City budget passed after tense hearing, clashing views
Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty did her best to fulfill her campaign promise to shake up City Hall during last week's budget hearings. But she lost every vote as the City Council passed Mayor Ted Wheeler's proposed budget with only her dissenting on Thursday, May 23.
When she ran for the City Council, Hardesty vowed to disregard the time-honored tradition of not interfering with the bureaus overseen by the other members.
"I was not elected to care about just (my bureaus). I don't live in a bubble, I don't live in a silo," Hardesty said during one hearing.
Although the total budget is $5.5 billion, the council has the most control over how the record $577.3 million general fund dollars will be spent, and that is where the fighting took place.
During the most contentious budget hearing in recent memory, on Wednesday, May 22, Hardesty repeatedly tried to defund a program in the Portland Police Bureau overseen by Wheeler and to transfer the money to Portland Parks & Recreation, which is overseen by Commissioner Nick Fish — a brash move by any commissioner, especially one who oversees neither police nor parks, and who has been on the council only since January.
Hardesty justified her actions as necessary to preserve the approximately 56 parks job threatened by the $6.3 million shortfall in the bureau — even though Fish said he was satisfied the budget would allow the bureau to transition to more stable funding.
But Hardesty also revealed her suspicion of the police bureau when she tried to disband its Gun Violence Reduction Team. Formerly known as the Gang Enforcement Team, the unit has repeatedly been accused of racial profiling and questioned by the City Auditor's Office for disproportionately stopping and questioning African-Americans and Latinos.
Hardesty rebuffed Wheeler and bureau officials when they said the unit was changing to focus on all gun crimes, regardless of who commits them.
"The police bureau has shown they have no interest in being held accountable by the people they are sworn to protect and serve," said Hardesty, who also unsuccessfully moved to defund the bureau's pilot body camera program.
Wheeler clashed with both Hardesty and Commissioner Chloe Eudaly over the Gun Violence Reduction Team on Wednesday, and ended up apologizing for criticizing them for not remembering its new name. On Thursday, Eudaly also voted to disband the team, saying the bureau should prioritize traffic enforcement because more people are killed in crashes than by guns every year.
But Fish and Commissioner Amada Fritz joined Wheeler to save the unit and the body camera program.
The debate prompted Wheeler to volunteer to hold a series of public work sessions in the future to discuss such policy issues as city-funded school resource officers — officers assigned to work in public schools — and the use of body cameras on police.
Hardesty also repeatedly talked about transferring money from other general fund programs to parks, but did not formally propose doing so.
Hardesty's first attempt to formally raise her budget concerns fizzled early Wednesday. She moved that the council delay the first hearing of an ordinance to grant a 3.9% cost-of-living adjustment to city employees who are not represented by unions. The percentage is the average of what represented employees are scheduled to receive. Hardesty said she could not in good faith vote to give herself a raise at the same time the council is considering cutting some of the lowest-paying jobs in the parks bureau.
The motion died when no one seconded it. Hardesty moved it again Thursday afternoon, but lost on a 4-to-1 vote.
The city budget takes effect on July 1. Before that, the public can testify on it again at the Tax Supervising and Conversation Committee hearing on June 11, and then again when council formally adopts it on July 12.
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