Portland racial equity panel takes shape

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Mayor Kate Snyder has announced the 13 people who will make up Portland’s racial equity steering subcommittee.

The City Council approved a resolution to form the subcommittee earlier this summer. Snyder said the committee will address issues of systemic racism and inequality in the city, and review the city’s approach to policing and public safety.

Snyder said the city received 29 applications to serve on the panel but was limited by the resolution to appoint no fewer than nine and no more than 13 people to the committee.

“Every applicant offered a unique voice and perspective,” Snyder said.

Portland Mayor Kate Snyder is surrounded by city councilors in a remote meeting Sept. 9, where she announced the 13 people appointed to the city’s racial equity steering subcommittee. (Portland Phoenix/Colin Ellis)

The members include City Councilor Pious Ali, who had wanted the city to conduct an independent investigation into the police handling of a June 1 demonstration where protesters clashed with police, officers used pepper spray, and dozens of people were arrested. Police have maintained rogue protesters instigated the violence, not police.

After several rounds of discussion, it was decided the steering committee will handle any investigation into that protest, which followed the death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man who was in the custody of Minneapolis police.

The other members of the subcommittee are Abdul Ali, Lelia DeAndrade, Kate Knox, Merita McKenzie, Peter O’Donnell, Niky Dwin Watler Amaris, Lado Lodoka, Suheir Alaskari, Deborah Ibonwa, Jerome Bennett, Louis Pickens, and Cumberland County District Attorney Jonathan Sahrbeck.

Snyder said the group includes stakeholders with various interests, including Portland Public Schools, health-care workers, public safety, housing, homelessness, the faith community and others doing racial equity work.

She said she expects the committee to probably have its first meeting within a week and then elect leadership. Once that has been accomplished, Snyder said the group can work with city staff to hire a facilitator to help with the panel’s administrative work.

The subcommittee is scheduled to send any report or recommendations to the council by Jan. 22, 2021.

Marijuana licenses

The council on Sept. 9 also held a workshop on its plans to license recreational adult-use marijuana businesses.

The deadline for businesses to apply in Portland was Aug. 31, although a U.S. District Court court ruling has at least temporarily altered the city’s plan for awarding licenses.

The council held an executive session to discuss the federal lawsuit filed by Wellness Connection, which sought and obtained a temporary restraining order that prevents the city from giving priority to applicants who reside in Maine.

While it decides whether to continue to fight the lawsuit, however, the city plans to review the applications and score them on other criteria with the intention to award no more than 20 licenses.

Associate Corporation Counsel Anne Torregrossa told councilors the city had received a total of 43 applications by Aug. 31, clustered in the Old Port and along Forest Avenue, and including a handful from medicinal marijuana businesses. Torregrossa said there is no timetable for when the city will award the licenses since many of the applications are “hundreds and hundreds” of pages long.

First, she said city staff will go through the applications looking for factors that are immediately disqualifying – things like being within 500 feet of a school, or being in a zone that does not allow the business, or having recent criminal convictions such a felony conviction within the past 10 years, not including marijuana offenses. She said an applicant could dispute things that are deemed disqualifiers, but cannot submit new information to improve their application.

Applicants who are disqualified in this round could apply again in the future, although Torregrossa said it would likely take a while for that to happen, given the cap of 20 licenses.

Torregrossa said there will not be additional public analysis of the applications for “quite a while.”

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