mirk on Fri, Sep 2, 2011 at 4:14 PM

The picture above is of Portland's chief of police and mayor standing with Ku Klux Klan members in 1921. Ninety years later, Portland's civic leaders are on the verge of creating an Office of Equity to forever enshrine in our glorious city bureaucracy the values the KKK fought against.

But is creating a new city office, with up to 10 staffers, the best way to promote equity citywide?

After grudgingly voting to set aside cash for the Office of Equity last spring, City council will vote on actually creating the office September 21st. This Wednesday night, August 31st, groups that work with people with disabilities, immigrants, the homeless, and other groups that face inequity in Portland packed both floors of city council's chambers for a marathon hearing about the new office.

There's plenty to talk about: According to the State of Black Oregon report, African Americans adults in Oregon are more likely to be in poverty than whites and more likely to be the victims of homicide. African American kids are six times as likely as white kids in the state to have parents in prison. And, according to the lengthy report, conditions are getting worse, not better.

The city has $525,000 in the 2011-2012 budget for the office and the projected annual cost would be about $1 million. Would that money be better spent on projects that promote equity, without needing a city office as a middleman? The Oregonian today compared the debate over the Office of Equity to the debate over creating the Office of Sustainability in 2000: Shouldn't all offices be pursuing both these goals, not a separate group?

On the other hand, equity issues persist in every part of the city's role and function, so it makes sense to have an office that treats equity from a bird's eye view rather than a piecemeal approach. The office of equity, if it exists, would presumably advise the Portland Bureau of Transportation on issues like the North Williams project and the police on hiring for a more diverse staff.

"There's a lot of folks who want equity in every single area, in transportation, in police, in fire, all the services the city provides. The people of Portland want to make sure that all citizens have the opportunity to enjoy the riches of the city," Commissioner Amanda Fritz said interview on KBOO this week.

I don't personally have anything to add to this discussion before the vote, except that you should read Jen Graves relevant piece in our sister paper, The Stranger, this week: "Deeply Embarrassed White People Talk Awkwardly About Race."

KKK photo hat tip to KBOO!

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