Members of local civil rights organizations turned out by the dozens to support the proposed Portland Office of Equity at Wednesday night’s City Council meeting.
In public testimony, advocates called out numerous areas of social and racial disparity in Portland, citing statistics and disparity studies as evidence of the city’s need to move forward with the ordinance.
Supporters told the council that moving forward with the ordinance would send a message that the city wants to fix its equity problems, while failing to do so would send the message that policymakers are satisfied with the status quo.
Several revisions to a draft work plan for the equity office were made prior to Wednesday’s meeting—including the addition of the “equity lens”—a new tool through which city policies and programs will be reviewed. Like many aspects of the office's mission, this tool has yet to be developed.
“If I thought the Office of Equity could solve all the problems we’ve heard tonight, I’d vote for it hands down,” Commissioner Dan Saltzman said.
While he supports the idea behind the Office of Equity, Commissioner Nick Fish said he wants to see it done correctly, which will take time and further discussion.
Commissioner Amanda Fritz, who has been overseeing the development of the office, said she plans to once again consult a 38-member "creation committee" to figure out how the Office of Equity will work with the Office of Human Relations, a city office formed in 2008 with a similar mission.
Fritz said that the Office of Human Relations, whose director she forced out of the job in April, “has a say in its destiny,” and whether or not it wants to work with the Office of Equity.
Saltzman said he supports one office working cohesively to tackle disparities in the Portland community, not two small offices—each with a director earning a salary of a $100,000 or more—working separately toward the same goal.
Mayor Sam Adams, who announced plans for the Office of Equity in February, says he interprets the community’s comments at the hearing as an opportunity to move forward quickly, and that between now and voting on the ordinance in late September, the council will need to reexamine the role of the Office of Human Relations.