Among the many newly firm deadlines looming over the city’s finally approved package of police reforms with the US Department of Justice: the need to hire someone credible and qualified to monitor the deal—an independent compliance officer/community liaison (COCL)—within the next 90 days.
That might sound ambitious. But thanks to all the time bought by all the months of legal wrangling leading up to today’s ruling, city officials say they’re hoping they’ll hit that mark.
The city, as the Mercury reported in June, is now several months into an occasionally contentious hiring process—choosing not to wait for [Judge Michael] Simon’s blessing to bring the COCL on board. And as soon as next week, officials say, the city’s Office of Equity and Human Rights is expected to announce it’s already down to three finalists whose names will be aired in a public meeting by a special city selection committee.
That’s a major step, coming after some tension between mental health advocates and those who were hoping the COCL would also focus on racial justice issues. It’s also coming earlier than expected, in part because fewer qualified candidates applied than expected, despite outreach by groups like the Albina Ministerial Alliance Coalition for Justice and Police Reform.
Originally, the city had hoped to send more candidates to its selection committee, with that committee picking three finalists who would be sent on to interview with Portland’s elected officials. But because so few candidates applied, about a dozen, the city’s early screening panels managed to do that winnowing.
“We all are somewhat disappointed there aren’t more viable candidates,” says Commissioner Amanda Fritz, helping lead the hiring process on behalf of Mayor Charlie Hales‘ office. “But we’re all happy there are three.”
That’s not to say another hiccup couldn’t emerge. Fritz, who says officials have not yet finalized the selection committee’s roster of about 20, allowed that the committee could still rule out one or more of the remaining candidates. And without three names sent on for city commissioners and the city auditor to review, building to a public comment process, the application process would have to start over again.
One advocate who’s been minding the process, Jason Renaud of the Mental Health Association of Portland, says he remains disappointed in the caliber of candidates and is still hoping to see more substantial names like former Governor Ted Kulongoski or Paul DeMuniz, former chief justice of the Oregon Supreme Court.
“We’re going to regret going with persons who are inexperienced or unfamiliar with our issues,” he says. “If the advisory group can say, ‘No, these people are not sufficient,’ then we can shift gears and go out and recruit and repost this position.”
But other favored candidates, who’d been part of this process since January, might decide to drop out, Fritz warns. She’s hoping momentum will be maintained.
“We’re anticipating they will be” sent along, Fritz says. “But that is something that makes us all very nervous. We’ll cross that bridge when we get there.”