Portland City Council plans workshop on racial equity proposals

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Portland City Councilors Monday night accepted the final report from the Racial Equity Steering Committee and agreed to hold a workshop to discuss the recommendations.

The date and time for the workshop, however, was not set.

The 67-page report is the culmination of more than eight months and 25 meetings for the 13-member ad hoc panel. Councilor Pious Ali, who co-chaired the committee, said it was a long and difficult process, and the discussions were often contentious.

“Tackling the issue of racism in this country, especially in the time we are in, is not an easy task,” Ali said.

Lelia DeAndrade, the other co-chair, urged councilors to make serious work of the report.

“We can give you the ideas,” DeAndrade said, “but how you act on them is most critical.”

She said there is no easy way to end racism, and compared it to gardening: you don’t weed a garden once and get rid of all the weeds. Similarly, you don’t take one step and fully address racism.

“I would advise you to stay focused on the big picture,” DeAndrade said. “I’ve seen people get wrapped up in these conversations and get stuck on language. If you get stuck on the details, you literally will not move.”

The committee previously recommended dissolving the existing Police Citizen Review Subcommittee and replacing it with a group with more authority, and the creation of a formal racial equity commission or office of racial equity.

In its final report, the panel also proposes that all city departments – including the Police Department – regularly undergo full racial equity assessments by an external consultant. The group also recommends creating more diversion programs for individuals charged with minor crimes; supports legislation to better regulate bail, and seeks improved review standards for criminal trespass orders against homeless individuals to keep them out of shelters.

The committee also recommends that at least 15 percent of all new city employees be from historically marginalized racial and ethnic groups.

Mayor Kate Snyder said the council was simply accepting the report on Monday, and would not discuss its substance. “It is a substantive report that will take time,” Snyder said.

Initially, the council’s plan was to refer the report to the Health and Human Services Committee. But several councilors asked to have a full council workshop, with Ali, DeAndrade, and others from the committee available to answer questions. Councilor April Fournier was the first to ask for the workshop, saying if the city is really committed to anti-racism work, then the full council must be involved.

Ali agreed, but for a different reason. He said the plan has so many components that it didn’t necessarily make sense to refer it all to one committee. He said having a workshop would give councilors a better idea of what parts of the plan can be referred to various committees.

City Manager Jon Jennings tried to dissuade councilors from taking this route. He said the committee level is where in-depth work can really be done.

The council ultimately agreed unanimously to hold its workshop before referring the plan to the committee level.