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Office of Equity

Pete Springer/OPB

In his State of the City speech in February, Portland Mayor Sam Adams announced the city would create a new Office of Equity, which will be run by Commissioner Amanda Fritz. In the ensuing months, there has been much debate both within city government and among Portlanders about exactly what such an office would do. Commissioner Randy Leonard jokingly suggested a companion “Office of Awesomeness.” Some Portlanders say the office is sorely needed. Others aren’t so sure the city is going about this the right way.

City commissioners rather grudgingly approved $1 million in funding for the Office of Equity in May. with the condition that Adams and Fritz figure out exactly how to spend the $1 million this summer or the money will be reallocated. Fritz and Adams can spend up to $100,000 developing the office, but the rest of the new funding will only be released once the City Council has approved an official oridinance establishing the new office and its work plan. About half of the money will come from the existing Office of Human Relations, while the other half is a new allocation. The Office of Human Relations created by former Mayor Tom Potter will be folded into the new office, along with their budget. This detail rankled the director of the Office of Human Relations, who has since resigned her position.

The committee convened to map out the Office of Equity is composed of about 30 people and has met three times to date. At a recent meeting, the Coalition of Communities of Color gave a presentation about their 2010 report (pdf) reflecting inequities in Multnomah County, with a special emphasis on Portland.

Portland would not be the first city to create a city office to address these sorts of issues. Seattle has an Office for Civil Rights and within that office, a Race and Social Justice Initiative, charged with addressing institutional racism specifically. Eugene has an Equity and Human Rights Center, which is purposely located outside of City Hall in order to be more accessible to the public. The stated mission of the Eugene office is to “address community-based issues in a comprehensive and inclusive way.”

What do you want Portland’s new Office of Equity to look like? How should it be structured? What should its primary functions be? Why does Portland need such an office?


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OPB | Broadcast: June 21, 2011