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Portland officials reverse decision about protecting City Hall and Portland Building from 'demands in the form of spray paint' during protests

PMG PHOTO: JOSEPH GALLIVAN - The $30,000 plywood wall being built Tuesday morning around City Hall to protect the building from vandalism. The idea was scrapped within  hours becasue it made the City government seem not to be open for civic engagement.City officials reversed themselves Tuesday, June 9, and decided to remove plywood walls being erected around City Hall and the Portland Building to protect them from vandalism.

The walls were being installed Tuesday morning because both buildings continue to be marked with graffiti each night of the ongoing protests. The price tag: $30,000.

"Cleaning the buildings each day is taking public resources, particularly due to the limestone surface at City Hall. We are looking into the possibility of partnering with the arts community to create murals on the plywood in support of the racial justice movement," Mayor Ted Wheeler's office told the Portland Tribune on June 9.

But by Tuesday evening Chief Administrative Officer Tom Rinehart decided to remove the plywood. It is expected to be gone Wednesday evening, June 10.

"The plywood was intended to protect iconic public buildings and minimize expenses," Rinehart said. "But we need to put our relationship with the community first. The city of Portland is open for civic engagement — especially now. We need to hear our community's demands for racial justice, even when those demands take the form of spray paint."

A spokesperson for the city's Office of Management and Finance emailed the Tribune: "This decision was made quickly, from an operational standpoint, in an effort to protect City Hall's recently renovated limestone exterior. But we quickly realized that we need to start making decisions differently, and think from a community standpoint.... Boarding up City Hall is not the message we want to give our community members right now. Even though City Hall is currently closed due to the COVID-19 crisis, it remains a symbol of civic engagement and our commitment to having all voices be heard. We made a mistake, but we're learning from our mistakes so we can make better decisions in the future."

The city says it will continue to clean the buildings of graffiti daily, and added, "We are also looking into how we can repurpose the plywood."

Protests have taken place downtown for more than 11 nights following the death of African American George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis police. Although the most intense activity has taken place at the downtown Justice Center, other buildings have been vandalized, too, inlcuding the Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse and Pioneer Place.

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