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Friday, September 16, 2011

Name Change! Council to Vote on Office of Equity (and Human Rights)

Posted by Denis C. Theriault on Fri, Sep 16, 2011 at 3:14 PM

After hours of shining, glowing testimony last month on Mayor Sam Adams and Commissioner Amanda Fritz's long-planned, much-discussed Office of Equity, the Portland City Council on Wednesday will finally vote on whether to finally, formally give the plan the go-ahead.

Except for at least one major tweak. The office is getting a name change to ensure it passes muster, according to a copy of the ordinance obtained by the Mercury. Get ready to say hello to the new Office of Equity and Human Rights.

Why the name change? Sources tell me it's meant to help settle questions over how the new equity office would mesh with the city's Human Rights Commission, a holdover from the probably-soon-be-swallowed Office of Human Relations.

"Judging by the title, and everything I've heard, it sounds like we're on the right track," says Ty Kovach, chief of staff for Randy Leonard, who was perhaps the council's loudest early skeptic of the proposed office. (Office of Awesomeness, anyone?) Kovach predicts 5-0 support for the plan—no guarantee earlier this summer.

The nuts and bolts of the equity office have long been a concern for the three commissioners who weren't charged with assembling the office, a task Adams handed to Fritz after he announced the equity office in his State of the City speech this winter. Community members also wondered whether the office would buckle under the weight of too broad a mission.

Leonard argued passionately on behalf of the Human Relations office, whose director was dumped awkwardly amid the rollout. But Nick Fish and Dan Saltzman also had reservations that city money, absent a clear vision for the office, might be better spent on other programs that might also promote equity.

Despite those concerns, the council decided to set aside money for the office, as much as $1 million, while reserving the right to change course if commissioners didn't like whatever plan emerged. This summer, Fritz tightened the focus to race and disability issues, linked to the rollout of the Portland plan, a compromise that paved the way for deeper discussions on how best to actually organize the effort. Those talks got a boost when the Human Rights Commission agreed this month to join the new office.

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