Bemis: Leadership must reflect what the moment demands
After 18 years of public service in Gresham, I reached a difficult decision that the time has come for new leadership to guide our city.
Gresham has changed significantly over the past two decades. Once considered a small outpost of east Multnomah County, we have grown into Oregon's fourth largest city. Today, our expanding economy includes major employers and a vibrant small business and entrepreneurial environment.
As a city, we are supporting our burgeoning community through important investments in safe, multi-modal transportation options. We have added critical support services for children and families. And we have developed new parks and municipal programs.
These efforts enhanced Gresham as a great place to live, work and play.
We have become a more diverse city as well. More communities of color have chosen to make Gresham home. This expanding diversity has strengthened the vibrance of our city and appeals to new residents and businesses alike.
But cities are not static. They change and grow with their population. As a city's population changes, so do its priorities. Good leaders recognize and embrace this kind of change, ensuring policies and practices keep up with the times.
The murder of George Floyd III shook me to my core. In the days and nights following his death, friends and members of this community shared personal experiences of discrimination and bias in our city. Searching for answers, I took a close look at the practices of our city government. I reviewed our own law enforcement policies and personnel practices. I invited colleagues into honest and self-reflective conversations about where we were falling short in service to our Black neighbors.
I asked myself: Could something like that happen here?
I have long expressed concerns, publicly and privately, about municipal policing practices. Reform is needed. And we should expect action from law enforcement leadership.
As a council, we spent years promoting 21st Century policing practices. Those policies will only work if they are embraced by the leadership of our local police department. If they are unwilling or unable to make the changes demanded by their community, they should step aside.
In the wake of this tragedy, we have seen good leadership within the law enforcement community. Police chiefs walking alongside protestors. The firing of officers who violate law or policy. The outpouring of empathy for real pain of institutionalized racism in law enforcement.
I watched with admiration as former Portland Police Chief Jami Resch stepped aside to allow Chuck Lovell to assume command of the bureau. Resch's decision to step down is an example of how true leaders are self-aware in knowing when it is time to allow someone else to take their place.
I urged our own agency's leadership to be self-reflective in what this moment demands.
As both a civic leader and white man, I explored my own conscience. I knew in my heart that, despite what I still wanted to accomplish, I can do more for this city by making space for someone who is right for this city. And right for this moment.
I know my departure impacts my colleagues, community partners and supporters. Change, no matter the reason, can often be bittersweet. But I am not leaving the cause. I will continue working as a private citizen to support Gresham's future.
Gresham's best days are ahead. My former colleagues and my successor have my full support. I urge them to continue pressing for long overdue police reforms.
In these coming months, I will be embracing a new role as cheerleader for those leading us toward our better angels. I will also be working on an important personal priority: saving our family restaurant that has been hurt badly by the COVID-19 pandemic.
My wife has been working around the clock to keep our doors open and put paychecks on the kitchen tables of our employees. The business needs my attention, and so do our three children.
I am grateful to the residents of Gresham who put their faith in me over the past two decades. Their support and dedication to their community represents the best of our city.
Serving as your mayor has been the greatest honor of my life.
Shane Bemis was a Gresham city councilor for four years, and mayor of Gresham for 14 years.
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