PORTLAND, Ore. (Portland Tribune) — Despite repeated disruptions from protesters in the audience, the City Council unanimously passed Mayor Ted Wheeler’s measure to restore order to their meetings on Wednesday afternoon.
It may not quickly end the series of protests that have repeatedly disrupted council meetings for months, however.
Wheeler said he will not enforce the most controversial part of the measure — evicting those who repeatedly disrupt the meetings for up to 60 days — until its constitutionality has been determined by a federal court. An early attempt to bar repeat protester Joe Walsh from future council meetings was struck down by U.S. District Court Judge Michael Simon in 2015.
“You have my word as the presiding officer that I will not enforce the proactive provision until it has been ruled on,” Wheeler said.
Wheeler also said that he and the council were interested in expanding opportunities for public comment by relaxing restriction on testimony allowed on non-agenda items at council meetings and by holding town halls and listening sessions.
The Wednesday meeting drug out for hours as several of the regular protesters signed up to testify on multiple agenda items before the proposal came up, using the opportunity to raise the same issues they have been bringing up for months, including the homeless crisis and police mistreatment of minorities. The delay was so long that Wheeler adjourned the meeting after his proposal was approved and moved he remaining items to Thursday’s regularly scheduled meeting.
The measure was first considered by the council last Wednesday. At that time, it was opposed by the ACLU of Oregon, which said the new City Code language intended to repeated disruptors from future council meetings was unconstitutional. The volunteer lawyer representing the ACLU said the organization was willing to meet with the City Attorney’s Office to discuss the issue, however. That prompted Wheeler to postpone the vote one week.
No such meeting took place, however. ACLU Legal Director Mat dos Santos was out of town for most of the week. Wheeler said that no one else from the organization agreed to discuss the proposal with the city, either by phone or in person.
Before the vote, Commissioner Chloe Eudaly admonished the repeat protesters at the meeting about their behavior, saying it undermined their stated goal of solving pressing problems by preventing the council from doing its work. She also said other people had stopped coming to council meetings because of their behavior, which consists largely of shouting down those they disagree with.
The proposal, which passed in the form of an ordinance, takes effect in 30 days.