Mayor Ted Wheeler abruptly terminated Wednesday morning’s in-person city council meeting in Portland following a heated argument involving at least one person who had used their allotted time to address Commissioner Rene Gonzalez’s ban on distributing tents and tarps to unsheltered Portlanders.
Shortly before 11:30 a.m., Wheeler ordered a recess, and the city council met again digitally.
The Police Accountability Commission, a group of Portland residents appointed by the city council to create a new system to investigate, discipline, and monitor the Portland Police Bureau, had submitted a report to the committee that morning, and the meeting had entered a public comment period to address the report.
But, the four persons who had lined up to speak instead spoke out against a policy change made by Gonzalez on February 14 that temporarily prohibits Portland Street Response staff from giving away tents or tarps to people living outside.
Heated Debate on Tent Ban
Last week, after a late-winter storm dumped up to 11 inches of snow on sections of Portland and dropped temperatures to the single digits, Gonzalez justified the policy shift. Two deaths, probably from hypothermia, have prompted an investigation by the Multnomah County Medical Examiner’s office in the past week. Whether or not any person was homeless is unclear.
“I would respectfully ask people to stay on topic,” Wheeler said to the second speaker. “That is not on the agenda today.”
The city council cut off the third and last speaker, whose time had been allotted to comment on Gonzalez’s proposal.
“This is extremely disrespectful to the Police Accountability Commission,” Wheeler said. “Either get on topic, or we’ll ask you to leave.”
Unfazed, the individual continued.
“Do you see these people standing up? We’re all here for it,” the third speaker said. A group of about ten people had gathered inside the City Hall chambers to testify.
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“Well, you’re here at the wrong time. I’m sorry,” the mayor said before telling the group they could visit the council clerk and sign up to give public testimony at a future council meeting.
“Lift the ban,” the third speaker said. “It’s killing people, it’s inhumane, and it’s evil.” They then used an expletive to insult Wheeler. Another person in the crowd yelled out the same insult to the mayor.
“As a result of your behavior, nobody cares what you think,” Wheeler said.
Wheeler threatened to move the meeting online if “one more outburst” existed before the fourth speaker took the stage.
“I don’t care if you like me or not,” the mayor said. “I’m just asking you to be decent people.”
Even Gonzalez’s tent prohibition got some attention from the fourth speaker.
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Wheeler paused the meeting for ten minutes. As the council met again digitally, Wheeler extended an apology to the members of the Police Accountability Commission “on behalf of those who intended to disrupt” their work.