Portland City Council on Wednesday approved a five-year renewal of a contract for downtown security and cleaning services.
The council voted 4-1 to approve the $ 25 million contract with Downtown Clean & Safe, a nonprofit that provides additional safety and sanitation services to an area 213 city blocks from downtown. city. The vote came over vehement objections from critics, who argued the contract was half-done and failed to address the many concerns raised. last year in a municipal audit. This audit found that the city had taken a hands-off approach to the city’s three improved service districts, specific areas where landowners pay more money for better services than those provided by the city. city.
Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty alone voted ‘no’, saying she had heard overwhelming public concern that the contract left major concerns unanswered. But the rest of the council said they believed the deal was necessary to help revitalize the city center after the pandemic and restore its reputation. Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler cited a breathless audience.
“I believe this contract provides us with yet another opportunity to address some of the safety and liability issues that have impacted the downtown community,” said Wheeler.
Critics including local homeless advocacy group Stop the Sweeps and Business for a Better Portland group of companies had pushed the city to drop the renewal and, instead, extend the contract for a year. while city officials addressed some of the biggest concerns raised by the public. Homeless people accused guards hired by the district of regularly harassing homeless people who live in the city center. Some taxpayers and business groups have said the deal is putting too much money into the pockets of the Portland Business Alliance, with which the district contracts to help run the program.
Despite a months-long negotiation process between city officials and the Portland Business Alliance, Hardesty said those issues were not addressed in the new contract.
“The city let the community down today,” said Hardesty.
Hardesty on Wednesday introduced an amendment to extend the current contract instead of approving a new one, while the city undergoes a promised two-year review of enhanced service districts in response to last year’s audit. City officials have said any changes to the districts will affect the current contract with Downtown Clean & Safe.
“I’ve never heard of signing a contract with the intention of going back to negotiate political decisions,” Hardesty said.
But Hardesty’s offer to drop the new contract fell through on Wednesday. Commissioner Carmen Rubio, seen as most likely to side with Hardesty, said she believes the current contract changes over labor agreements and private security are too critical to delay. The new contract includes a requirement for security coordinators to wear name tags and distribute business cards and a more “easily accessible” complaint process for guards, among other changes.
“I’m worried and don’t want to put them on hold or abandon the progress we’ve made,” Rubio.
Rubio joined Commissioner Dan Ryan in calling on the city to expand the review of enhanced service districts. The two commissioners introduced an amendment that would ask city officials to consider issues “related to the governance of improved service districts”, the use of private security and the inclusion of homeowners as taxpayers who must pay. in the district.
But some defenders felt the last-minute adjustments didn’t go far enough. Ashley Henry, executive director of Business for a Better Portland, said the city missed an opportunity.
“While we recognize the value of many of the services provided by Downtown Clean & Safe, we have serious concerns about renewing a five-year contract without clear governance and accountability guidelines,” she said. . “We will continue to push for improvements in how Downtown Clean & Safe (DCS) spends funds from Old Town and Downtown businesses and all Portland taxpayers to ensure DCS is focused on providing services our community needs to emerge stronger from the crises we face. “