Prominent Portland businessman Roy Jay's project to give lawbreakers a "clean slate" got by recently, with a little help from his friends.
The City Council voted unanimously on Nov. 23 to donate space in the Portland Building for Project Clean Slate, a program Jay began this year to help people convicted of misdemeanors and minor felonies to pay off court-assessed fines or convert them to community service.
When Jay asked longtime buddy Commissioner Randy Leonard for space to house his project, Leonard was happy to comply with a resolution directing the city to donate about 1,000 square feet of office space for two years.
The 14th-floor space would otherwise bring in almost $19,000 in annual rent. Other non-government programs have space in city buildings, but no others get it rent-free, according to the city's Bureau of General Services.
Despite some city workers' longtime griping about paying to rent office space in private buildings ("And Another Thing!," WW, May 11, 2005), Leonard brushes aside questions about how the freebie might look with the city facing budget problems. He says he's in government to support programs like Jay's, not to figure out how to collect rent on buildings.
"I would do anything he asked me to do on initiatives like this," Leonard says.
Jay is president of the local African American Chamber of Commerce and was a key player in winning the city's SmartPark garage contract in 2003 for his and two other minority chambers of commerce. He says Clean Slate is a needed program because minor convictions can keep otherwise law-abiding people from getting jobs and paying taxes.
Multnomah County District Attorney Michael Schrunk says the Clean Slate project has detractors—people he characterizes as "arch-conservatives, or people who think once you do something you're branded for life."
But Schrunk says the project works, because it settles the score with minor offenders, most of whom are in trouble for traffic violations or failure to pay child support.
At Project Clean Slate's one-day July 9 event at Portland Community College's Cascade campus in North Portland, scores of law-and-order volunteers restored drivers' licenses, canceled arrest warrants and cleared criminal records for about 1,300 people. Yet overwhelming numbers of people still wanting help led Jay to expand the program.
Now he and his volunteer staff shuttle smaller groups through the "slate-clearing" process every Friday afternoon. Jay says the new office in the centrally located Portland Building will be the project's "command center" and estimates 15,000 people could clear their records and get back on their feet next year.
"I never heard people saying, 'I got my license back so I can do some gang-banging again,'" Jay says.