Portland leaders closed City Hall to the public Thursday, to avoid disruptions from activists.

Portland leaders closed City Hall to the public Thursday, to avoid disruptions from activists.

Rob Manning/OPB

Portland leaders shuttered City Hall on Thursday to keep activists from disrupting City Council. Activists responded with Operation Bridge Crane.

Portland Mayor Charlie Hales is leading an effort to approve a tentative contract agreement with the Portland Police Association, in part so the city can hire more officers. Hales has argued Portland struggles to hire and retain officers because it can’t compete with other nearby cities on compensation. Hales said aspects of the proposed contract could help.

But Portland oversight groups, including the Albina Ministerial Alliance, Don’t Shoot PDX and Portland Copwatch have questioned aspects of the contract — from body camera policy to compensation and recruiting, as well as the timing and transparency of the approval process.

Demonstrators disrupted council proceedings Wednesday, leading city leaders to shutter City Hall on Thursday. That limited access to staff, media and people already signed up to testify.

Activists who were officially barred from discussing the controversial police contract signed up to discuss other agenda items, with the apparent goal of forcing further debate of police issues.

JoAnn Hardesty (back turned) testifies to Portland City Council Thursday about the proposed contract with the Portland Police Association.

JoAnn Hardesty (back turned) testifies to Portland City Council Thursday about the proposed contract with the Portland Police Association.

Kieran Hanrahan/OPB

The first item on that list? The purchase of a bridge inspection crane.

The first to try the tactic was Portland Copwatch leader Dan Handelman, who seemed to replace words in his prepared testimony that referred to the police contract, with the words “bridge crane.”

It put Hales in the position of referee, trying to determine when testimony veered too far away from the agenda item of whether or not to spend $811,932 on a crane.

“It isn’t clear if the bridge crane purchase will leave important public policy issues — like body cameras — in the hands of the police instead of the public and City Council,” Handelman said. “Did the auditor and the IPR (Independent Police Review) director …”

At that point, Hales and Commissioner Amanda Fritz interrupted Handelman, saying his discussion of IPR and the auditor had nothing to do with the proposed bridge crane.

Handelman took another run at mixing police and crane issues in his testimony but was ruled out of order by Hales.

Don’t Shoot PDX leader Teressa Raiford was the next to try her hand at getting her concerns about community involvement in police oversight allowed into a discussion of the proposed purchase of a bridge crane.

“When we as a city spend money on things like bridge cranes, or public safety, or any other things that would improve the life of our community, we need to have those policies to include the voices of the people on all forums,” said Raiford.

Hales let her keep going.

“I hope that the outcomes of that process does not include the opportunity to hire more officers to hurt people that come around that property,” Raiford said.

“You need to stay to the subject,” Hales interjected.

“I hope if that if I go anywhere near a bridge crane,” said Raiford, speaking over the mayor, “that I’m not assaulted or murdered by a police officer in this city.” 

Malcolm Craddock only halfheartedly followed Hales’ instruction to actually talk about the agenda item he signed up for.

Craddock punctuated testimony about police accountability with the two word refrain “bridge crane.”

“Bridge crane. The police accountability stuff? You’re out of order. Bridge crane,” Craddock said.

Hales gave Craddock a little leeway.

“Your police so-called reforms, you’re just trying to cover things up,” Craddock continued. “Bridge crane.”

“Mr. Craddock, you’re now going on to another subject,” Hales interjected.

“Oh, am I? Well I’m sorry, Mr. Mayor, because you lied to us, now I can lie to you,” Craddock argued.

“I’m not lying to you,” Hales said.

“You know what? Bridge crane,” concluded Craddock.

Moments later, Craddock was leaving the council chambers shouting expletives. Hales responded that Craddock was excluded from City Hall for the rest of the day.

Protesters say the police contract doesn’t expire until next year, and city councilors should delay approval until Mayor-elect Ted Wheeler takes over. Hales wants to approve the contract quickly, in part to hire more officers.