A group of black constituents came to meet with Portland City Commissioner Chloe Eudaly last month about their concerns regarding urban renewal efforts in a North Portland neighborhood.
But the meeting quickly went haywire.
On the conference room table in Eudaly's office was what the visitors believed to be a Ouija board.
"It was some sort of satanic, demonic game," says North Portland resident Alicia Byrd. "It looked like we were interrupting a Ouija session. There were cards and little pieces." (Some Christians shun Ouija boards as occult.)
That was a misunderstanding, says Eudaly's chief of staff, Marshall Runkel. Runkel says what the visitors saw was Illimat, a board and card game developed in collaboration with the Portland band the Decemberists.
But misunderstanding or no, the constituents decided they wanted the game removed. That's when Eudaly walked in.
Byrd says Eudaly was immediately cold to them. When one of their party requested the game be removed, Eudaly took offense. Then, Byrd says, Eudaly demanded to know who was wearing perfume and abruptly walked out of the room.
Eudaly declined comment, referring questions to her staff.
The incident provides a window into Eudaly's evolution from a bookseller with no previous political experience into an elected official nearly two years into her first term.
Eudaly has broken the mold at Portland City Hall, pushing for the adoption of tenant protections. She backed Measure 26-201, a tax to fund green energy projects, when her colleagues in the building were reluctant to do so. Most recently, she led the newly renamed Office of Community & Civic Life in a door-to-door get-out-the-vote effort that her colleagues mostly walked away from.
While she has pushed the envelope on policy decisions, Eudaly has generally earned high marks at City Hall as she's learned the ropes of governing. But she can be prickly, particularly when meeting with citizens.
One manifestation: Eudaly demands outward shows of respect. The commissioner has called out members of the public who don't address her by her title during City Council meetings. And her staff admits shows of respect are important to her; this isn't the first meeting with Eudaly where things have gone awry.
"The commissioner nearly walked out of a meeting with the Portland Business Alliance when they treated her disrespectfully," says Runkel. He's referring to an April 17 meeting with the PBA during the city's budget process, after which Eudaly sang "You Don't Own Me" into a karaoke microphone on her way down from the third floor of City Hall, as WW reported at the time.
"The commissioner works productively with a wide array of Portlanders regardless of their economic or ethnic backgrounds," Runkel adds. "Respect is a requirement for successful communications."
Runkel says the constituents who came to talk about redevelopment in North Portland behaved disrespectfully. "The group reacted hostilely and disrespectfully to the presence of a game on the conference room table, then insisted it was their conference room because City Hall is a public building," says Runkel. "That's when the commissioner walked out."
Runkel also says Eudaly's staff will be adding a note every time a meeting is scheduled to make clear that no fragrances are to be worn in City Hall. (The prohibition on perfume and cologne, approved in 2011, is aimed to protect people who suffer from asthma or allergies.)
Besides Byrd, the meeting's attendees also included Shei'Meka Owens and Omar Shabazz, according to the activist Teressa Raiford, who helped organize the group, called Emanuel Displaced Persons Association 2. The group consists of complete outsiders to a formal public process in North Portland.
Byrd says her group's treatment by a Eudaly staff member and the commissioner herself contrasts with the treatment they've received in other commissioners' offices.
"We all know that Eudaly is a loose cannon," Byrd says. "Why is that OK? Why does she continue to get away with this? I'm not into making excuses for people. She's a grown woman and an elected official. She was so irate and so unreasonable and so out of control."
The constituents recorded their conversation with Runkel after Eudaly left.
"I'm trying to figure out why there was an aversion to removing the Ouija board from off the table," says a woman in attendance on the audio.
"If I'm going to be coming to the meeting, I'll make sure I'm fragrant-free," says a man on the recording.
Although Runkel told WW the constituents were disrespectful, the recording captures him offering excuses for Eudaly's actions and an apology.
"This got off on a terrible foot today," says Runkel, who takes the blame on the recording for not sufficiently preparing the commissioner. "Frankly, I've never seen something go as poorly, so I feel embarrassed. I'm really sincerely apologetic that things did not go better."
But that stance has left Byrd convinced that although Eudaly demands respect, she doesn't show much deference to ordinary black constituents who lack titles or influential positions.
"It's PRP—Portland racial politics," she says. "White politicians and elected officials are used to dealing with approved black folks."