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My Ballot Dilemma

Updated: Feb 8, 2019

In Oregon we receive our ballots by mail and return them by mail or delivery to designated drop-off locations. The system seems to work quite well. I filled out my ballot last week and dropped it off at the Belmont Library.

For the most part my decisions were easy. Kate Brown for governor and Earl Blumenauer for Congress are no-brainers. Sometimes ballot measures require a bit of study and thought. Not this year (see Stand up for Oregon Values this November). As a comrade with Indivisible Oregon puts it, "Do 102. Nix 103 through 106."

The sole exception is the Portland City Council race, where Jo Ann Hardesty and Loretta Smith are vying for an open seat. The winner will be the first black woman to occupy a seat on the city council. Both candidates have a record of public service and community engagement. Both candidates list supporters whose opinions carry weight. Both candidates come with baggage. Willamette Week. which endorsed Hardesty, described it as a race with two flawed candidates. Hardesty is favored. If my neighborhood is at all representative, she should win handily. Hardesty yard signs are everywhere. I do not recall spotting any for Smith.

Three main points kept me from voting for Jo Ann Hardesty despite reservations about Loretta Smith. The first comes from the impression she made last year at a forum on the effectiveness of protest sponsored by City Club of Portland. Hardesty was one of four panel members. She and a professor at Portland Community College (if my memory serves me well) declared themselves advocates of nonviolent protest. While the other two panel members did not call for violence, they offered the usual array of rationalizations. Violence erupts because protesters feel powerless, victimized, ignored by the establishment, &c., and anyway violence at demonstrations is usually the result of police provocation. One panel member, an activist involved with renters' rights groups, went so far as to suggest that we should all understand these things and refrain from criticism of those who choose to protest in ways different from how we think it should be done.

There is something to all of this. One can acknowledge that and still hold that violence is wrong as a matter of right and wrong and it is counterproductive. It harms our cause. It is incumbent on responsible people to speak out and to criticize when criticism is due. Hardesty refrained from criticism and in doing so stepped away from any moral high ground, declining to challenge the rationalizations for violence. This is not the kind of leadership the city needs.

The other two points stem from Hardesty's role as volunteer president of the Portland branch of the NAACP from 2015 to earlier this year. To her credit she resurrected an organization that was effectively defunct. This achievement has been tarnished by questions about lax financial oversight and record keeping during her tenure as president. Issues included negligence in filing annual reports with the national NAACP, which are used to file tax forms with the IRS required to retain nonprofit, tax-exempt status, and payments she received from the organization for what she describes as a volunteer position.

Hardesty explained that the administrative issues were due to the organization's reliance on volunteers instead of professional staff. Nowhere have I seen any indication that she feels she bore responsibility by virtue of being the person in charge. There is no sense she believes the buck stopped at her desk as president. It is hard to see this as anything but throwing her volunteers under the bus.

She received a monthly travel stipend that was instituted after she became divorced and needed the money. Reimbursement for travel expenses is reasonable, even though she is reportedly the only member of the all-volunteer branch who has ever had any expenses paid by the organization. You might expect her to be capable of a better rationale than that she needed the money. The amount of the stipend was $3,300, not a major figure in the overall scheme of things. I might be inclined give this a pass with perhaps a raised eyebrow if not for other irregularities and administrative shoddiness.

The more questionable payment derived from a $10,000 contract with her for-profit consulting business for work she provided that she says went beyond her role as volunteer president. Here too the amount is not huge, although it reportedly accounted for roughly a quarter of her total business income in 2017. Administrative procedure was slack. Paperwork was sloppy. NAACP rules and federal tax requirements were violated.

Hardesty initially told OPB that "every penny that was spent by the NAACP was spent with the approval of the entire executive committee."

But the executive committee never voted to approve the $10,000 payments to Consult Hardesty, though they did discuss the project, she said.

Hardesty conceded that the NAACP did not go through any real process when it came to the payment to her consulting business. (Templeton, OPB)

Hardesty seems to have no clue that it might be ethically dubious for the president of a nonprofit to direct a contract for services to her own business even if procedures were followed appropriately. She is nonchalant about it all. No big deal. This is not the kind of leadership the city needs.

Maybe I am being too harsh on Hardesty. As I said earlier, Smith has her own issues (see Jaquiss report at Willamette Week). I voted for Smith partly as a protest vote against Hardesty, who I expect to win, and partly because I am more in tune with Smith's proposals and positions relating to homelessness and the police bureau. I do not want to get into the weeds about issues surrounding the Portland Police Bureau, which are plentiful and well documented. The role of police and how they fulfill it, especially when dealing with the homeless, individuals with mental health issues, and people of color, needs to be reevaluated, to say the least. Hardesty offers some intriguing proposals along these lines, but her antipathy toward the police generally is not helpful.

I suppose I could have left the ballot blank. Maybe I should have written in T-Bone.


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