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Hall Monitor

A "Yes" Vote That Isn't, Really



IT'S A SLIGHT VICTORY. Sometime after this paper goes to press, but before some of you get to pick it up on newsstands, Portland City Council on Wednesday, May 25, is expected to approve—perhaps unanimously—a proposed budget for the next fiscal year that sets aside more than $1 million ($525,000 in new money) to build a Portland Office of Equity.

That was no sure thing when Mayor Sam Adams first unveiled his plans for the office in January and handed it over to Amanda Fritz. And it was no sure thing even as of last week, when advocates from a diverse range of communities showed up in back-to-back nighttime city meetings to tell their elected officials how important creating the office really is.

In that span, Commissioners Nick Fish, Randy Leonard, and Dan Saltzman all raised various concerns about the money the mayor was looking to spend. Now it's possible all three will be on board.

Fish and Leonard, at least as of Tuesday, May 24, were planning to vote for Adams' spending plan. Saltzman's office wouldn't confirm how he was leaning, but city hall insiders said they wouldn't be surprised if he said yes, too.

So what changed? Nothing, actually.

Although Wednesday's budget vote might look as if it's also a "yes" vote for the office of equity and its very large budget, that's not what it is. Not at all.

At Fish's insistence, the budget will contain a note that makes clear what the council's yes vote really means. Essentially, the three skeptical commissioners are saying, "Okay. For now."

But if the mayor and Commissioner Fritz can't figure out what the office will actually do—and define what it will actually look like—and do that by this summer, then their colleagues will vote again to spend the money on other things.

The mayor? He's okay with that. In fact, he was trying to sell his fellow commissioners on that approach all along. But now Adams and Fritz have their work cut out for them.

Because what's emerged after this month's community meetings is that there are as many notions of what a citywide equity office ought to promise as there are rightfully aggrieved groups in Portland. As one advocate told me, "People think this will cure every social ill there is." Widespread support could fade once officials begin sculpting a work plan that ranks some of those communities' issues over the others'.

So far, Adams is working only from buzzwords ("immediacy" and "measurability") while a plan takes shape. He'll be the first to admit he doesn't know what the office will look like.

But if he wants his colleagues' support, he'd better figure it out. And soon.

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