City Council Repeals Mapps’ Amendment That Aimed to Revoke Millions From Black-Led Advocacy Group

Reimagine Oregon will still have access to $4.8 million in set-aside funds meant for the Black community that have gone unspent for close to three years.

carmenrubio Courtesy of Carmen Rubio

Last week, the Portland City Council passed a budget amendment that would have revoked millions in taxpayer funding set aside for a Black-led advocacy group.

The group, Reimagine Oregon, began accruing annual funds set aside by the city from its cannabis tax fund in 2020. Yet for reasons that are unclear, none of the $4.8 million was used to help the Black community for over two and a half years. Mapps placed the blame on Reimagine; Reimagine pointed the finger back at the Office of Community & Civic Life, which oversees the cannabis fund, for not helping Reimagine form a plan to get the dollars out of the city’s coffers.

But one week later, at today’s City Council meeting, an amendment co-sponsored by Commissioners Carmen Rubio and Dan Ryan reversed Mapps’ amendment.

That means the $4.8 million in funding will remain set aside for Reimagine, and Prosper Portland, a bureau under Rubio’s leadership that’s worked with Reimagine since last winter to create a plan for the dollars. (Prosper will immediately receive $825,000 in cannabis tax funds that will go toward four organizations that support minority-led businesses.)

Both Rubio and Ryan at the council meeting offered strong rebukes to Mapps’ tone last week—even though Ryan had voted in favor of Mapps’ amendment.

“While I did not agree with much of the tone and some of the dialogue, I do think Mapps’ amendment created a sense of urgency,” Ryan said. “Since last week’s vote, my team did a deep dive to research the issue, and it became more and more clear that balls were dropped on all sides, with the city tipping the scales. We need to take responsibility.”

Rubio said: “What happened last week shouldn’t sit well with any of us. Part of good governance is leading with curiosity, asking questions and engaging with one another before walking into these chambers. And that didn’t happen last week.”

Mapps peppered his colleagues and city staff with technical questions about the original prescription of the Reimagine funds. The ordinance signed by council in 2020 mentions a “community-led” process to determine how funds would best be used, and Mapps said he believes such a use may be an “illegal expenditure” under the cannabis fund’s prescribed uses.

“I try not to sign off on things that are illegal,” Mapps said.

After some back and forth between Mapps and budget staff, Rubio asked budget staff directly: “Is anything about this illegal?”

“No,” budget staff responded.

Reimagine executive director Justice Rajee testified on Wednesday that if he were part of any other organization, he would be “terrified” to work with the city after witnessing what happened last week.

“None of this was required. If folks had questions about intentions, practices, structures, how we’re going to do it, all you had to do was ask. I don’t miss meetings. I don’t dodge people if they have a question,” Rajee said, visibly emotional. “We don’t need to play these games.”

City Council approved the amendment by a 3-2 vote. Commissioners Rubio and Ryan and Mayor Ted Wheeler voted for it.

“People don’t trust us. They don’t trust their local government, and this is one more reason why,” Wheeler said before he voted in support of the amendment “We stumbled and we had an opportunity to show the community we trusted them, and in last week’s council we went in a different direction. I’m saddened by this. This should’ve been a slam dunk... I’m asking that we asa Council do better for the people that we serve.”

Commissioners Mapps and Rene Gonzalez voted against it.

Correction: A previous version of this story stated the 2020 ordinance mentioned a “participatory budgeting” process. That is incorrect. The language referred to a “community-led” process.

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