Amanda Fritz and Sam Adams
Amanda Fritz and Sam Adams 300x199 Citizens talk, City Council listens to endorsements for an Office of Equity

Commissioner Amanda Fritz and Mayor Sam Adams react to a rare moment of humor during the Office of Equity hearings. Photo by Richard Jones, El Hispanic News

Richard Jones
El Hispanic News

Portland, OR — Virtually every one of the 50 speakers cited the need for the proposed Office of Equity in Portland. Very few of them had a plan on how the office should be structured.

No one suggested how the new office would differ from the existing Office of Human Rights. The OHR has operated without a leader since María Lisa Johnson was sacked last March.

Clearly, the issue was a high priority. The main floor and the balcony of City Hall chambers were packed to standing-room-only.

Both Mayor Sam Adams and Commissioner Amanda Fritz have promoted creating a new office to see that all citizens have equal opportunities. The three other commissioners — Randy Leonard, Dan Saltzman, and Nick Fish — have not declared their positions.

The evening belonged to the public. The commissioners patiently listened for more than three hours of feedback.

The list of groups in need of protection extends well beyond ethnicity. A Discussion Draft at Portlandonline.com noted, “Equity includes the broadest possible factors for consideration, including but not limited to age, gender, race, religion, national origin, socioeconomic status, geography in the city, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, etc.”

Introducing the subject, Fritz said that almost everything that comes to the City Council touches on equity. She acknowledged that a high priority was to define the goals.

State Rep. Lew Frederick had a few questions for the commissioners to consider. “Who will the director report to? Who will decide on what [issues] to act on? Will people know where to go for help?” he asked. “It’s important to me that it be done well, not just done.”

“People of color live in communities with lower access to opportunities,” former state Representative JoAnn Hardesty (formerly Bowman) noted. “Although we have progressive leaders, that doesn’t translate to action on the street. We need the Office of Equity to make sure [fairness] happens.”

Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge Edward Jones suggested that Portland learn from other cities that have approached equity issues. “There is no shortage of other cities who have failed,” he said. “We can learn from their mistakes.”

Assorted other comments:

“How can they call Portland a progressive city when 38 percent of [African American] children live in families at less than poverty level?”

“One of two people of color do not successfully graduate from high school.”

“Policies of the past have not helped. Indeed, they have made things worse.”

For more thoughts on equity, visit Amanda Fritz’ web site:

http://www.portlandonline.com/fritz/.

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