PORTLAND, Ore. (Portland Tribune) — With a 3-1 vote this week, Clackamas County has officially withdrawn its association with the Reimagine Oregon project, citing misalignment with the policy-reform campaign’s values around defunding police.
Reimagine Oregon launched in 2020 to address systemic racism through concrete policy changes aimed at dismantling systems in legislature, law enforcement, education, health and housing resulting in disproportionate harm to Black communities, per its website. Clackamas County is among multiple jurisdictions in the Metro region that project organizers have invited to attend a series of meetings advising state legislators and local leaders on how to address issues of racial disparities through their policies.
Following a Tuesday, March 29, update discussing the scope of Clackamas County’s participatory relationship with the group, commissioners voted by majority to stop attending future project meetings and request removal as a participating jurisdiction listed on the project’s website, concerned that constituents may incorrectly glean that the county endorses all of the group’s initiatives.
Chair Tootie Smith’s motion on Tuesday to withdraw all association with Reimagine Oregon was seconded by Commissioner Mark Shull, receiving a third “yes” vote from Commissioner Paul Savas, who said the group hasn’t responded to his request to update their website reflecting that only Shull and Commissioner Sonya Fischer still attend their meetings on behalf of the board.
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Fischer voted against the motion, despite stating her opposition to defunding police, citing concerns that the withdrawal could remove the county’s voice from the table, hampering the board’s ability to be a voice for their residents during future discussions.
Commissioner Martha Schrader, who abstained from voting, said during the meeting that “we should be very clear with what we disagree with with this group,” adding that “there’s no way we’re going to defund the police” yet having a voice at the table allows the county a chance to voice a different public safety viewpoint to jurisdictions directly.
Justice Rajee, director of the Reimagine Oregon project, stated on March 30 that while the group “never asked any jurisdiction for an endorsement,” they did ask elected officials “to show initiative on the policy areas where they could get things done.”
“Reimagine Oregon called elected leaders to show up and work collaboratively with our communities across the state to deliver meaningful outcomes on the broad array of issues to make a positive impact on the lives of Black Oregonians,” Rajee said in the statement.
He added: “It is disappointing that most Clackamas County commissioners think they have nothing to offer to improve the lives of their constituents, particularly because the Black residents of Clackamas County deserve to have their duly elected officials care about their well-being in specific, actionable ways. The Reimagine Oregon project provides a tangible framework for that and our work continues.”
“Divestment” and “investment” are two key avenues that project officials say can help address racial disparities, with proposed divestments in areas including police suggested to enhance investments in “gaps in the system where community capacity has been severely underfunded or held from community influence due to being nested within government infrastructure,” per the project’s website.
Clackamas County’s board on Tuesday said they are committed to the public safety of all constituents, and do so primarily through funding law enforcement and the county courthouse, disagreeing that divestments in police would enhance local safety.
Smith said: “I think that we should divest ourselves of Reimagine Oregon,” later adding: “If that organization wants to remove from their website, once and for all, divesture of the police department, then we can come back and revisit this.”
Fischer said in a statement following the vote that she remains concerned that Clackamas County will now not have a voice in these regional discussions about public safety.
“Let me be clear, I do not support defunding the police. I’ve been steadfast that I support investing in our public safety system, including our police,” she began the statement, continuing: “When there are conversations about the future of public safety in our region, I always want to make sure Clackamas County’s voice is heard at the table.”
“With my colleagues’ decision today to leave Reimagine Oregon, I’m concerned that the conversation will now be dominated by Portlanders who don’t understand what we need in Clackamas County, which isn’t good for our county and it isn’t good for Oregon,” she added.