Despite criticism, Portland’s new downtown cleaning contract continues to operate
Portland city officials are moving forward with the renewal of a five-year, $ 25 million contract for downtown cleaning and security services.
The proposal, which was made public last week after months of closed-door negotiations, addresses some of the aspects long considered to be the most controversial aspects of Downtown Portland Clean & Safe, a nonprofit that provides Additional security and cleaning services on 213 downtown block-area: how district-paid private security officers treat homeless people and whether such officers need to be armed.
Among the changes: The contract states that no more than a quarter of security guards working at a time can carry firearms. The district will fund a three-person “community mental health outreach team”. Officials will make it easier for the public to file complaints against security guards.
But there is one topic that some negotiating overseers say has been left out of the discussion altogether: the way money flows from downtown businesses through Clean & Safe and into the pockets of the largest chamber of commerce. of the city, the Portland Business Alliance.
“What I see everyone talking about with the Clean & Safe contract, for me, is so far from the real problem,” said Jessie Burke, manager of The Society Hotel and former board member of Downtown Clean & Safe. .
In return for cleaning and security services in addition to those provided by the city, each neighborhood owner pays an annual fee to Downtown Clean & Safe. These fees can range from a few hundred dollars to over $ 200,000 depending on factors such as the size of a building and its assessed value. The city itself, which owns properties downtown, paid more than $ 150,000 last year, according to city records.
This money is collected by the city government and transferred to Downtown Clean & Safe. One part goes to the Portland Business Alliance, with which the district contracts to help manage the program. This is a big sticking point for critics of the contract: Burke said based on his analysis of the Clean & Safe 2020 budget document, all PBA employees are paid at least partially with Clean money. & Safe. Basically, PBA relies on Clean & Safe to pay some of its bills.
Burke said his problem with the setup is simple: People who pay for clean, safe services may not know that the money the city collects from them helps pay for some PBA overhead costs and salaries. of PBA employees. Indeed, she said, this arrangement means the city is subsidizing the chamber of business while sucking up resources that could be used to rebuild and restore the downtown area.
“It’s like a third of their budget, and nobody seems to know it, and it’s fully built into the contract right now,” said Burke, who served on the district administration board for three months before. to resign in January after failing to convince other association leaders to terminate their contracts with the trade alliance. “Everyone’s like, ‘Let’s talk about the number of people carrying guns’ and I’m like, ‘Great, so you would have a lot more money to work with if you took that out.’
Willamette Week first reported on the unusual financial relationship between the two organizations earlier this year, noting that Clean & Safe money funds around 45% of PBA staff salaries. In response, district and alliance leaders stressed that the two organizations viewed the structure as the most efficient way to serve the downtown area and that the challenges facing the heart of Portland, which was ravaged by pandemic, required a “multi-layered response.” Both groups said they were looking for ways to improve as they moved towards a possible contract renewal.
But the reporting and the ensuing uproar did little to change the contract itself. The complex financial relationship between the alliance and the district appears to be largely the same.
“All the key positions still belong to the Portland Business Alliance,” said Alexandra Fercak, the city’s performance auditor, who last year released a very critical audit of the city’s lax oversight on its three improved service districts, areas authorized by the city where owners pay extra to have services in addition to what the city offers.
After reviewing the Downtown Clean & Safe contract, Fercak said she was pleasantly surprised how many of the issues she found in her audit were resolved in the proposed contract. Months of negotiations have led to some notable changes, including a new public complaints process to hold private security guards accountable, new mental health outreach workers, and required de-escalation training.
But she said the convoluted relationship between Clean & Safe and the alliance appears to be left to city leaders to deal with later.
More review to come
Heather Hafer, spokesperson for the city’s Office of Management and Finance, said the bulk of the city’s response to the issues exposed in the audit will take place during a future review process. audit which will examine “all parts of the operation of ESDs in the City of Portland.” The contract gives the city the right to modify the Downtown Clean & Safe agreement based on the outcome of this review.
Hafer noted that the relationship between Downtown Clean & Safe and the Portland Business Alliance is not unique as the three districts outsource with other groups for management services. (Central Eastside Together, which focuses on business development, safety and sanitation services, contracts with the Central Eastside Industrial Council. Lloyd, which focuses on transportation and urban development, contracts with Go Lloyd)
“Since this is an issue affecting all ESDs, it was decided that it would be more effective to examine issues related to these relationships as part of the City’s response to the audit. rather than one contract at a time, ”Hafer wrote.
The proposed new contract also has no impact on the governance structure of Clean & Safe. In the current setup, the Executive Director of the Clean & Safe District does not report to his own board of directors, as is often the case with nonprofits, but to the Portland Business Alliance.
The contract brings a noticeable change to the relationship. It indicates how senior PBA members are expected to divide their time between the district and the alliance. For example, Andrew Hoan, president of the PBA and chief executive officer of the district, is expected to devote 45% of his time to the district. Jon Isaacs, vice president of the alliance and district, is supposed to give the district half of his time.
Anita Davidson, who contributes to the district as a member of the board of directors of her condominium association, said she felt this part of the contract was more binding on the two legally separate groups.
“I don’t think the issue of independence is being addressed in everything that is being proposed right now,” said Davidson, who has been following the negotiations closely. “Behind the scenes, the inner workings of the two organizations haven’t changed at all.”
Davidson sits on the board of directors of Portland Plaza Condominiums, a downtown condominium association that donates $ 42,000 to the district each year. Davidson said her main concern is that, unlike businesses affiliated with the Portland Business Alliance, neither she nor any other taxpayer can refuse to support the Special District. Its association of co-owners, which is not a member of the PBA, has no choice but to indirectly subsidize the alliance’s lobbying efforts.
“The PBA is a legitimate lobbying organization. He has business interests in mind, ”she said. “Because the fees are mandatory, we, the taxpayers, have no choice. … We are essentially forced to support political positions with which we may or may not agree.
City council members are expected to sign the new contract. They must vote on Thursday afternoon.