Scam of the Week
The O broke a nice little story the other day. Two paid assistants to U.S. Rep. Earl "the Pearl" Blumenauer are also on the payrolls of local agencies back home in Portlandtown. Tom Markgraf (right), a Blumenauer aide, also pulls down $100 an hour as a consultant to Tri-Met. And he puts in enough hours for Tri-Met that he makes some serious dough there:
Markgraf has received about $100,000 in no-bid contracts from TriMet since joining Blumenauer's staff six years ago, where his salary climbed to $65,000 last year for advising the congressman on transportation and other needs.Pulling a similar manueuver is Robert Liberty (left), who, according to the O story --
was elected to the Metro Council in November but continues to work in Blumenauer's office as a part-time adviser on "livable communities" while helping set policy on urban planning, land use and transportation for the regional government.The story then quotes a number of critics who call these dual relationships unethical. Their problem seems to be that since the local agencies get money from Congress, it's unseemly for Blumenauer's staffers to also be on the local pads -- particularly since the hometown agencies are often paying them, directly or indirectly, with federal funds. Of course, the congressman himself denies that there's any conflict of interest, since he, Tri-Met, and Metro are all working for the same lofty goals.
To me, the Markgraf situation is just another example of a plain truth. Any time you see a "semi-autonomous" public agency like Tri-Met -- run by people who are not publicly elected, but appointed by elected officials who are their cronies (in Tri-Met's case, Governor Teddy-Neil) -- you can be sure that hanky-panky with public money is in the vicinity. It's like the Portland Development Commission, which has been outed for some of its own howlers in recent weeks. "Semi-autonomous" is synonymous with "not accountable," and you see the results.
Records show Markgraf has received five no-bid "public outreach" contracts from TriMet and the Washington state Department of Transportation, and one bid contract from the city of Portland, since 2000. Of those, five were paid with federal funding.It stinks to high heaven. Back where I come from, energetic prosecutors make careers out of tearing this sort of thing up. But in my 27 years in Portland, there's never been a law enforcement official bright, brave, and honest enough to take a pop at stuff like this.
I used to think that Oregonians were just naive. But now I'm beginning to think that they just don't care, and besides, the hideous conflicts just run too deep.
Anyway, it was an uncharacteristically sharp reporting job by The Oregonian. And then, true to form, the editors ran it on the Saturday of a holiday weekend, thus insuring that the fewest possible readers would see it. If you hurry, you can still catch the link before the World's Lamest Web Site makes it disappear from the free internet forever.