NORCOR Contract: Council calls for ICE ending

Hood River City Council will officially call for an end to the ICE contract with the NORCOR jail, members decided by 6-1 vote Monday.

Council debated changes to a draft letter to the County Board of Commissioners, and that letter seeks further city/county cooperation on the issue, expressing its disagreement with information-sharing between the jail and ICE regarding people ICE investigates or detains at NORCOR. The city has no jail, but sends arrestees needing incarceration to NORCOR, under contract with the county.

The letter states, in part, that “the ICE contract with NORCOR … is inconsistent with the city’s inclusive City Resolution, adopted Jan. 23, 2017, which stated that the city would be ‘a place of sanctuary and safety by nurturing a culture of trust between police, immigrants and communities of color …’”

NORCOR activist Mariruth Petzing made a last-minute appeal to the council to restore language it was about to remove from the letter, pertaining to “reports of information sharing between local officials and ICE,” which “create an atmosphere of fear and mistrust among City of Hood River residents.”

Council members were debating whether evidence supported the reference to information sharing, when Petzing rose to read from NORCOR’s own website acknowledging it had gone on, quoting jail director Bryan Brandenburg’s specific statements about it.

The council voted to submit the letter, including that language, with Susan Johnson dissenting. It will be up for formal adoption at the Feb. 26 meeting.

Mayor Paul Blackburn said the letter should be copied to U.S. Rep. Greg Walden and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

“They’re the people who have the power to make a difference,” Blackburn said.

NORCOR activist Sarah Kellams noted that councilors commented on how much they had learned from coordinated individual conversations about NORCOR held in January with their County Board peers.

“There was an interest in a dialogue and more of a working relationship between the city and county governments, and that’s something I would be excited to see, not only on this topic,” Kellams said. “But if we as a community want to end the contract with ICE, we need to raise awareness of the county’s budget issues, and that’s something we could effectively partner on, and I would like that partnership expand.”

The council addressed a wide variety of other topics Monday, acting as council or in its capacity as Urban Renewal Agency, including a discussion with Port of Hood River Executive Director Michael McElwee, who updated them on the port’s new study for the future of Lot 1, noting that city-port cooperation will be critical in planning of Lot 1.

Other topics addressed by Council and URA:

Downtown parking: Starting in March, City Manager Steve Wheeler announced, the city will do a downtown parking “utilization analysis” — who is parking where and when, and for how long — followed by an intensive parking downtown parking study to start this summer.

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