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In the news of all the police beatings and arrests of protesters, press and legal observers, I have the opportunity to share something a little more heartwarming. News of a court case that is a few months in the making, from the early days of the protests. No one got physically hurt, but a lot of people have been spied on by the city in violation of state law.

The story actually starts way back in 1988. Unfortunately the story itself I don’t have much information about from back then, but it involved a settlement between the ACLU and the City to ensure that they were, and would remain, in compliance with state law about not documenting protected speech of protesters. The settlement appears to have been an endeavor to avoid a lawsuit on behalf of a John Blank, the American Field Services and the Portland Central American Solidarity Committee. I’ve gone ahead and linked screenshots from the court filing for those who are interested, but the core of it is reaffirming the processes that the Portland Police are supposed to use when gathering footage.

In a court case filed last week, the ACLU was forced to revisit this settlement on behalf of an anonymous protester (Protester #1 in court filings) with the ominous opening: Oregon is not a surveillance state. With this action, Plantiffs American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon, Inc. and Protester #1 seek to eliminate a practice by the City of Portland – and, specifically, the Portland Police Bureau – that threatens to turn it into one.

On July 13th, Portland Police announced a livestream that was available online on their Twitter account, during demonstrations at the PPA building, long before the police alleged any wrongdoing of anyone in the crowd, in violation of ORS 181A.250. Much later in the night I was told about this and was able to do play by play reporting of the protests using just the police livestream on my own Twitter account.

The police give varying reasons for their actions, claiming it is to provide ‘situational awareness’, which is an option under Section 4.3 of PPB Directive 0635.10. But livestreaming it to the general public, where myself and others can record it ourselves (full disclosure: Some work that I’ve done in regard to previous reporting has been used as exhibits in some declarations in this case) is certainly not covered by the directive or state law.

Ever since I first saw this, I personally expressed concerns that this was setting up for targeted harassment of protesters by non-governmental people. Since these protests began, there have been people sending death threats and wishing ill will on protesters, press, and observers alike, and while most of the press on the ground have been working to minimize exposure of protesters who wish to remain anonymous, the police are doing the exact opposite. At this point, I’m not certain that anyone has been successfully targeted as a result of the livestreams, but the concern is still valid.

And it wasn’t the first time  this had happened either.

Public records attorney Alan Kessler filed a declaration showing that the Portland Police had been, as early as June 6th, the Police department had been using their YouTube channel to broadcast a livestream of protests complete with a chat box for the general public to speak in an open, public forum. He knew very quickly that this was a violation of the law, and reached out to the city to preserve and request copies of the videos and chat for future purposes. In this series of emails, you can see how they tried to shut him down after destroying the records in question. They then the following month moved to a different platform where they could stream without the public input functions of Facebook, and with the files either manually deleted or automatically purged at a specific period after the streams ends. Myself and others, in our research have proven that we could access the stream at any time it was live and download the entirety of the video from start to finish, and even automate a script to it.

So he filed his records request, and a bit over a week later he received a response from the City Records office about the initial YouTube video, that read as such:

RE: City Public Records Request of June 07, 2020 Reference # C135879-060720

Dear Alan,

The City received a Public Records Request from you on June 07, 2020 for the following:

“During the protest on the evening of June 6, 2020 the Portland Police live-streamed a video feed from downtown and created a public chat forum on YouTube for discussion of the stream. The video was here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DtD9zSlhdvs

The video and chat log is now not available at that address. Please provide a complete copy of the video and the time-synchronized chat log.”

There are no public records responsive to this request.

The City now considers your request fulfilled and it will be closed.  Please note, messages on closed requests are not monitored.

Sincerely,
CARRIE WILTON

Essentially, the claim was ‘we don’t have anything, so we can’t give you anything. Mr. Kessler quickly responded by phone and then email to put the city on notice of his intent to follow up, and to attempt to force them to try to recover the ‘deleted’ videos

Carrie,
I just spoke with you on the phone to confirm that the Police Bureau has in fact deleted the public records requested.
Please institute a litigation hold on any PPB livestream videos and/or chat logs whether stored on City servers, YouTube servers or elsewhere. Please contact YouTube immediately to attempt to recover these improperly destroyed public records.
Please do not destroy any current or new PPB livestream videos pending a lawsuit I expect to bring at my earliest opportunity.
Sincerely yours,
Alan Kessler
He also shortly followed up with the county DA’s office attempting to push the fact that what was done was wrong, and quite possibly a crime.

Dear Mr. Gibbs:

I am forwarding the response I got from the City of Portland just now on a public records request.

During the protests the Portland Police Bureau has been hosing a livestream and public chat forum on Youtube.com. During these livestreams a live video from the justice center is made available to the public and one or more Bureau members participate in a chat channel with the general public.

On the morning of 6/7, I put in a records request for the video and chat logs from the prior evening’s livestream. This afternoon I received an email from the City Attorney’s office notifying me that no such record exists. I followed up with Carrie Wilton who confirmed over the phone that the video and chat logs were deleted and there’s nothing they can give me.

I have two requests:

1) Would you please either open an appeal of the denial or confirm my suspicion that I have no administrative remedy given the City’s position that no such records exits?

2) Would you please also treat this as a formal complaint of criminal Tampering with Public Records under ORS 162.305 and consider opening an investigation?

Thank you for your consideration.

Alan Lloyd Kessler

ORS 162.305 charges could well be serious, especially considering his request for the police to not destroy any new livestreams (something that they have since done every time they’ve used the new ‘Wowza’ player).

Of course shortly after, the City Attorneys office came in to try to rain on Mr. Kessler’s parade, responding directly to Mr. Gibbs:

Dear Adam-

I want to respond to Mr. Kessler’s mistaken representation of the law in his email to you dated June 15, 2020.

On June 8, 2020, Mr. Kessler made a public record request for a copy of PPB’s live stream through YouTube on June 6, 2020.  At the end of the livestream, YouTube permits the retention of the video.  As required by ORS 181A.250, PPB does not retain the video.  See also Directive 0635.10 Crowd Management/Crowd Control.

PPB was livestreaming so the community could understand what was occurring at the protest. However, PPB was not permitted to retain the video because PPB was not recording acts that they had probable cause to believe were criminal.  ORS 181A.250 states that no law enforcement agency may collect or maintain information about political activities of a group “unless such information directly relates to an investigation of criminal activities, and there are reasonable grounds to suspect the subject of the information is or may be involved in criminal conduct.”  ORS 181A.250.  This statute provides the legal authority for PPB to not retain the livestream in question.

ORS 181A.250 is designed to protect the free exercise of first amendment rights for those protesting.  PPB has taken steps to ensure it only retains video of suspected criminal activity.  PPB does not retain video of a person engaged in the lawful exercise of their first amendment activities.  This clear legislative intent evidenced in ORS 181A.250 on the retention of these records required PPB to not keep copies of the livestream in question.

The City did not have the requested records when the public records request was made so the City and PPB’s response was legally appropriate.

Please let me know if you have any further questions or need an additional response.

JENIFER JOHNSTON | Senior Deputy City Attorney (She/Her)

If I’m following the idea right, her stance is that “we would only keep these videos if the law allowed us to”, while simultaneously allowing the ‘community [to] understand what was occurring’. To my not-legal perspective, that sounds to me like the Police department was trying to play Press and Police at the same time. There were press already on the ground working the story that could educate the public already. But Mr. Kessler went a few steps further in a quick follow-up:

Dear Adam,

Here’s the rub: “At the end of the livestream, YouTube permits the retention of the video.”

The fact that YouTube can permit “retention” of the stream means that a copy exists to be retained.

It would be one thing if the video were broadcast ephemerally like radio waves. That is not how YouTube works.

When a viewer visits a YouTube livestream in process they can return to the beginning of the feed, rewind, or skip around. The viewer can do this because YouTube maintains a recording of the entire stream, which is in the livestream operator’s control. As Ms. Johnston said, at the end of the stream the user has a choice to leave in place or delete (a.k.a. “not retain”) the entire video. The choice to delete is a crime, even if it was also illegal, as Ms. Johnston pointed out, for the City to create the recording in the first place.

Since Ms. Johnston raised 181A.250, I’ll explain the rest of the game the City Attorney’s office is playing with our civil liberties.

PPB Directive 0635.10 4.3 (https://www.portlandoregon.gov/police/article/649358) reads in relevant part:

“4.3. Demonstrations may be broadcast to Bureau facilities by live video feed…. In accordance with ORS § 181A.250, the broadcast will not be recorded unless and until a member has reasonable suspicion that a crime is being committed, at which time the member will communicate this information up the chain of command to the IC, who will make the decision whether to authorize recording to commence. If a possible crime is captured on the recording, that recording will be forwarded to Bureau’s Detective Division for investigation and the District Attorney’s Office, if requested. A copy will also be furnished to the City Attorney’s office for the purpose of evaluating civil liability based on crimes charged or arrests made….”

The legal fiction the City Attorney would like us to accept is that “recording” is the same as “retaining at the end of a feed.” This means that the police can record a many-hours-long political event with the knowledge that at any point they can unilaterally decide to either immediately delete the file or retain the file.

Ms. Johnston’s position allows a single unelected official to determine whether a many-hours-long police video of political activities should be retained or deleted. A bad actor could easily abuse the City’s interpretation to gather surveillance on political opponents while destroy any unfavorable evidence of government misconduct.

Obviously most of this is outside of your scope of review, but I think you should have a view of the whole board before deciding the narrow questions:

Is a recording stored by Portland Police on the hard drive on a YouTube server during an hours-long livestream (of a significant political event) a public record?

Does a person commit the crime of Tampering With a Public Record if: at the end of a livestream — when recording has concluded and the only extant copy of the video (and associated chat log) is stored on a YouTube server within that person’s control — the person instructs YouTube to discard rather than retain the recording file.

Best regards,
Alan

Now, I haven’t done livestreams using desktop processes often, but I went ahead and attempted to duplicate this experiment. I suspect the process he outlined used the old Classic streaming platform YouTube uses, because as you can see here, on the new Live Studio, when you end a stream, it doesn’t even give you the option to retain or delete. It just retains it by default.

Eventually, the county DA finally responded officially:

Mr. Kessler –

It appears there is no dispute that the requested records do not exist at present. As such, you are correct that you have no administrative remedy. My office’s authority (outside of fees issues) extends only to determining if records in the possession of a public body are exempt from disclosure or not. We have no adjudicatory authority over the decision to retain or not retain in the first place.

As to your request for a criminal investigation, this is a request that we get not infrequently in various contexts. To those requests the response is the same: The district attorney’s office does not perform criminal investigations. Rather we review investigations that are performed by other agencies and determine if they can and should be prosecuted criminally. A report of a suspected crime should be made to a law enforcement agency with jurisdiction over the area where the offense occurred. In this case that would be the Portland Police Bureau, Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office, or the Oregon State Police. Complaints of police misconduct pertaining to the Portland Police can also be routed to the Independent Police Review.

Adam Gibbs

Of course, those who have been around this block a few times will recognize that a) no attempts seem to have been made to contact YouTube to see if videos could be recovered due to the litigation hold, and b) claims of the police committing crimes being referred to the police for investigation is laughable. Even referring to the County Sheriff or the State Police would be problematic because they all have incentive to deny wrongdoing. And we know that the IPR is, even if they want to support what should be a violation of the law, can easily be outvoted by the police and mayor.

And of course, a little while after that they moved to Wowza as their content platform on at least 5 different instances that I know (July 13, 16, 17, 18 and 26).

This case was just recently filed in County Court, but it already has an order preventing the police from livestreaming or documenting without probable cause. It is one of a growing number of cases I plan to be following over the coming months and years.

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Ben Smith Murder Trial date set, victims and community prepare for the long haul

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All court media and documents we have available can be found on our information page here.


Today was the first time Benjamin Smith, accused of a murder charge, four attempted murder charges and four assault charges was seen in court since his March indictment. Two previous status hearings had gone on without him due to medical issues requiring him to be hospitalized in OHSU for an extended period of time.

Today he appeared virtually from the Inverness jail, where a person familiar with him stated he’s “aged like 10 years in 3 months”. He told the court clerk that he was still unable to get out of bed without assistance and was wheelchair bound for the duration of the hearing.

When the hearing started, Judge Greenlick, who has been appointed to oversee all matters in this case through trial, offered to delay the hearing to allow for Mr. Smith to be transported to appear in person, which he declined.

With the preliminaries out of the way, discussions started on setting trial date, noting the fact that he legally has a right to a trial within 120 days. His public defender, Mr. Sarre, requested a trial date in the April to May 2023 timeline.

The DA, Mr. Vasquez (who successfully prosecuted Alan Swinney in his assault trial last year) said April was an option, but strongly requested a trial be held much sooner, in no small part because the victims in the case all desire this case to be finished and closed sooner rather than later, and dragging this out for the next year would cause undue pain to them.

Unfortunately for the state, after the defense pointed out the slate of other murder cases he was defending, including cases resolving in June, August, September and November of this year, the judge agreed to the April 2023 timeline. It was pointed out that the state is prosecuting a 2 year old murder case in February of 2023, and the 13-14 month timeline for Mr. Smith’s trial is actually in line with the normal timeline for trials similar to this. Mr. Sarre’s full docket, combined with the innumerable court delays caused by the COVID pandemic combined to thwart the will of the victims.

From there, questions were raised about the special needs for this trial, including the use being approved of what is called a ‘special jury panel’. We’re uncertain at the moment if there’s a special definition for it in Oregon, but generally, this is a special jury that is made up of people who are more knowledgeable to address complicated issues or serious felonies [FindLaw Legal Dictionary]. The jury selection process is expected to also take longer than normal due to the nature of the crimes as well as the broad media attention being brought to the case.

The state has confirmed that 99% of the discovery has been provided to the defense already, absent some transcripts related to one of the victims that is still being processed, meaning that discovery concerns seem to be less of a concern than other cases we’ve covered here. The DA also anticipates not needing to bring forward ‘404(3) evidence’, a reference to statute where past actions aren’t allowed to be used as evidence of these charges. To borrow from the Alan Swinney case, this would be akin to a number of the social media posts Mr. Swinney made suggesting his premeditation to assault racial justice protesters, causing most of his posts to be disallowed as evidence to the jury.

At the current moment, the timeline is looking to be something along these lines:

  • Status hearing on July 22nd at 1:30 PM
  • Normal pre-trial motions by the defense due Sept 9th
  • Response from the state due Sept 23rd
  • Hearing on any of these motions on Oct 14th
  • The Jury special panel is scheduled for April 7th in the morning
  • ‘In Limine’, or pre-trial motions, the afternoon of the 7th
  • The trial itself, scheduled for weekdays from April 17th to May 5th of 2023.

Of course, these dates are subject to change, and we will be keeping an eye out for any updates that may come about in the meantime.

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Public Records Law applies to District Coalition, Judge announces Friday

It’s time for taxpayer-funded organizations doing the public’s business to provide transparency and be recognized for what they are – outsourced government bureaus.

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History was made that day in the mostly empty courtroom. A lone lawyer sitting at the bar, court staff in attendance. Everyone else, even the judge, was appearing remotely. But it did nothing to dampen the impact of the ruling the judge was about to make that Friday afternoon.

Summary judgement in favor of the plaintiffs in the Hiller-Webb and Tyvoll v Southwest Neighborhoods, Inc (commonly known as SWNI) case confirmed that the district coalition was, for purposes of state public records law, a quasi-government entity and was required to turn over particular records to Ms. Hiller-Webb and Ms. Tyvoll.

As Shannon Hiller-Webb (she/hers) stated in a press release: “I am proud to represent my neighborhood and advance the goals of residents of SW Portland. I became concerned when, as a SWNI board member tasked with financial oversight, I was unable to gain answers to questions and even when submitted as a formal records request, SWNI repeatedly denied access. My intent with this lawsuit is to ensure transparency for taxpayers as the primary funders of District Coalitions who were created to serve us all.”

Associate counsel and public records attorney Alan Kessler (he/him) concurred:  “It’s time for taxpayer-funded organizations doing the public’s business to provide transparency and be recognized for what they are – outsourced government bureaus.

Marie Tyvoll (she/hers) and Shannon Hiller-Webb’s stories may have only started in the last few years, but as attorney Rian Peck (they/them) detailed in a masterclass of research and legal writing, the history behind the public records issues and the need for such transparency went back longer than even this author’s been alive, to the very founding of SWNI and the form of neighborhood/district engagement with City Council as a whole.


District Coalitions and the history of SWNI


All the way back in 1974, the state of Oregon passed SB 100, creating a statewide ‘land use planning program’, requiring cities to plan for 20 years of growth in new households and jobs. In response, the City of Portland created the Office of Neighborhood Associations, creating a conduit for residents to ‘influence land use decisions in what had previously been the political realm of the real estate industry and downtown business interests’ (Historical Context of Racist Planning: A History of How Planning Segregated Portland, p11). Unfortunately, in the first five years, while 60 neighborhood associations had been created, the power dynamics of white affluent residents having all the effective power remained.

An additional 15 years later, in 1994, City Council adopted a new plan to address issues that had emerged in the previous 1980 Comprehensive Plan, a move designed to shift away from the simple expansion of single family residences in favor of multi-family zoning. The plan was anticipated to be completed by 2005, but was quickly beset by similar failures of unequal treatment as had been seen in the Portland living situations since it’s inception.

The first community plan study outside of Central City was the Albina area, where the African American community had historically resided, and had already been torn apart by the 1948 Vanport flood and interstate expansions in more recent years, resulted in the city attempting to ‘boost economic development and bring investment and improvements to Albina’, using it as an excuse to rezone significant portions of single family residential to higher-density zoning to help meet the projected growth goals. The result, as we know well now, was to set the stage for gentrification and push the already struggling residents out of the area, into the outer Eastern Portland and Gresham areas. Author Karen Gibson of “Bleeding Albina: A History of Community Disinvestment” explained it this way: “The occupation of prime central city land in a region with an urban growth boundary and in a city aggressively seeking to capture population growth, coupled with an economic boom, resulted in very rapid gentrification and racial transition in the 1990s.”

From 1990 to 2016, over 4000 households and more than 10,000 African American residents would be displaced from their homes as a result.

In 1996, when planners attempted to produce a similar plan for the Southwest Portland area, they faced two distinct issues. The lay of the land and various environmental issues would reduce the effects that land use planners could use in increasing the housing density in the area. But more importantly, the local community was enraged at the idea of redeveloping single family neighborhoods, and as the residents tended to be well-educated, higher income, typically white, and more organized and well-resourced than the residents in the Albina and Outer Southeast area, they succeeded in not only pushing back on almost every attempt to increase density in the area, but their work managed to derail the entire 1994 plan, forcing a shift from community planning to ‘area planning’, trying to target work in higher density areas.

Portland Maps image showing city with all it's neighborhoods and associated District Coalitions
Map of Portland showing all District Coalitions and the underlying neighborhoods. SWNI covered the grey section to the southwest

SWNI, a non-profit organization founded in 1978 specifically to fill the need the City had asked be filled with the creation of the Office of Neighborhood Associations, played heavily in this tale, the 94 volunteer led neighborhood associations coordinating with 7 ‘district coalition offices’ to work with the city’s Office of Community and Civic Life to provide input from the communities on how the citizens feel about particular events in their areas. In 2020, when this lawsuit was filed, SWNI was one of five privately run district coalitions, the remaining two run by city managed offices.

However, SWNI was no stranger to controversy of it’s own. In addition to their successful attempts to derail attempts to increase living density in the southwest area, they had also been caught up in a 2011 embezzlement case where former SWNI employee Virginia Stromer eventually pled guilty to stealing well over $130,000 of SWNI funds dating back to at least 2004, an organization that in court records claims annually about 85% of their funding comes directly from the cities Civic Life department (most of the remaining 15% came from Portland’s Bureau of Environmental Services and West Multnomah Soil & Water). The embezzlement case, of which restitution has only seen a few hundred dollars of the over $200k owed, is something SWNI seemed to actively want to ignore ever happened, even going so far as board members who were active in both 2011 and 2020 hiding it’s existence from newer board members.


In the Present Day


The background helping bring the story to the current times, Ms. Hiller-Webb joined SWNI in 2019, as a representative of one of the local neighborhood organizations, where she jumped in with fervor learning the shorthand language 20+ year veterans of the board had been using, and working to try to make the organization more equitable and justice-minded (efforts that were ultimately denied by the broader board). This was around the same time that she first met Ms. Tyvoll, at a July 2019 SWNI organized picnic, where they connected over a desire for more inclusivity and equity in the area. During this time she started noticing financial information that, as a business owner herself, didn’t make sense, and when she started asking questions, board members began acting strangely, referring to it as ‘magic money’ and refusing to justify it’s purpose or use. January 2019 board minutes confirmed that excess taxpayer funds were being transferred to different accounts to avoid having to return unused grant money (taxpayer funds) to the City, causing the questions of mismanagement of funds to deepen drastically and quickly.

It was then that Ms. Hiller-Webb was urged to connect with former SWNI Board member and attorney Jim McLaughlin (he/his) who gave in depth information about the 2011 embezzlement case, an event which had apparently caused the ouster of not only Ms. Stromer, but also the forced his own departure from the organization, the victim of a slander campaign for his attempts to uphold the law. Ms. Hiller-Webb doubled down on the public records method of trying to get information to better learn about what, if any, mismanagement of funds was happening, when COVID began interfering with the day-to-day running of all of our lives.

When the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) was released by the federal government, SWNI, knowing full well that it’s funding through the city was not impacted at all as a result of the pandemic, applied for funding, over the objections and with complete opacity to the numerous board members who asked to see the application both before it was submitted as well as after. In a declaration by Ms. Hiller-Webb, she stated that “SWNI created a Citizen Engagement Allocation Program, with the idea that it would move taxpayer-provided funds from Civic Life to a grant program that would create an artificial COVID hardship.” SWNI eventually received over $66k in federal funds, a loan which was later forgiven by the federal government. As Ms. Hiller-Webb went on to state “SWNI had more than sufficient funds to continue its operations, whereas many local businesses back in April 2020 – right after the physical distancing restrictions went into effect – had lost all their revenue stream, could not pay their employees, and were on the verge of and indeed some did shutter their doors permanently.” A move which has historically disproportionally affected BIPOC owned businesses.

SWNI created a Citizen Engagement Allocation Program, with the idea that it would move taxpayer-provided funds from Civic Life to a grant program that would create an artificial COVID hardship.

Shannon Hiller-Webb, Court Declaration

This misrepresentation, combined with complaints made to Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty by Ms. Hiller-Webb and Ms. Tyvoll among others, in her position as lead of Civic Life, caused the city to withhold funds to SWNI pending a forensic audit. That audit, completed November 2020, came back with ‘conclusions of troubling financial mismanagement’, and in March 2021, the city officially struck SWNI from it’s list of district coalition offices, replacing it with a government run version, modeled on the two existing offices the city had already been fielding.


Public Records, Private Organization


Public records provided under state records laws may seem like strange bedfellows for a non-profit like SWNI, but as Ms. Tyvoll testified to the court, it was something that SWNI had done regularly as part of their normal business, in fact one of her earliest interactions with SWNI being responding to a public records request about an event in the area. There was no pushback from SWNI, and the neighborhood organization that was under SWNI was ‘required’ to do the same, per Ms. Tyvoll. And it was part of that confusion that reigned when, as part of the process for appealing denied public record requests, Former Multnomah County District Attorney Rod Underhill initially denied to intervene in the case. Even when he eventually realized this was a question over a District Coalition and not merely a neighborhood organization, he agreed to a hearing over it, but still didn’t quite recognize the power dynamics that existed between the district coalitions and the city, ruling that, from his understanding, because SWNI did not directly control government policies, they were not a governmental body and thus were exempt from public record laws.

A win for SWNI, to be sure, but a short lived one, as in the few months after the case was appealed to the Multnomah District court, the forensic audit finding disturbing mismanagement and the eventual defunding of SWNI by the city all but gutted SWNI’s ability to exist. They no longer held the official position as being a district coalition, and no longer had the grant funding from the city to maintain the neighborhood associations that used to be under it. Those functions were all now handled by the newly formed city-run office of Southwest Community Services . In court, SWNI tried to highlight how, because of the defunding, there was no question that they were not a government agency and in no way responsible to respond to public records requests.

Attorney Rian Peck, representing Ms. Hiller-Webb and Ms. Tyvoll, however, disagreed, pointing out specifically how the simple move of defunding and removing SWNI from the list of Portland District coalitions was enough to make the organization effectively useless, writing in their motion for summary judgement: District Coalitions are not only the City’s mouthpiece to the people about what the City has planned for their neighborhoods, but they are also the neighborhoods’ representatives and advocates to City officials,” going on to state “If SWNI’s functions were not essential to the City’s unique form of governance, the City surely would not take it upon itself to perform the exact same functions in SWNI’s absence.”

If SWNI’s functions were not essential to the City’s unique form of governance, the City surely would not take it upon itself to perform the exact same functions in SWNI’s absence.

Rian Peck motion for summary judgement

They also pointed out how, when the case was before the DAs office, SWNI relied on the City Attorney to defend them, a move that was ‘logically inconsistent with its position that it is an independent, private entity’, as well as the use the same public records law to extort money from the city for records that the city required from them, an incident where SWNI violated city standards to try to gain an additional $30,000 in revenue.

None of this was lost on the judge, apparent by the prepared notes it seemed he read from when he announced summary judgement in favor of Ms. Hiller-Webb and Ms. Tyvoll. While declaring SWNI, at the time the records request was filed, a public body for purposes of record request laws, he declined to extend the same designation to all privately operated district coalitions, citing their lack of presence in the courtroom. He did feel that his ruling would be relevant to them, however. He also ruled that SWNI improperly witheld the records requested, and ordered that they be given to Hiller-Webb and Tyvoll within 30 days, as well as awarding attorney fees.

In a prepared press release announcing the victory, lead attorney Rian Peck stated “Even though SWNI purported to represent its constituents’ interests, it refused to be transparent. Government without oversight is dangerous. I am proud to represent two of SWNI’s constituents in their hard-wrought fight for transparency.”

Ms. Tyvoll agreed, stating: “Access to public records is imperative for residents to hold City of Portland officials and those they fund and task with quasi-governmental roles accountable. My records request to SWNI was ignored and this allowed them to perpetuate and enable what the City of Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability (BPS) determined funded “…the historical, structural, and institutional racism that has created deep racial inequities that continue to harm Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and other communities of color.”(Letter introducing the Historical Context of Racist Planning: A History of How Planning Segregated Portland). The City of Portland provided SWNI with 85% of their annual funding and has effectively perpetuated and enabled white supremacy for 40+ years.”

The City of Portland provided SWNI with 85% of their annual funding and has effectively perpetuated and enabled white supremacy for 40+ years.

Marie Tyvoll, Press Release

For an organization that’s had a historical record of misusing well over $400,000 in local and federal taxpayer money since the beginning of the 21st century, using it’s position to prop up predominantly white homeowner neighborhoods at the expense of the rest of the city, it seems that this may well be the closing of one of the final chapters of the organization. Even so, to look at SWNI’s website, they currently make no effort to acknowledge their status as an unofficial district coalition, effectively burying their heads in the sand and hoping the controversies will one day blow over.

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Rain and police refuse to deter Gresham High students

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