'Bizarre' decision puts Potter in middle of arbitration process for Jeff Kaer, who lost his job last year
Mayor Tom Potter has cleared his calendar for next week to sit in on the labor arbitration of Portland police Lt. Jeff Kaer, who Potter fired for his role in killing 28-year-old Dennis Lamar Young two years ago.
'He's the one who signed the discipline, he's the one who ultimately made the choice,' said mayoral spokesman John Doussard. 'So he's the best one to sit there.'
The hearing represents Kaer's bid to get his job back after being fired by Potter last August. The firing stemmed from an incident that began around 2 a.m. Jan. 4, 2006, when Kaer left his assigned post in Southeast Precinct to respond to a frightened call from his sister about a suspicious car parked outside. Her son had recently had been shot following a road-rage incident, and she feared that the perpetrator or his friends had been driving by the house in preparation for more violence.
Kaer later told police investigators that he had approached the idling car only to have Young - who turned out to have a history of car theft and drug use - wake up and try to get away, then throw the car into reverse.
Kaer said he was in the path of the car and fired his gun because he feared for his life.
The firing drew cheers from police critics, and boos from police. And now, Potter's decision to sit in on the hearing has sparked questions from Kaer's allies, such as retired police Capt. C.W. Jensen, who called it 'bizarre.'
'How jacked up do you have to be if you're the mayor, that you want to be there the entire time?' Jensen said. 'I just think it's strange and it just kind of shows how personal this is for him . . . This shouldn't be personal, he should just let the process go ahead. He is making it about him.'
Potter is expected to testify about his reasons for firing Kaer, but he does not have to attend the entire hearing.
However, the city can send any representative to the hearing, and Potter can sit in if he chooses, said Doussard. 'During labor arbitations that involve discipline both sides, meaning management and the unions, have representatives present, and he is the city's management representative.'
Henry Kaplan, the lawyer who representing Kaer on behalf of his union, said, 'I have never in my entire career as a labor lawyer seen an elected official sit through an entire arbitration hearing. I have never heard of it, either.'
In his May 2007 letter informing Kaer of the proposed termination, Potter cited several errors that led to the decision. Among them, Potter wrote, was the fact that Kaer handled the call personally, rather than leaving it to Northeast Precinct officers. The lieutenant also did not call in the vehicle's license plate, which would have shown the car to be stolen.
Police Chief Rosie Sizer did not agree with Potter's decision, which could complicate the odds that Potter's decision might be upheld. Sizer supported instead a four-week suspension as reasonable and consistent with past disciplinary precedents.
Last May, former city labor-relations director Ed Ruttledge couldn't help but laugh when asked by a reporter if Potter's overruling of Sizer hurt the city's chances. 'Oh god, yes,' he said. 'It's like, let's all trip over our own anatomy here.'
Doussard said Potter intends to spend every day next week at the arbitration. That suggests he may miss an April 2 council meeting at which a quasi-judicial land-use appeal will be considered, as well as other issues.
However, a City Council clerk told the Portland Tribune, 'We've heard that he may be able to break away and attend the council meeting, so we're up in the air.'