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Commissioner Hardesty Votes Yes on Fall BMP, Details Support and Concerns in Voting Statement

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Today I made the difficult decision to vote yes on a budget that has a lot I like and a lot I am concerned about. I want to make it clear where I stand on this budget, where I continue to have concerns, and what I support because my style has always been to be honest and transparent with the public we represent.

First let me recognize that Portland is dealing with a lot of challenges as we recover from an ongoing pandemic, economic fallout, heat waves, a racial justice uprising, a dramatic increase in traffic fatalities, and a national surge in gun violence. I share the concerns I’m hearing from our community – people want to feel safe, they want a compassionate response to the houseless crisis, and they want to see an expanded community safety system that includes Portland Street Response. 

This year’s Fall BMP is unique in that we have unexpected revenue available for one-time funding, meaning these funds are unlikely to exist next year and therefore are unlikely to be available to fund ongoing budget or staffing commitments. This revenue has largely come from taxes on our largest corporations and big businesses who saw increased profits while small businesses and regular Portlanders continue to struggle.

There is an urgency to respond to these crises that must be balanced with thoughtful, data driven proposals and sound financial management. We should be ensuring these investments will produce outcomes that improve safety and provide relief to Portlanders in need of help.

My primary concern during this Fall BMP has been the lack of process, transparency, public engagement, and measurable outcomes around some of the spending proposed in this budget. This was another budget that involved a lot of dealing behind closed door with the wealthy, well-connected and large business interests and that should concern the rest of us. 

To all those who have continued to write and testify to council, who continue to advocate and speak out for justice and transformation – we have made progress because of you. I hear you and I’m still with you. There are elements of this budget I don’t support, and I will continue those conversations. To those frustrated at the lack of progress as we recover from an ongoing pandemic, who are not feeling safe in Portland right now, I hear you as well and am committed to creating a system of community safety that serves everyone effectively and equally. 

I do not believe that jamming 2-minute testimony from hundreds of Portlanders into a single Wednesday evening is sufficient public engagement for the allocation of $64 million dollars in unanticipated revenue. Portlanders of all opinions have shown they are desperate for meaningful engagement in our conversation about the future of public safety. Unfortunately, our Police Commissioner has failed to create a genuine and equitable community engagement process around our stated goal of rethinking policing and community safety since the murder of George Floyd. This is continuing to divide our community and threatens to lead us back to a status quo that will leave Black, Indigenous, LatinX, and all Communities of Colors behind once again.  

I also have concerns that some aspects of this budget are attempting to commit this Council to financially irresponsible, long term policy decisions that defy budget protocol and procedure. I’ve been lectured in the past by some of my colleagues that were around last Fall BMP that we don’t make policy during this process, but there are several policy commitments being made today that have long-term implications and create new service level expectations that have not been discussed in detail. These policies will be unfunded in a year, and we need to be honest with Portlanders that for this funding to be sustained, we will have to take funding away from other vital city services or find additional revenue sources. I’m disturbed by this lack of transparency and attempts to commit to new policies and practices during a rush to allocate millions of dollars that have barely been discussed as a Council.

I am further concerned that millions of dollars in this Fall BMP are funding items that also received millions of dollars of combined Federal ARPA and Adopted Budget funds that have yet to be put to work. I believe we could have put this funding for duplicative investments aside for future allocations so that we could ensure a robust community engagement process, as well as to see what kinds of outcomes our initial ARPA investments yield. When I tried to advocate for more rental assistance in our first round of ARPA funding, I was told over and over, there was too much funding in the system to get it out effectively, and that adding more would not be helpful, even though the data showed us that we were not fully funding the need. Yet today I see others doing the exact same thing in this Fall BMP with several proposals. Over and over, I am told what I cannot do, only to have my colleagues decide that they in fact can.

I also want to be very clear that when I criticize the process and transparency around our budget, those are criticisms of the elected leaders overseeing that process, not the incredibly hard-working employees of the budget office that have been a pleasure to work with over my 3 years in City Hall. Thank you to Jessica Kinard, and everyone at the budget office for all your great work.

I am concerned about the $1.35M dollar investment into Prosper Portland to fund 4 different future focused studies and strategies to inform future work that we do not know if we will be able to fund.  At this time, OMF and Prosper are still working to respond to a budget note about the future of the organization, given that 13 Tax Increment Finance Districts are nearing completion, which will result in increased resources returning to the assessment rolls and the City’s General Fund.  Their reinvestment in Prosper is not a foregone conclusion. This “TIF Cliff” will require substantial discussion by Council and the Community about how these funds should be invested, and until we have a sound plan and strategy for these funds, we should not be investing over $1M to strategize about new future work that we may not ultimately put resources toward.

This year, two community members experiencing a mental health crisis have been killed by Portland Police. That’s why expanding our armed response to those in crisis through PPB without evaluation, when the expansion of the unarmed Portland Street Response was delayed despite already having an independent evaluation baked into the program’s development, doesn’t make sense to me. 

Overall, I expect this Council to hold PPB to the same standard this Council put on Portland Street Response. We need to independently evaluate the effectiveness of the Portland Police Bureau and its current distribution of resources, which currently assigns less than half of their employees to 911 response, before we consider adding additional positions and responsibilities. I agree with Commissioner Rubio that our focus as a Council right now should be on filling the over 100 vacancies currently in the bureau. Long term, we must change the culture of PPB to attract local officers that hold Portland values and can regain the trust of all Portland communities. 

Historically, our government has poured money into an already bloated PPB budget without asking many questions, despite PBB already receiving the largest allocation of general fund dollars of any bureau in Portland.  I am a believer in holding ineffective and harmful practices accountable and re-allocating public safety resources when needed to improve our whole system of community safety. I believe that attempting to mitigate crime through adding police is among the most expensive, least effective, and least urgent responses we can have as a Council. Chief Lovell confirmed himself that it will take years for any new officers hired by PPB to be deployed and we already have over 100 vacancies in the bureau. 

A recent analyst reported in the New York Times and a separate local analysis published by the Portland Mercury have shown little correlation between crime and the size of a police department. I believe the police do have an important role to play in our system of public safety, but that we also have an expanding system of community safety that I hope will get police back to the basics of responding to 911 calls, investigating, and solving crime. 

Here are some other indisputable facts that make me pause about putting significantly more money or more empty positions into PPB:

PPB remains out of compliance with the Biden Justice Department. This is after President Obama’s justice department sued PPB in 2012, which led to the ongoing settlement agreement around a pattern of unconstitutional use of force by the Portland Police Bureau against individuals with mental illness.

There is an ongoing investigation into ties to white supremacy and right-wing extremism within PPB. A recent OPB article revealed a current PPB officer is a member of the Oath Keepers, a far-right militia. That issue has now gone to the black hole of PPB internal investigations. 

There is an ongoing investigation into a leak within PPB that falsely implicated me in a hit and run in an attempt to damage me politically, which has already led to the resignation of the former PPA President while we await the results of the investigation, 8 months later.

PPB led the nation in use of force following the murder of George Floyd, using force over 6,000 documented times in the summer of 2020. This led to numerous lawsuits, many of which are ongoing and are costing the City of Portland substantial sums of taxpayer money.

Separate from any Council budget decisions related to position authority, PPB mismanaged their finances and operations such that they created a structural deficit in the bureau, prompting a budget note in the Adopted Budget requiring them to remove positions they can no longer afford, because they chose to make other funding decisions.  We cannot on the one hand have a bureau say they do not have enough positions, and on the other hand have them spending the funding they did have for positions on other items, unless they believe that they do not in fact need that many officers in the first place.  We must assume that the bureau could reprioritize back to funding those positions within their current budget, if they believe they are truly needed.

We are in the early stages of developing a Truth & Reconciliation process between Portlanders and the Portland Police Bureau, which I hope will produce an accurate, documented account of the history of PBB’s harm to communities of color and individuals with mental illness, while providing an opportunity to heal, build trust, and move forward with a new kind of policing here in Portland. 

These are just a few indisputable truths, so perhaps my colleagues can understand why I have a few questions and have expressed some concerns with aspects of this budget. You can always count on me to do my homework. 

Yes, there is a lot in this budget I don’t support or have deep concerns about and I wanted to be honest and transparent about that for the public record. But those conversations don’t end today, and I’ll ultimately be voting yes on this budget package because there is also a lot I do like and I appreciate all the hard work my team has put into improving this package. 

The part of this budget that I am most proud of and that I believe is the most visionary aspect of this budget is that it includes my proposal that will finally allow Portland Street Response to access funds that were already set aside for PSR last year, so that we can expand Portland Street Response citywide this Spring. The pilot project has already produced results showing they can take close to 5% of 911 calls away from police and we expect that to grow as we start responding citywide and as more call types are added over time. This will continue to free up resources for PBB to focus on gun violence and other serious crimes. I want the community to know that PSR expansion would not have the unanimous support it’s receiving today had it not been for you being so outspoken in support. I’m so excited for the future of Portland Street Response and what it means for transitioning our entire system of community safety to a more compassionate approach. 

I’m grateful for the collaboration between Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury, Mayor Wheeler and Commissioner Dan Ryan that will allow both the City and County to pool resources together to increase our investment in mitigating the humanitarian crisis on our streets. This is an excellent opportunity to pursue a long-held goal of mine for the county and city to purchase infrastructure such as motels for housing and I am excited for us to take that next step.

With over 100 current vacancies, it would be an irresponsible decision to add additional empty positions to PPB. Although long term retire-rehire is not a fix that changes the culture of PPB, the 25 officers this proposal attempts to bring back could temporarily maintain capacity within the bureau while we continue work to change the culture and conduct of PPB. I appreciate the collaboration with Mayor Wheeler’s office to add parameters to this that will ensure officers that left the bureau under investigation for misconduct will not be brought back through this program. 

I support the elements of this budget that will help PPB get in compliance with the DOJ settlement agreement and improve our ability to better train and hold officers accountable for misconduct, including hiring a new dean of training for PPB. I am also pleased to say that with new technology and best practices to learn from that I am now a convert that fully supports body cameras under the conditions recommended by the Department of Justice. Those conditions are vital to ensure body cams are an investment that can provide a degree of transparency and accountability to policing. When I recently told this to Judge Simon, who is overseeing the settlement agreement between PPB and the DOJ, he himself said to me: “I agree with you that technology appears to be solving the very significant and serious problems that you identified quite a while ago.” The timing of our investment in body cameras is right and I’m happy to support that aspect of this budget. 

Additionally, this budget does include a study for the type of evaluation of PPB’s staffing model and resource distribution that I keep pushing for and I appreciate the work that went into that proposal from Community Safety Director Mike Myers, Chief Lovell, and Mayor Wheeler. 

This has been a record year for gun violence in Portland, but it’s also a year that has seen a dramatic increase in traffic related fatalities that unfortunately hasn’t received anywhere close to the same degree of attention. My proposal in this budget to bolster PBOT’s Safe Routes to Schools program will continue our work to make sure families and their children are safe no matter how they commute to school and back home. 

I am also proud to have brought forth a $250,000 package in collaboration with the Gateway Center for Domestic Violence Services for Domestic Violence Survivor support.  Domestic Violence has surged during the COVID crisis, and this package will provide resources to help individuals who need it leave violent situations and receive support to heal and thrive.

I am a child of the civil rights movement and I am committed to the modern civil rights movement that started last summer when the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor caused the whole world to say, “no more.” I grew up watching the institution of policing brutalizing people that looked like me. Then in the summer of 2020, I watched Portland Police brutalize our community as they marched for racial justice. I’ve consoled the devastated families who lost their loved ones to police violence. I’ve read all the emails of people saying they are sick of hearing so many excuses from PPB at a time when almost all bureaus have seen cuts, when most employers are having trouble hiring and retaining staff, and they have had to adjust too. I’ve read the emails about how it makes no sense that when PPB supposedly has every officer on duty they choose to not intervene when Proud Boys come and terrorize East Portland. I’ve been in this for 30 years. I will keep my promise to focus on developing a system of community safety less reliant on the institution of policing.

When I make my decisions, I’m basing them on data and the many community conversations I have across the spectrum, including many conversations with those I don’t always agree with.  I’m not listening to Trip Advisor, Fox News, or dark money funded consultants. I am not going to play into conservative forces trying to lead us back to the status quo through a campaign of fear. I don’t think the solution to poverty and our houseless crisis is to criminalize poverty and make people disappear.  

I’m fighting every day to make sure that the most vulnerable Portlanders, those who were suffering the most before the pandemic and those continuing to suffer as those inequalities grow, are at the forefront of our policy decisions. I’m fighting for the real people of Portland, not a brand. Because I know that if we lean into our best selves, if we take care of our most vulnerable, if we build Portland up out of this pandemic centering those most historically marginalized, our brand will take care of itself and we will become a City we can all be proud of. This conversation will continue. 

Finally, I want to give a special shout out to my Chief of Staff Karly Edwards, my Financial Policy Advisor Kristin Johnson, and my Policy Director Derek Bradley for all their work trying to understand and influence an opaque, rushed process where information involving multi-million dollar budget allocations were changing by the hour to make improvements that center our most vulnerable. My team and I have been engaging and listening deeply to a variety of community members to find ways to improve this budget in the incredibly short amount of time we have had to allocate the unexpected millions that become available. I’m proud of this work and therefore voted yes on this Fall BMP.