Portland Mayor Delays Vote On Ejecting People Who Disrupt Meetings

By Amelia Templeton (OPB)
Portland, Oregon March 9, 2017 1:39 a.m.

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler postponed a vote Wednesday on rules that make it easier to eject and bar people who disrupt council hearings.


The move came after the ACLU of Oregon suggested the new rules violate the U.S. Constitution.

The rules would allow the council to bar somebody for up to two months if they make threats or interrupt the proceedings repeatedly.

Portland city code already on the books gives the mayor the power to exclude people from city property, including City Hall, for violating rules of conduct. Those exclusions can be for any period of time, including permanent exclusions.

Related: New Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler Faces Rising Incivility And Anger At City Hall

But in 2015, in response to a lawsuit filed by activist and council meeting regular Joe Walsh, a federal judge ruled the city code violates the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The judge issued an injunction that restricts the mayor’s power to exclude people to a single day at a time.

Wheeler’s proposed ordinance is narrower than the city’s existing code. It would allow the council to exclude people for up to 60 days, and gives people the right to appeal their exclusions.

Dozens of people attended the council’s deliberations Wednesday. In a meeting that was at times tense and raucous, activists denounced the proposed rules as an effort to stifle criticism and dissent.

Some suggested that Wheeler, who has been in office for just over two months, should resign.

“If we cannot have discussions with you in settings like this and say what we want, we need to remove you out of office,” said a man who testified under the name Lightning.

“Do you like people coming to your house, Ted? Because this is how you get people coming to your house,” said activist Jessie Sponberg.

Protesters camped in front of former Portland Mayor Charlie Hales' house on Oct. 15, 2016, during a dispute over the city's police union contract.

Protesters camped in front of former Portland Mayor Charlie Hales' house on Oct. 15, 2016, during a dispute over the city's police union contract.

Bradley W. Parks / OPB

Dan Handleman, with the group Portland Copwatch, suggested the council should instead make more time available in its meetings for public testimony, and called on them to meet protesters' demands on issues ranging from police accountability to finding a home for Portland’s Right2DreamToo homeless camp.

“Who knows, if justice is achieved, maybe there would be no more disruptions,” Handleman said.

At one point during the testimony, protesters pointed and jeered at a city employee who sought, and was granted, a restraining order against a man who had challenged the staffer to a fistfight.

A few citizens testified in favor of the proposed rules, noting the climate at recent council hearings can be chilling to people with unpopular viewpoints.

“I have a different opinion than most of the people in back of me, but they would like my opinion not to be heard,” said Stacey Rutledge, who said she watches council hearings online and had not come to speak before. “We have to have a conversation. We can’t have disruptive yelling-fests in the business of the city.”

Related: Mayor Ted Wheeler Deals With Protesters, Divided Portland At Inauguration

Andy Olshon, who describes himself as an advocate for Portland’s homeless population, said he didn’t think the rule change was the right approach — and then admonished the noisy crowd behind him for not trying harder to work with the city’s local political leaders.

“This mayor is new. This city council person is new,” he said, pointing to Commissioner Chloe Eudaly. “I should be able to come here, with my kids, with anybody, and speak without people shouting.”

“It’s freedom of speech, dude,” someone interjected.

“I’m just sad,” Olshon concluded.

Attorney Sarah Einowski spoke on behalf of the ACLU of Oregon. She urged the council not to pass the ordinance. She said the new rules violate free speech protections in the Constitution.

“We appreciate it’s annoying and perhaps a burden to be kicking somebody out every day, but the First Amendment doesn’t allow you to kick somebody out in the future for actions they took that day,” Einowski said.

Wheeler said he would delay voting on the rules for at least a week and asked to meet with the ACLU to discuss a possible compromise.