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ANOTHER CHANCE FOR GENDER-BENDING COP


The strange tale of Damon Woodcock, a 41-year-old transsexual Portland police officer, will be retold before the board of trustees of the Fire and Police Disability and Retirement Fund, following a judge's ruling that the board improperly denied his stress claim.

Since joining the bureau in 1991, Deborah Woodcock had looked and acted more like a man than a woman. In 1998, she underwent surgery, began hormone treatments and legally changed her sex.

Woodcock's gender-switch overlapped with tense times at the police bureau. Woodcock told the board that in May of 1999, after he spoke to investigators in the Centralgate overtime probe, a fellow Central Precinct officer told him that "one bullet per snitch is all it would take."

In July 1999, shortly after he was transferred to the men's locker room, someone vandalized his locker nametag, using a circle and slash to cross out the second half of his last name.

Based on these incidents, Woodcock worried that his fellow officers would not respond to life-threatening calls in which he needed help--a not-unheard-of treatment for unpopular cops that police call "no cover" or "slow cover."

Woodcock took sick leave and filed for a stress-related disability, citing panic attacks, crying jags, fits of rage and fears for his safety.

Last April, the disability board deadlocked on the case, five to five. Mayor Vera Katz agreed with the board's staff recommendation to vote in favor of Woodcock's claim. But as chairwoman of the board, she declared that a tied vote meant that the claim should be denied.

Woodcock appealed. On June 28, Multnomah County Circuit Judge Frank Bearden ruled that Katz's interpretation of the tie was not backed by city ordinance, and ordered another vote.

At its July 10 meeting, the disability board decided to hold a new hearing on Woodcock's case.

--Nick Budnick

SURVIVOR GETS THE AX

In a development that is sending shock waves through the mental-health community, one of Oregon's top mental-health consumer advocates, Kevin Fitts, was fired last week from his post as chief of the state Office of Consumer Technical Assistance.

Fitts, 36, was suspended in May after a female subordinate complained about his management style, citing, among other things, erratic hours, poor supervision, farting, belching and reckless driving. "I feel that he is completely out of touch with reality, and can barely function in society," said the employee, Lorien Sekora.

But Fitts--a former psychiatric patient who describes himself as "one of Oregon's better-known lunatics"--says the real reasons he was ousted are his outspoken opposition to the redesign of Multnomah County's mental health system and the fact that he's a professional hell-raiser.

Primarily funded by the state of Oregon, OCTA is supposed to function both as a resource and an advocate for mental-health consumers.

But OCTA also receives "administrative support" from Network Behavioral HealthCare Inc., one of the area's biggest providers of mental-health services and a leading force in the Multnomah County redesign.

Fitts thus found himself in the awkward position of opposing a plan that his boss, Network CEO Leslie Ford, helped to write.

On May 16, for example, Fitts declared his opposition to the redesign at a meeting of the Multnomah Mental Health Coordinating Council. "Stop the train," Fitts wrote in a flyer circulated at the meeting. "This is unacceptable."

Fitts' ouster could hardly come at a more delicate moment. County mental-health officials are scrambling to reconfigure the system and are anxious to win the approval of the increasingly influential consumer movement.

But Fitts' termination seems likely to stoke opposition to the plan. "It's a huge deal," says David Romprey, psychiatric survivor liaison at OHSU. "Kevin Fitts has done more for the Oregon mental-health patient than any other person."

Ford, the Network CEO, told WW that Fitts' firing was not related to his political positions. "That's not the case at all," Ford said. "I still hope he can
continue in some kind of role."

--Chris Lydgate

 

Beer Wars

Look out, local brew fans: The suds are about to fly! Later this month, the Oregon Brewers Festival will get some competition.

For the past 14 years, OBF has been the big beer event of the summer, taking over Waterfront Park for a hot weekend of cold craft brews from near and far. Since its inception, the festival has drawn increasing crowds (82,000 last year) and increasing complaints: the frat-boy atmosphere, long lines, small portions and lack of music.

Well, this year, OBF organizer Art Larrance won't be the only one sloshing suds in the neighborhood.

Gregg Shillinger, owner of Paddy's Bar & Grill (65 SW Yamhill St.), has rented the half-block parking lot directly across Front Avenue from OBF for his Alt Brew Festival, set to run July 27-28, the first two days of the three-day OBF.

Shillinger downplays any rivalry, but he admits the festival's name doesn't just refer to a German bier. "We're an alternative to long lines," he says. "We're an alternative to a bunch of guys standing around in tents. We're an alternative to 4-ounce pours."

Alt Fest will feature 36 microbrews (26 regional and 10 imports), half the number available across the street. But, Shillinger says, anyone who pays the $3 entrance fee can enjoy the nine bands he's lined up and purchase 8-ounce servings.

Shillinger says he met with Larrance to inform him of his plans. If he didn't exactly get Larrance's blessing, he seems to have gotten his attention: This year, for the first time, OBF will feature live music. "If I were a betting man, I'd bet that's not a coincidence," Shillinger says.

Still, Shillinger views his festival as a place where OBF fans can hang out and listen to bands while they wait for the crowds to thin out across the street.

"I don't think there's any animosity on Art's part," he says. "He understands we'll be supplemental to what he's doing."

--Trisha Miller and John Schrag

Return of the Sharks

Step right up! Direct from the down-market moneymen who brought pay-day and car-title loans to Oregon, here's the latest way to fleece the poor--advancing cash against anticipated personal injury settlements.

Here's how the scheme works: Let's say you screw up your arm in an auto wreck and you need cash now. Flip through the Nickel Ads or the Internet, and you'll see ads from companies such as Far West Funding, Personal Injury Capital Corp and PacWest Financial Consulting, all clamoring to advance you money while your wait for your settlement.

There's a price, of course. In one deal inked last December with Plaintiff Capital Corp. of Los Angeles, the victim borrowed $3,500 and agreed to pay $525 per month in interest. After a year--the average time it takes to resolve a personal-injury lawsuit, according to lawyer Richard Yugler--the victim owed $9,800.

The rate is lower than that charged in the usurious car-title lending business (see "Shark Attack," WW, Sept. 2, 1998) but at an annual interest rate of 180 percent, it's still pretty steep. "The only people who are signing up for these loans are extremely desperate," Yugler says.

Personal-injury financing is new enough in Oregon to remain beneath the radar of the state's Division of Finance and Corporate Securities. But Yugler and other lawyers say they're seeing a slow trickle of victims who got stuck paying exorbitant rates.

Although victims aren't required to repay unless awarded damages, Rick Braun, a member of the Oregon bar's ethics committee, worries that settlement loans may divide lawyers' loyalties. "Let's say the contract says the lawyer gets paid first, then the lender, then the victim. That may influence a lawyer's enthusiasm for the case," Braun says, adding that such a contract could ultimately leave a victim who is victorious in court still owing money.

 

SCOREBOARD

WINNERS
LOSERS

1. With losses from the Water Bureau's fubar billing system possibly hitting $15 million, the warm-up for the 2004 mayor's race begins with City Commissioner Erik Sten, who oversees the bureau, on the defensive. Fellow council members Charlie Hales and Jim Francesconi, meanwhile, are all smiles.

2. Clackamas County inmates can breathe a little easier after a jury's ruling last week. A Clackamas jail sergeant accused of being an abusive bully was found guilty of shooting a mentally ill inmate with an electric Taser gun and harassing another inmate. He faces up to four years in jail.

3. Health skeptics may protest, but cell-phone users may be headed toward better reception. New cell-phone towers may sprout on utility poles all over the city under a new proposal, spearheaded by Commissioner Sten's office, in which cell-phone companies would pay the city for the privilege.

 
 
 

1. Though Measure 7 is likely to be struck down in court, the Legislature's failure to pass some compromise law means the debate over reimbursement for land-use regulation will live on. Without a legislative solution, beleaguered voters probably will have to sort through the issue all over again.

2. Harsh toke for medical marijuana users--last week they learned a key ally is under scrutiny. Phillip E. Leveque, a Molalla doc who has signed a whopping 40 percent of the state's legal pot cards, is now under investigation by the Oregon Board of Medical Examiners. An unfavorable ruling could cost the 77-year-old osteopath his medical license.

3. As if the Morrison Bridge construction weren't enough. For the next two months, innocent drivers will live through hell when I-5 is closed weekends between I-84 and the Fremont Bridge. First up, northbound lanes; starting Aug. 3, the southbound lanes.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

ROGUE OF THE WEEK
The Rogue desk is now accepting nominations
buzz@wweek.com

On Aug. 2, 1999, at roughly 5:30 in the morning, 21-year-old Tiffani Ann Alvera, a receptionist at Providence Seaside Hospital, was beaten by her husband so severely that she wound up in the hospital.

But Alvera's problems were just beginning. Two days later, she got a 24-hour eviction notice from her landlord. The reason? According to the notice pinned to her door, "You, someone in your control, or your pet, has seriously threatened immediately to inflict personal injury, or has inflicted substantial personal injury upon the landlord or other tenants."

Yes, it's true. This week's Rogue, CBM GROUP, INC., which manages the low-income units at the Creekside Village Apartments in Seaside, actually evicted Alvera because her husband beat her.

"It's absolutely outrageous the housing authority would evict the victim of domestic violence," says Lenora Lapidus, director of the Women's Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union. "It's utterly absurd."

If only the Alvera case were an aberration. In fact, violence "zero tolerance" policies such as Creekside's have become increasingly popular over the last decade among property managers for subsidized housing.

While we applaud the goal of safe housing for the poor, the case of Tiffani Alvera is a classic example of a good idea gone wrong. The "zero tolerance" policy punishes the innocent--especially women, who make up roughly 95 percent of domestic-violence victims.

Fortunately, Alvera now has some powerful allies: the ACLU, Legal Aid of Oregon and the National Organization of Women, all of whom this week filed a discrimination lawsuit in federal court on her behalf.

We look forward to Alvera's day in court--and hope that "zero tolerance" property managers across the nation will learn to make exceptions for the victims of domestic violence.

 

Murmurs
SOMEWHERE BETWEEN MUD AND MUZAK, YOU'LL FIND MURMURS.

* Relations between Metro's auditor and its elected council have gotten so frosty that the regional agency has gotten some professional help to instigate a thaw. Things have been testy for more than a year, but the Big Chill surfaced this spring when Councilor Rex Burkholder led a charge to slash Auditor Alexis Dow's budget. Burkholder and his colleagues eventually backed off, but things remained strained, and on July 5 a professional facilitator hosted a four-hour venting session between Dow and the entire seven-member council. "I'm not sure how far we got, to tell you the truth," says Burkholder, who still contends that Dow needs to be more mindful of the council's demands.

* Janet Jackson rumors were flying at her concert last weekend, including news that brother Michael was in the third row. In a hat. With an operating mask covering his famous face! An inside source assures us that it definitely was not her brother--just a scary imitation.

* Two weeks ago, Murmurs reported the buzz in education circles that former interim Multnomah County chairman Bill Farver was mulling over a bid for schools superintendent Ben Canada's job. Farver, however, insists he's not interested. Neither are many other locals, apparently. To date, only Jay Casbon, dean of Lewis & Clark's School of Education, is the only Portlander known to be angling for the job.

* Could the Force be with them? Some high-ups from a prominent Portland design firm went down to George Lucas' ranch and pitched them on doing the ad-design stuff for the next Star Wars movie. Nothing in ink yet, but the folks at this edgy ad agency are hoping. Word is one of the hot-shots got to read the script but refuses to disclose any details except to say it's better than the last one.

* You can take Mark Wiener out of Dan Saltzman's office, but you can't take the office out of Wiener's domain. The ace political strategist isn't going back to his former boss' payroll, but his better half is. Aisling Coghlan is taking over as Saltzman's chief of staff, replacing Edward Campbell, who will stick around to handle enviro issues. The big loser in the shuffle is longtime local politico Frank Dixon, who "resigned" after ticking off neighborhood associations in an effort to get more accountability. He'll be replaced by Jeff Cogen, a former aide to Beverly Stein.

* Here in Murmurville, we're used to folks finding creative ways of not saying much. But micro-distiller Steve McCarthy set a new standard in pleading ignorance. Since outgoing Reed College president Steve Koblik is bolting to head the Huntington Library in San Marino, Calif., we thought we'd sniff-out the front runners for his replacement. Our first call was to McCarthy, who sits on the Reed board of trustees. Here's his reply when asked for top prospects:

"What do you call a deer with no eyes? No-eye deer.

"What's a deer with no eyes and no legs? Still no-eye deer.

"What's a deer with no eyes, no legs, and no penis? ..."

Well, we'll let you figure that one out.