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Friday, September 13, 2013

What City Commissioners Really Think of City Hall Security Cuts

Posted by Denis C. Theriault on Fri, Sep 13, 2013 at 11:14 AM

Activist Cameron Whitten—days after his free burrito" protest put some heat on flagging plans for a city hall food cart pod—plans on returning to the seat of city government this afternoon with more free food and another poke at another of Mayor Charlie Hales' big changes for the building.

Whitten, with the blessing of Commissioner Amanda Fritz (whom he helped re-elect), is throwing a party for beloved city hall security guard Cindy Williams at 12:30 pm, in honor of her last day on the job. Williams is leaving city hall because of Hales' cuts to security at the building, a decision his office has cast as a way to save money and, like the food carts, invigorate the building's public spaces.

Williams earned a glowing reputation in the activist community during the 18 months or so that saw homeless protesters camping along city hall's sidewalks. Whitten was among those protesters last summer, waging a nearly two-month hunger strike over housing justice issues. The Oregonian wrote about her work with the protesters and other campers last year—helping people who were sick and generally just caring about the people she saw outside nearly every day and night.

Whitten's been raising big bucks for Williams (and also Right 2 Dream Too) on Indiegogo and lining up donated gifts, including a vacation in Mexico. Big-name givers include Fritz (who donated $100) and Israel Bayer of Street Roots.

But the rally for Williams touches an interesting political fault line—especially with Fritz backing the effort.

Hales reportedly went out of his way to help Service Employees International Union Local 49, the union representing the city's contracted security workers, avoid striking over contract talks with their employer. Later, however, he cut the company's city contract. And emails obtained by the Mercury in a public records request show that SEIU leaders met repeatedly with Hales and his chief of staff, Gail Shibley, to try to soften those cuts.

Whitten, who's friendly with labor advocates, tells me he's not been working with SEIU. But his rally does put a spotlight on one the union's beef with city hall.

Emails also show, interesting, that some of Hales' own colleagues privately disagreed with the mayor's decision on easing security at city hall. Fritz, along with Commissioners Nick Fish and Dan Saltzman, all said they wanted things mostly as they were.

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