Voters in Oregon’s largest city will make history this fall when they elect a woman of color to the Portland City Council for the first time.
Loretta Smith and Jo Ann Hardesty are both African-American women with long histories of civic services in Portland.
Smith comes from the establishment: She spent more than two decades working on constituent services and appropriations for U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden before being elected to the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners in 2010.
Jo Ann Hardesty comes from the city’s activist side: Though she served as an aide to former county Chair Bev Stein and served two terms in the Oregon House, the bulk of her public work has been as a civil rights activist, including a stint leading the Oregon NAACP.
Their stances on the issues reflect those very different backgrounds. Smith is more moderate on issues such as the city’s relationship with its police department. Hardesty prefers a more hands-on, activist approach.
OPB asked them both to answer a series of questions on how they would help govern the city. Here are their written responses, listed by the candidate’s name in alphabetical order:
The Portland Police Association contract will be up for renegotiation during your term. What’s one thing you would push to change?
Hardesty: First and foremost, I want the police contract negotiations to be more community oriented. Because of the broken relationship between the Police Bureau and many members of our community, improving this process gives the city an opportunity to heal.
I would start bargaining by bringing a set of values brought forth from our community — values like community policing, an officer code of conduct, and training standards that improve equity, and address bias. I would also do early surveys of police officers to get their input on how we can improve public safety overall and community engagement.
Secondly, the city needs to retain the ability to let an officer go if circumstances warrant that decision and I will make sure that our officers are held to the highest possible standard to ensure community safety. Lastly, I will review any language regarding personnel files and the length of time that disciplines remain in an officer’s file. It’s possible the current contract allows disciplines to be removed after a certain length of time — if so, we need to review that language. We need to make sure that we have a strong process in place that does not allow for longtime problem officers to remain on the job whose disciplines are no longer able to be used in a progressive process.
These changes could create a set of standards and values to allow officers who want to be part of our diverse community to stay and thrive, and could repair the reputation of the PPB. I know that Portland Police Bureau shares the value of protecting and serving our community — that’s why I feel like we will be able to get to agreement on these and other issues.
Smith: I would want to ensure there is mandatory implicit bias training at least annually. I think we need more police, but we also need police with more and better training and a force that reflects the population of our growing, diverse city.
(Editors note: The Portland Police Bureau says all of its members will complete implicit bias training by Dec 20 this year. )
Q. If the city had the power to impose rent control, would you vote for it?
Hardesty: I’ve often said that Portland can’t build its way out of the housing crisis. We know that it costs the City far less money to keep people in their homes than to displace them and then find them temporary or transitional housing. If there was a community-driven policy discussion — especially one that is driven by low-income communities and communities of color — on how the City could help stabilize rent costs for tenants, then yes I would support those efforts. We would need to work with developers and realtors to make sure that such policies don’t stifle the much-needed housing development as well. Additionally, if the city were to enact some form of rent control, we would also need to closely monitor how it actually impacts vulnerable communities. Ultimately, rent stabilization is only one tool in the toolbox and if we are serious about addressing this housing crisis, we need to use every resource we can while being creative about how we can provide more housing.
Smith: I think we need more protections for renters. I would support increased renter protections. I would support a policy that linked the rent increases on government subsidized or owned affordable housing to the Consumer Price Index. Look at what’s happening in California with the rent control measure Prop. 10. The NAACP’s executive committee voted to oppose it because allowing stricter forms of rent control would discourage housing construction and therefore hurt low-income tenants.
Q. Would you advocate for more or less frequent clean-up and “sweeping” of homeless camps in Portland?
Hardesty: I would advocate for less “sweeps” of homeless camps, as this is not an adequate use of Portland Police Bureau funds and I believe that we can address the homeless community with compassion and dignity. Self-governed camps like Dignity Village and Right 2 Dream Too don’t get calls from neighboring homes or businesses for police services. They provide a sense of dignity for the people who need to sleep, live or rest there.
I am committed to supporting housing and shelter alternatives for our houseless community rather then criminalizing people for being houseless. According to the Oregonian, 52 percent of all police arrests were of homeless people. Eighty-six percent of arrests in 2017 were nonviolent, and more than 1,200 arrests were solely for procedural offenses such as missing court or violating probations. It’s time we had a Council that is ready to re-focus our priorities and I am ready to do that.
People are houseless because it costs too much to live in the City of Portland. We need to conduct a top to bottom audit of our current use of public safety dollars to see where we can improve using resources to direct support services including garbage clean up, laundry, showers and hot meals. We should be working with the houseless community to transition individuals back to living indoors at a pace that works for them.
Smith: Regardless of the number, any sweeps we do need to find resources to include additional drug and alcohol programs, and additional dollars into mental health programs. We should not be criminalizing the homeless. That is why I believe opening Wapato as a triage center to provide residential drug and alcohol rehabilitation, mental health supports and job training program so when there is a sweep, there is someplace for these folks to get services. Today, there is no place for these people to go — this would be one tool to decrease the homelessness in our city.
(Editor’s note: Wapato is the never-opened Multnomah County jail that was recently sold to a private owner.)
Q. Portland faces considerable risk from a catastrophic Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake. What kind of retrofitting should the city require of owners of unreinforced masonry buildings? How many years should they have to comply?
Hardesty: The resolution that was passed by the City Council directs city staff to develop a proposal and an ordinance by March 2019 that requires mandatory retrofitting of any unreinforced masonry buildings within 20 years of passing an ordinance, currently with the exemption of nonprofit building and faith-based institutions. I look forward to seeing what recommendations the city staff and the working group develop in partnership with community members before any ordinance is presented to the City Council. It would be extremely irresponsible of the city to require all buildings to be retrofitted without any understanding of the financial impact it will inevitably have on homeowners, property managers, and small business owners.
Smith: We have a responsibility to ensure URMs are not putting our citizens at risk. Among the 1,500 URMs are multi-plex apartments, some of them affordable units, along with churches throughout the city. The city is requiring through ordinance that these building are retrofitted. However, many of the property owners are not in the financial situation to retrofit these buildings. I think we should use some of our one-time-only money to start a revolving fund to help these smaller building owners to keep our friends and neighbors safe.
One of the unintended consequences of this ordinance is that churches – especially African-American churches – have a disproportionate number of URMs. Because they are not in a position to increase rents, I would focus on outreach to some of these congregations and communities to ensure they understand their responsibility and assist them in applying for these funds.
Q. What’s one city program for which you would push to increase funding?
Hardesty: We need to increase funding to BOEC in order to not just stabilize the bureau, which Director Cossi (sic) has done a great job of doing, but to actually develop 911 into the resource our community needs for emergencies. (Editor’s note: The director of Bureau of Emergency Communications is Bob Cozzie.) In addition to meeting staffing levels and after speaking with the bureau, I’m aware that there are technological improvements we can make to be a “Next Generation” call center which other cities have already implemented. “Next Generation” technologies would also help the 911 call center to better pinpoint locations which can increase response times which are vital in the case of a fire or medical emergency. Additionally, in order to meet the right resources for the right calls, I want to work with Director Cossi (sic) and his team to hire and embed mental health counselors into the system so we can better triage calls. For mental health emergencies it is not only unhelpful and also wasteful for us to send police, fire and EMS when only one of those public safety resources is needed on the scene. I want to support our public safety staff in doing the jobs that they signed up for and to help find the appropriate resources to do the work that is better served by others. I’m proud to have the endorsement of AFSCME which represents BOEC employees, and I am confident we will work together as a team to take BOEC to the next level.
Smith: I would push to get additional funding to the Fire Bureau and to the Bureau of Emergency Management to ensure Portland’s most vulnerable are ready for a major earthquake.
Q. What’s one city program for which you would push to decrease funding?
Hardesty: It’s too soon for me to say which city program I would push to decrease funding; however, I would like the City to fully audit the Portland Police Bureau so that we can see whether requests to increase the number of officers will actually accomplish what the community wants. I believe that when I am in office, I will have a close relationship with the City Auditor and we will be able to evaluate the effectiveness of how the City distributes its revenue annually.
Smith: I will hold current budget levels harmless. But I will use an equity lens on one-time-only money and special appropriations to make sure we are spending every dollar possible on homeless services, implicit bias training and workforce development — including for youth jobs.
Q. Do you support city involvement in the effort to bring a Major League Baseball franchise to Portland? If yes, what form should that involvement take?
Hardesty: I think the city’s involvement should be that of a convener rather than an investor in these efforts, especially in these early stages of the conversation. We don’t know how much money it will actually take to bring a MLB franchise to the city, how much money it would take to sustain itself annually or even how much revenue it could generate for the city. While I support the business community’s efforts to bring MLB to Portland, I would be hesitant to commit any local government funds at a time when the city hasn’t solved the housing crisis or provided the long-promised sidewalks to SW and East Portland.
Smith: Yes, bring it!! The project will bring in over 25,000 jobs. But, I would ask the investors to build additional workforce and affordable housing in the area surrounding the project. I am willing to provide additional tax incentives to make the funding deal pencil out, just like we did with the Convention Center hotel. Additionally, I would want to see them use minority and local business on the supply side of the project, from initial construction through day-to-day business of the project.
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