Hardesty, Blue Lives Matter firm clash over Portland contract
But the city asserts it hasn't torn up the deal just yet — saying no decision has been made.
Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty had described the pro-police emblem on Oregon Concrete Solutions trucks as a symbol of white supremacy — while owner-operator Chris Collins strongly denies the charge, saying his own family is of mixed race.
"I, too, would be outraged if my daughter of African American descent was attacked for her race or ethnicity," Collins said. "I am not a white supremacist and I don't condone white supremacy or their evil agenda."
Collins said the accusations came as he and his wife marked their anniversary at the end of "an incomprehensible year of pain and tragedy," as both are still mourning their 24-year-old daughter, Akaisha Blair Karen Collins, who died from a terminal illness nine months ago.
And while Hardesty said in a May 27 statement that the Portland Bureau of Transportation reached out regarding removal of the flags while working on the city's dime, Collins said he was never ordered to delete the decals, but is now willing to do so.
The Tualatin-based firm inked a $1 million contract with the city of Portland in September 2020, according to records released to Pamplin Media Group. The deal expires Aug. 31.
Other business records show the contractor collected $3 million from the city for a separate deal that was set to end June 30, though it has been extended six times prior.
"There has been no denial of a contract extension or any decisions made regarding a contract that naturally expires later this summer," said Matt McNally, a spokeswoman for Hardesty.
Another $3 million contract appears to expire July 31, 2022. The company has six other employees, according to Collins, and receives the majority of its revenue from the city.
"I've been turning work down to bring 110% dedication to the city of Portland," he said.
An email exchange obtained by Pamplin Media shows Collins was first alerted to citizen complaints regarding the flag on Jan. 25, though the city didn't explicitly tell him to remove it.
"The 'hate symbol' designation is the opinion of the complainant and not an official designation, so I will not be directing you to do anything about it," wrote PBOT civil engineer Tim Knighton, adding that Collins should consider removing any "politically controversial stickers" in order to prevent being the target of vandalism.
"Hopefully that wouldn't happen, but you never know with Portland these days," Knighton concluded.
Collins responded the next day saying he would "take your suggestion under advisement."
Oregon Concrete Solutions first came to attention after social media posts showed the firm's flag-festooned truck parked at a sidewalk expansion project on Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard near 32nd Avenue.
The firm has historically served as an on-call sidewalk repair service for the city of Portland, though it also has repaired curb ramps to comply with accessibility laws for the past two years.
Collins said he had requested meetings with Mayor Ted Wheeler, Commissioner Hardesty and PBOT Director Chris Warner to "open a line of communication." In a June 4 statement to Pamplin Media Group, Hardesty said she was prioritizing scheduling a one-on-one meeting with the business owner.
"PBOT staff reached out and talked to the owner, made him aware of community complaints and concerns, and kindly suggested they remove this anti-racial justice symbol from their work trucks," Hardesty said. "I'm happy the owner of the business has reached out to our office to have a discussion."
The two have now agreed to meet virtually on Friday, June 11.
In an interview, Collins said he has been overwhelmed by the community's support but asked that they refrain from attacking elected officials.
"I think Commissioner Hardesty is doing noble work trying to end racial injustice," he added. "I don't think anyone has said anything that we can't walk away from and mend our mutually-beneficial relationship."
While the Thin Blue Line concept dates back to the 1900s as a phrase used to support law enforcement, some say the symbolism has been co-opted by extremists given the context of the Black Lives Matter slogan used by racial justice advocates.
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