How Nick Fish Broke Rank with Charlie Hales' Plan for Sidewalk Sweeps and Food Carts

City Commissioner Nick Fish has watched how Mayor Charlie Hales has been treating the homeless, and he's not happy.

Hales took the city Housing Bureau out of Fish's management portfolio in June—and since then has cracked down on campsites on city sidewalks. Fish broke his silence last night by offering a lengthy statement to The Portland Mercury criticizing Hales' sidewalk sweep. He also spoke to WW.

"Food carts and music at City Hall," Fish tells WW in today's edition, "are a poor substitute for a thoughtful and compassionate policy to address homelessness.”

Documents obtained by WW under a public records request show Fish's statements are just the latest stage of a growing split between him and the mayor over the sidewalk sweep, which started three weeks ago with the plaza in front of City Hall.

The documents show Hales tried to coordinate a PR strategy with other commissioners. A July talking-points memo sent to Commissioner Dan Saltzman claimed Hales’ action was not targeting all homeless people: "This is in response to the Road Warriors, and Occupy movement, and their living on the sidewalk."

Fish took exception to Hales’ tactics, telling the mayor’s office in a July 17 email, “I fear it will backfire.” (He had emailed Hales to express gratitude that the mayor wouldn't use utility ratepayer dollars to install bioswales in front of City Hall, a plan Hales' office ultimately junked.)

Fish is also hostile to Hales’ proposal to put food carts in the plaza and have musicians perform there.

On July 31, a Hales staffer asked Fish's chief of staff about finding musicians to play in the City Hall portico, since Fish is the city's arts commissioner, overseeing the Regional Arts & Culture Council.

The reply was curt: "Nick doesn't support using RACC resources to organize lunchtime performances at City Hall."

But documents also show Fish's office wasn't above suggesting a little sidewalk clearing of its own.

When City Hall received word of a Camp Cascadia reservoir protest last month on Mount Tabor, Fish's chief of staff Hannah Kuhn suggested Hales' office seize the opportunity.

"If the Friday demonstration has the effect of luring the folks camping around City Hall to Mt. Tabor, we thought it might be an idea [sic] time to power wash around the building, and generally clean up," Kuhn wrote July 9.  

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