5 Things To Know About Mayor Charlie Hales' Final State Of The City

By Amelia Templeton (OPB)
Portland, Oregon March 24, 2016 9:48 p.m.

Portland Mayor Charlie Hales, preparing to give his final State of the City speech, says he's focused on his remaining nine months in office and has had little time to follow the race to replace him.

"I'm certainly not a lame duck mayor," he told OPB. "We have a very aggressive agenda."


Here are five things to expect from Hales' last major speech as mayor, which he'll deliver at noon Friday:

Progress Toward Police Reform

Hales took office shortly after the city and the U.S. Department of Justice signed a settlement agreement in 2012 to end a lawsuit over excessive use of force by Portland Police, particularly against people with mental illness.

Hales said changes at the Police Bureau, including new Chief Larry O'Dea's hire, a shift toward more walking beats, and "a very thoughtful, calibrated approach to people experiencing mental illness" will be the most important pieces of the legacy he leaves.

"Literally every week our police officers are saving someone from suicide. There was literally one day last summer when they saved four people from suicide. Two of those people had knives in their hands," he said. "And I am so proud of that."

Salary Increases For Police Officers

Leaders of the Portland Police Association, the police union, have complained repeatedly that the bureau is short-staffed. Overtime costs have risen and officers in specialized units have been asked to cover patrol shifts. The agency has struggled to fill vacancies as officers leave or retire.

Related: AG Lynch Comes To Portland To Highlight Settlement With Police

The bureau currently has 948 sworn positions budgeted and 45 vacancies.

"The mayor's office, Police Bureau management, and the police union don't always agree, but in the case of needing more police officers on the payroll now, we're in radical agreement," Hales said.

Hales said he is working on measures to make the Police Bureau more competitive in hiring new recruits, including increasing pay.

"We are not the most attractive police bureau in terms of salary," he said. "Our starting salary is $49,000."


More Work On Gang Violence

Hales spoke of the city's relentless problem with gang violence in his State of the City speech last year. A teenager interning in his office was among 73 people shot and injured in gang violence in 2015. Fifteen people were killed.

The mayor said he wants to offer more alternatives to at-risk youth, including internships, scholarships and community programs. "We have to get upstream in the lives of our kids," he said.

Last year the mayor added $2 million to the city's budget to keep the Matt Dishman Community Center in Northeast Portland and several other facilities open in the summer to kids 18 and younger. Expect to hear about even more support for these kinds of prevention and outreach programs.

Hales said focusing on prevention isn't a quick fix, but is the right thing to do.

"That's a long-term cure. That isn't something that's going to work overnight," he said.

The Homeless "State Of Emergency"

Much of the city council's work in the past year has focused on Portland's lack of affordable housing, rising rents and homeless crisis.

Related: Portland's $28K East Side Storage Unit For Homeless Is Locked, Empty

In December, Hales ended the city's ban on public camping, and said that police will not sweep camps of fewer than six tents as long as campers are orderly and pick up their trash — a policy change that advocates for the homeless have welcomed but others have greeted with skepticism.

Hales will likely defend the policy and highlight the work the city has done adding more than 500 shelter beds.

“We are going to tolerate some level of street homelessness until we have enough shelter beds,” he said.

That's similar to the position recently taken by the U.S. Department of Justice in a brief opposing ordinances in Boise, Idaho, that were used to prosecute homeless people for camping. The DOJ suggested such measures constituted cruel and unusual punishment in cities that have inadequate shelter space.

An Endorsement Could Be Coming

Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury announced this week she is endorsing her colleague Jules Bailey in the race to replace Hales. The current mayor said he is close to making his own endorsement: "Not yet, but I'm likely to," he said.

That endorsement is unlikely to go to Ted Wheeler, whose entry into the race coincided with Hales' decision not to seek a second term. While Hales wouldn't drop any hints, he's often spoken warmly in the past of Sarah Iannarone, an urban planning and sustainability expert at Portland State University who runs the First Stop Portland program with the mayor's wife, Nancy Hales.

If Iannarone does reasonably well in the primary, she could prevent front-runners Jules Bailey and Ted Wheeler from winning an outright majority and push the race's two most well-known and well-funded candidates to a November runoff.