Date: Dec. 4
From: Andrea Durbin, Bureau of Planning and Sustainability director
To: Members of the Planning and Sustainability Commission
"We ask the Commissioners not contact the media about any [Planning and Sustainability Commission- or Bureau of Planning and Sustainability]-related business, unless it is a part of a coordinated media plan with BPS staff. If a reporter reaches you by phone, please get their contact info and tell them you'll forward their questions and a spokesperson will get back to them."
What it meant: Durbin doesn't want anyone talking out of school to the press. The instructions came on the same day WW published a story ("Rest Easy," Dec. 4, 2019) about a controversial debate among commissioners whether to amend design guidelines to include the word "rest." The intention of the change was to encourage developers of new private buildings to include design features that could shelter homeless Portlanders.
In the end, the PSC passed along its draft language including "rest" to the city Design Commission, which scratched the word and the concept it represented. The draft next goes to the Portland City Council.
What others say: The gag order doesn't sit well with City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, a former legislator and longtime civil rights advocate with decades of volunteer positions and public meetings under her belt.
"I would never send an email like that," Hardesty tells WW, "nor do I think it's appropriate for a staffer to tell a commissioner not to talk to the media."
John Russell, a downtown developer and property owner who has served on numerous city commissions, including the PSC and the city agency now called Prosper Portland, says it's important when commissioners speak to the press that they make clear they are speaking for themselves and not the public body they serve. But he would not appreciate being muzzled.
"Anybody has the right to speak on their own behalf," Russell says.
Durbin says her goal is to protect the "sanctity of the process" as the PSC engages in a monthslong review of city design guidelines. She prefers that only the commission chair speak to the press, and that commissioners express their views only during open meetings. "It makes the process harder," she says, when individual commissioners grant interviews.
Correction: Due to an editor's error, the print version of this story misidentifies the bureau Andrea Durbin runs. WW regrets the error.