Murmurs: Advocates Sue ODOT Over Rose Quarter

In other news: Multnomah County signs a hefty security contract with a California company.

SCAR: The Rose Quarter and I-5 run through the heart of the Albina neighborhood. (Brian Burk)

MULTNOMAH COUNTY SIGNS $40 MILLION SECURITY CONTRACT: The county has signed a five-year, $40 million contract in February with a Pasadena, Calif., security company called Inter-Con to provide armed and unarmed security officers at county-owned facilities, including all county libraries, health centers, office buildings and homeless shelters. County spokeswoman Julie Sullivan-Springhetti says the county decided to explore more robust security services in 2022, when county librarians were dealing with increasingly severe mental health outbursts from patrons and occasional physical violence. “The assessment’s central finding was that the county needed a security vendor that could offer a higher level of capabilities to meet the evolving safety and security challenges across our worksites effectively,” Sullivan-Springhetti says. Per the contract, Inter-Con will assign up to 170 armed and unarmed security officers to patrol county facilities. In 2021, the county funded 52 security officers. Inter-Con will also set up a “Central Monitoring Station” in the county’s Multnomah Building.

JAIL HEALTH CARE DIRECTOR RESIGNS: Myque Obiero, the former nurse who rose to lead Multnomah County’s jail health care division, has resigned. Obiero, the county’s Corrections Health director, oversaw the division during a period of crisis. Seven inmates died in the county’s two adult jails last year, as Obiero struggled to stem a staff exodus. Last month, nurses at the jails voted nearly unanimously to demand he be fired, citing his failure to address short staffing. Now, he’s gone. “I want to sincerely thank Myque for over 7 years of service to the Health Department, and for his many contributions through very challenging times,” wrote Rachael Banks, the county health department’s director, in an email announcing his resignation May 13. Banks says her deputy, Valdez Bravo, will step in to replace Obiero until his replacement can be hired. The resignation comes just days after nurses met with Banks and County Chair Jessica Vega Pederson to discuss their concerns. “We are encouraged by recent developments,” union spokesman Kevin Mealy says, “and we hope the county continues to make improvements and positive changes in Corrections Health.”

ADVOCATES SUE ODOT OVER ROSE QUARTER: The group No More Freeways joined three other nonprofits and the Eliot Neighborhood Association to sue the Oregon Department of Transportation in Multnomah County Circuit Court on May 10, alleging ODOT’s plan to widen Interstate 5 through the Rose Quarter violates state law because it does not comply with either the city of Portland’s comprehensive plan or Metro’s regional transportation plan. The groups say ODOT has failed to reconcile its blueprints to widen the highway, thus increasing traffic, with Portland’s adopted climate plan calling for lower carbon emissions. “We filed this lawsuit because state law requires ODOT to follow the city’s clean air and climate goals,” Chris Smith of No More Freeways says. “ODOT shouldn’t be allowed to advance a project that brazenly violates the city’s adopted plans.” The groups previously filed and withdrew similar complaints pending federal approval of the project. When the feds greenlighted the expansion earlier this spring, they decided to refile. ODOT declined to comment.

CULTURE CRITIQUE RILES PANEL AT OHSU: At the beginning of this year, Qiana Williams, chief people officer at Oregon Health & Science University, set up a new group called the Culture + Climate Advisory Group to “ensure that our desired organizational culture thrives among our members,” according to a document describing the group. The CCAG, as it’s known, got off to a rocky start. In a virtual meeting last month, Williams addressed grousing by some of its 18 members. “A culture of complaint is pervasive at OHSU,” she said on a recording obtained by WW. “I’m just going to be frank and say I think this group has an opportunity to think about how you can be more helpful towards what CCAG should be versus the ongoing onslaught of what it’s not. If it’s not working for you, then re-create it.” When a member of the group took issue with Williams’ characterization of the university’s culture, she pushed back, saying: “We don’t police words, right? Because we often police the words of Black women.” Williams has irked many staff at OHSU by looking past Oregon and hiring most of her senior staff from OhioHealth, where she worked previously. On the April CCAG call, she recommended that members struggling with their new duties reach out to two of her staff, Ernest Perry and Brandi Wilson, who come from Ohio, because they are experts in “change management.” “During the meeting, Qiana addressed the concept of a ‘culture of complaint’ within the context of encouraging proactive engagement and solutions-oriented thinking,” OHSU said in a statement about the meeting. “Her remarks were aimed at emphasizing the importance of each member’s role in driving positive change.”

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