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Opportunity or Albatross?

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THIS IS THE TROUBLE with this place and, sometimes, the people who run it.

Handed an opportunity almost half a year ago to put her stamp on a new Portland Office of Equity—a noble attack on one of Portland's most vexing problems—Commissioner Amanda Fritz has yet to put forward a vision that's any beefier than the bare-bones outline her office produced way back in March.

Instead? She was on Oregon Public Broadcasting's Think Out Loud program Tuesday morning, June 21, unveiling new and more interesting buzz phrases to describe an increasingly muddled effort to define precisely what an equity office might do.

Like "ground truthing." Ground truthing isn't a bad thing to say—if you're a scientist or soldier asked to ensure that aerial surveys, for instance, match what's actually on the ground.

But when you're a city official trying to plan a new office without making it an unwieldy catchall for the hopes—and, possibly, disappointments—of tens of thousands of Portlanders, it's a terrible thing to say. Because it's consultant-speak, and it masks what's actually happening. What Fritz should have said:

"Our consulting committee has been meeting every two weeks with various groups and, no, we're not any closer to diplomatically deciding whether the office should focus on something complicated and fraught, like race, or whether it should initially focus on something lower wattage and easier to quantify, like, say, improving access for disabled people."

That appears to be one of the central divides in the planning process—months after it was announced and weeks after the city council said it would fund the office. Even on the radio, as other advocates speaking alongside Fritz, including Kayse Jama of the Center for Intercultural Organizing, said the city should attack racial inequities, Fritz wavered.

"I'm not convinced it's either/or," she said.

Spoken, of course, like someone seeking reelection and likely hoping to avoid choosing sides.

Getting to run the new office—with all the campaign-friendly headlines it could have generated—was supposed to be a political gift from Mayor Sam Adams. But the perception, instead, is that Fritz, whose office did not return a call seeking comment Monday, is spinning her wheels and upsetting potential allies in city hall and the community.

Already, a handful of political insiders have told me someone is imminently preparing to run against Fritz. (Two rumored potential council candidates, Ben Cannon and Shelli Romero, both said "not me!")

Meanwhile, what might the mayor do, after making the issue a priority and publicly backing Fritz? No one presumed that planning an office like this would be easy. But without a solid plan, an opportunity could become an albatross.

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