I love postage stamps. Today I was out to buy some 23's, and I got this one. And, as intended, it prompted me to check out some wonderful history.
|For old times' sake|
The bojack bumper sticker -- only $1.50!
To order, click here.
I love postage stamps. Today I was out to buy some 23's, and I got this one. And, as intended, it prompted me to check out some wonderful history.
A friendly reader suggests that this blog's more left-leaning readers should not miss out on this important news source.
When you want to blight a neighborhood with gigantic apartment towers, you say: "We've got all these new people moving to the city -- where else are we going to put them?"
When population experts show that the population of the city is actually declining, you say: "That can't be right -- look at all the apartment towers that are being built!"
Oh, man, it's been grouch, grouch, grouch on this blog lately. Time for some yuks. If you thought all the redneck jokes were worn out, you might get a kick out of these. I laughed, anyway.
"What's in a name? That which we call garbage by any other name would still smell."
That was an actual line in a play in which I performed in high school. A sweet young lady from one of the nearby girls' high schools -- Pat Kelly, I think it was -- delivered the line quite well. I believe it may have been in "Tom Jones." Anyway, I was reminded of that theatrical observation today when we got this in the mail:
It's the occasional garbage and recycling newsletter that we get from the City of Portland. This time around, they're alerting us to a rate increase for refuse hauling. Hey, with $60-a-barrel crude, you know that's coming.
So many newsletters from the city. You wonder how many millions of dollars a year we spend on these things. Jobs for the "creative class," I guess. ("Creative" in the sense of, can't spell "peek.") But what struck me most about this one was where it came from: the city's "Office of Sustainable Development." Is that what the sanitation department is called now?
I notice, too, that the Water Bureau has changed its return address to "Utilities," perhaps to try to make us all forget how badly the city has been running the one real utility that it already has. (Meanwhile, we get ready to spend billions to buy and "improve" another one. Cue "The Impossible Dream.")
Anyway, perhaps we should rename some other city bureaus, just to keep that lovin' feelin' goin' on. The Fire Bureau should rid itself of the negative connotation of its current name -- maybe "Office of Unscorched Living" would be better. The Transportation Office could go with something like "Freedom of Movement Corps." Elections is already "Voter-Owned," so that's taken care of. Environmental Services might be a toughie to re-moniker -- it's already so green-sounding -- but "Office of Feces-Free Fisheries (OFFF)" could have some potential. O.k., no it doesn't.
The planning and design gurus at Harvard are really something. First they give a grooviness award to the Portland streetcar (motto: "It only costs the city $1 million a year, and you can get there faster by walking"). Now comes news that they're having Randy Gragg -- the local urban renewal (or whatever that thing is) columnist that we love to hate -- back for a year as a Loeb fellow, to study "the intersection of media, civic participation and planning and urban design."
What's there to study? From his writings, I thought he knew more than anyone else about all that already.
No wonder he felt free to dis the search committee and finalists for the Portland Development Commission CEO post last weekend. Gragg himself's a short-timer, at least temporarily.
I'm going to try to lay off him for a while. It's a nice honor, and I wish him well at Harvard. Maybe Harvard will talk some sense into him. But I doubt it. More likely, he will go to lots of wine and cheese receptions with the rest of the "creative class" types and pick up some new catch phrases to repeat in Portland as if they were the gospel. All the sheep in the city will say, "Baaaa, Harvard, baaaa."
Well, I'll be a monkey's uncle. David Knowles isn't the new executive director of the Portland Development Commission -- Bruce Warner (right) is.
I had Warner as a 3-1 shot, with Knowles at even money. Warner, currently the director of the state Transportation Department, was not quite the consummate inside candidate, but as I've noted here before, he's not new to Portland-area bureacracy (or to some of the PDC's pet developers), having run Metro as chief operating officer for a while.
Anyway, Hizzoner the Mayor says he's down with Warner, and so until further notice, so shall we be. Here's hoping that he and the new commissioners get this sick puppy out of trouble quickly, and keep it there. Otherwise, I still say it's not an entirely frivolous proposition to fold the whole thing down into a regular city bureau. Whatever arguments were once made that independence would lead to quality at the PDC have since been proven, quite conclusively in my view, to have no merit.
Pending Warner's August 1 arrival, Judy Tuttle, formerly Mayor Vera Katz's chief of staff (after Sam Adams left that post), will fill in as interim executive director. Don Mazziotti's last day is tomorrow.
I remember when I first moved to Oregon, 27 years ago. Both our U.S. senators were moderate Republicans.
It's great to see that we're back to that.
The Oregonian frets a lot about its comics pages. Whenever it's thinking about replacing a comic strip, it goes into this extremely agitated state, in which the public editor and other bigwigs strut and cluck around trying not to upset the cranky old grandpa's whose favorite cartoons are about to be banished.
But some of the funniest material in the O isn't on the comics pages -- it's on the front page.
Take today's expose' on Portland Development Commission director Don Mazziotti's expense account. Man, that is some seriously funny stuff.
Here's a paper that isn't around when the state's U.S. senator is forcing his tongue down young women's throats in the elevators of the Capitol. The news organization that somehow misses the boat when the mayor of Portland is gettting it on with his staff member's 14-year-old daughter and reportedly fathering an illegitimate child or two with other women. The paper that still can't figure out that Frank Gable probably didn't kill Michael Francke. But even the O knows how to kick a mortally wounded animal. Thus, out it goes to read all the receipts detailing The Don's taxpayer-financed Perignon lifestyle, and run a story about it two days before he leaves office on the business end of Mayor Tom Potter's wingtip.
And gee, guess what, Mazziotti has blown lots of money in questionable ways, even admittedly misrepresenting the nature of one little $166 night on the town in Bend. Shocking -- shocking!
But truly amusing.
There's all kinds of dirt in the story, which is very well done for what it is. In addition to the mystery Valentine's Day dinner in Bend (two regular entrees plus a Wellington, all supposedly in the company of a "city lobbyist" -- except that the lobbyist says she wasn't there), The Don's been spending all sorts of taxpayer dough wining and dining his own staff, including bashes at Wilf's. He and Marge Kafoury, the Portland city lobbyist, have been out for dinner seven times on the PDC's dime, including a $126 blowout at Bluehour down in the Pearl in February. Then there are 10 meals listed with one Gianna Lupo, a local realtor of the female persuasion who's running something called Little Italy Development LLC. Wyman Winston, Mazziotti's deputy, whose apparently limited skills have required many tens of thousands of dollars of management coaching, chowed down with The Don 10 times, with the average meal tab running $107.
O.k., so what? The craziest thing is the fact that, on top of all the free food and booze Mazziotti's gotten reimbursed for, he's also, for the last two years, collected from the PDC an additional $1200-a-month "expense stipend," for which he doesn't have to submit, and hasn't, any substantiation at all. According to the O, this was approved (partly retroactively, of course) by a simple memo from Matt Hennessee, the PDC's chair. No mention is made of any approval by the PDC board. That's an extra 55 bucks per workday, supposedly "to conduct the business of the PDC." All with a stroke of Hennessee's pen.
Regular readers, you know whom this reminds me of. Of course, the fattest cat of them all -- the guy who got both The Don and Reverend Matt their PDC positions. Their mentor, Neil of Oz. The same guy who had no problems billing taxpayers for a personal limo ride or two for himself when he was a "consultant" to the shadiest of "quasi-governmental" operations down at SAIF. It's obviously the same m.o. You wonder what else was going on besides the heavy meals and lots of cocktails at places like Bluehour.
At the end of the article, Mazziotti admits that he didn't see his $1,200-a-month "stipend" as an expense allowance at all, but just another $15,000-a-year salary increase. If that's so, can he keep it? I wonder if anyone in city government will have the guts to try to make him pay it back.
Even better, I hope that the bright young people at the Internal Revenue Service and the Oregon Department of Revenue fought through their tears of laughter and read the story all the way through. If I were they, I know whose tax returns I'd be looking at tomorrow.
The first drawings of the proposed Sellwood Wal-Mart have quietly been circulating around the Portland Planning Bureau, and preliminary rumors are that they're getting a warmer reception than was anticipated. "They've incorporated a lot of the features we like to see," said one City Hall insider. "Maybe there's room for big box if they do it the Portland way."
Reports out of Wal-Mart headquarters in Benton County, Arkansas, are that the retailing giant is willing to make concessions in order to get a toe hold on the lucrative Portland market. An executive at a competing company explained: "They're even thinking of having that little smiley face character come out, if that's what it takes."
Will the kinder, gentler, Wal-Mart strategy sway the Portland powers-that-be? I don't know. Judge for yourself.
George Bush, former frat president, now our President, has official-looking people at his public appearances who will escort you out of the event if you wear a T-shirt, or your car sports a bumper sticker, that doesn't meet with the Bush crowd's approval. (And who knows exactly who they are?)
Back when there was a political campaign going on, this seemed at least a bit slimy. But now that W. can't run for anything any more, it's downright alarming. I can't attend a speech by the President of the United States if I have a bumper sticker that opposes the invasion of Iraq?
That, my friends, and the fact that it's not on the front page of every paper in the land, proves to me that we are a nation in decline. Mohammed Atta is getting his way.
The ousted face cards at the Portland Development Commission sure are taking their sweet time leaving, aren't they? Lately they decided to jerk the city auditor around a bit when he started to audit them. The auditor had to go run to the city attorney to back up his authority to conduct an investigation into the endless roll of shenanigans at the troubled urban renewal pork pot.
Exactly what legitimate purpose was served by the PDC's posturing? As extreme a move as disbanding the PDC might be, they sure make an excellent case for it.
What a steaming load of the usual from Team Neil. I hope the mayor is going to demand, and promptly get, a blood oath from the new CEO that this kind of nonsense is going to stop. And I suspect that may require pulling an Anoushiravani on several more of the arrogant miscreants over there.
UPDATE, 6:10 p.m.: I just noticed (while taking out the recycling) that The O reported (kind of flippantly) on Friday that one of the four "finalists" for the PDC CEO position -- the one who didn't have a snowball's chance in Hades -- actually hadn't applied for the job and wasn't interested in it any time soon. Just another misleading PDC press release -- better get a bigger scrapbook.
It's a sure sign that Tom Potter's doing the right thing at the Portland Development Commission: Randy Gragg hates it. He thinks Charlie Hales should have been put in charge so that we can have 10 more lines of streetcars.
Oh, and the search committee for the PDC exec was a bunch of dopes: "it was diluted by neophytes -- fine for the appearance of citizen involvement but dangerous for selecting the head of the city's $200 million-a-year economic development arm." Yes, it would have been safer to just ask Randy, and he could have asked Homer. Damn that citizen involvement that you have to put up with when you're spending hundreds of millions of tax dollars, eh Randy? It's just not cool.
But Charlie Hales is so-o-o-o-o cool. He's building a streetcar in Miami, you know. And he had coffee with Randy. Randy, who's risen from covering First Thursday to becoming the O's new super-critic of local government operations -- the self-appointed expert who tells off every neighborhood in Portland that dares to stand up to the Usual Real Estate Welfare Clients.
Of course, the way the O functions, one day, out of the blue, Randy will be transferred to the police beat in Gresham. Then within a week he'll have a job working for some developer, Charlie Hales maybe, destroying another Portland neighborhood in a "public-private partnership." Given that he's just openly ridiculed the new PDC chief, whoever it turns out to be (you talk about your dangerous moves), that turn of events might be welcomed by just about everyone but Gragg and Hales.
The OSPIRG college boys are going door to door again. The kid they sent today bothered us twice -- he couldn't remember that he had just rung the very same doorbell 15 minutes before. Then they wonder why people with real lives don't want to listen to their compelling Naderite spiels. Please, go to Erik Sten's house. You can all stand and chant around his disconnected downspouts.
Well, it's time for me to shut up about the proposed Wal-Mart in Sellwood, I guess. Phil Stanford says I'm "for it." Actually, I don't care too much either way; I just don't think the city fathers should be so adamantly "against it."
It did get a good conversation going in the comments here, though.
Speaking of Phil, I'm just finishing up his book Portland Confidential, a howl of a good read about the Bad Old Days of the Portland Rackets. Here I thought Portland was always such a squeaky clean place; shows you what a poor student of history I've been.
Gambling, nude dancing, payoffs to police and city council members, womanizing political leaders, behind-the-scenes real estate swindles... I'm glad the days of official corruption around here are over now. That stuff all went away in the late '50s.
Portland Commissioner Sam Adams's website apparently includes a capsule description of each of the 100 businesses that the commish visited in his first few months in office. Interestingly, one of the fearless entrepreneurs that it lists is none other than "Than" Clevenger, the guy whose extremely odd public relations contract with the Portland Development Commission led to the infamous brouhaha on Portland Communique. Funny thing, though, the post about Than on the Adams site is dated May 16, which was after all the negative press about him (and his self-inflicted wounds) had hit the wire.
Anyhow, the Adams crew said at that point: "Currently, Than's public relations firm works through multiple clients through the PDC." Whatever that means.
I'll have to keep leafing through the Adams roster of business stars. What next? "Tracy has a prosperous management coaching business going.... Anthony is toughing it out through his third bankruptcy.... Since his career as a consultant has been interrupted, Neil and his wife have devoted more time to their winery..."
Adams is so comical. He heads up his "100 businesses" page with his "I hate Wal-Mart" screed. That will rake in the jobs for Portland, eh? Why not just say, "Corporate America, we will regulate and tax the h*ll out of you. Stay out"? Straight out of the Vera Katz Economic Development Playbook (which Adams wrote, of course.)
I know I've sworn off the NBA on this blog a few times, but I still watch some of it. And tonight's a major to-do. It's down to one game to see who are the NBA champs. If you don't follow pro hoops, it's the Detroit Pistons against the San Antonio Spurs. I was glad to see these two teams make the finals; they seemed to deserve it the most. And the six games they've played against each other so far have been quite interesting from a basketball fan's point of view.
I've decided that I'm rooting for the Spurs tonight. I like their organization and personnel. Plus the style of game that they've been trying to play is much more fun to watch than Detroit's. But Detroit is also playing a team brand of ball (including "Ra," who's cleaned up his insane act somewhat), and their coach, Larry Brown, is one of my favorite public figures on earth. So either outcome would be acceptable.
BTW, don't tell me who won until the morning. I plan to use the Tivo-like device on my Comcast system and play the whole thing back late tonight. Skipping the commercials and the "analysts," and focusing just on the game, you can actually catch an entire playoff game in under 90 minutes. I've seen all six of the finals games this way, and it's the only way to watch events such as this. If any part of the hype looks interesting as it flashes by (Stevie Wonder playing the national anthem on harmonica last week in Detroit, for exmaple), you just rewind and watch it. Plus, instant replay any old time, at your command.
A while back on the Nick Fish Sunday sunrise talk show, the host half-kiddingly asked Portland Commissioner Randy Leonard what he would do if he was assigned the troubled Water Bureau by Mayor Tom Potter. Said Randy: "Then I'll have to run for mayor."
If, like me, you've been trying to visualize where the contested Wal-Mart site in Sellwood is, here's the Google satellite image (scary in its precision and clarity) along with the Google map. (To get the little marker to show up on the map, for some reason I had to go to the satellite page first, and click on the "Map" link in the upper right.)
Some readers wondered whether the site is in Portland or Milwaukie. From this Multnomah County precinct map, it looks to be just on the Portland side of the line. It's definitely just on the Multnomah side of the county line. The City of Milwaukie's street map also makes it look as though the site is in Portland. The Milwaukie line looks to be just north of Sherett, and the Wal-Mart location is just north of that.
I'm always among the last to know things. We have a 10,000-hit-a-day blogger working right under our noses here in the Rose City. Her name is Laila Lalami (pronounced LAY-la LA-la-mee) and the blog is Moorishgirl.
The blog's been going for years; Lalami moved to Portland from L.A. just last year. Here's her description of her site:
I started Moorishgirl in October 2001, although I've had an online presence of one form or another since 1994. The blog features literary news, commentary, book reviews and author interviews as well as occasional political and cultural links. Moorishgirl has been mentioned in a couple of newspapers, notably The Scotsman, The Washington Post, the Business Standard, L'Opinion, The Los Angeles Times and USA Today. The Complete Review, Best of the Web and WebdelSol included it in their surveys of Best Literary Blogs and The Guardian chose it as a daily pick in June 2004. Moorishgirl was also part of a panel on blogs, which was broadcast on C-SPAN/BookTV.
Today's Trib reports that Sal Kadri, CEO of a Portland company called ValueCAD, is Mayor Tom Potter's third appointee to the board of the Portland Development Commission. Kadri will be sworn in August 1, giving Potter three of the five votes on the PDC board. The other two Potterites on the panel are Bertha Ferrán, who is already serving; and Mark Rosenbaum, who I believe will be installed there shortly. All are to serve three-year terms. The two holdovers from the Katz days are Doug Blomgren and Eric Parsons.
The official announcement about Kadri is here, but before reading it I thought I'd try to see what tidbits a quick trip around the 'net looking for Kadri might turn up. His company's site is here. It's into CAFM, CAD, and GIS, which is all gibberish to me. According to the Portland Business Journal, the company is "an information technology and computer-aided drafting contractor." Apparently it makes "raster images" -- again, I have no clue. It sounds like high-tech maps. One of their ads promises, "We make your CAD data GIS ready." O.k....
ValueCAD got into a bit of a flap over outsourcing about a year ago; at that time, it reportedly had 36 employees in the United States and 10 in India. The company's address is listed as over at SE 26th and Ankeny -- which would put it a stone's throw from Esparza's.
ValueCAD does a lot of government contracting, including some with the City of Portland, and it got into a dispute with the USDA a few years back. In 1998, it was written up in a PGE brochure after it installed some solar power technology on its building in Portland. This site explains:
Hey there, hungry Portlanders, you know what's good? The sesame seed hamburger buns from Gabriel's Bakery. I sprung for a pack of these the other night because, even though they weren't cheap, they were the only ones left in the Wild Oats store. They seemed kind of dense. I felt as though I was "settling for" them.
When I got them home, though, we discovered that their density is their strength. The Mrs. sliced them in thirds instead of in half. Divine! And the leftovers do wonderful duty as stand-alone dinner rolls. Trust me on this one!
As mentioned here recently, a law school buddy of mine is currently on his way to becoming the chair of the SEC. Now comes word that a law school roommate of mine has a major book coming out on the Beatles.
Steve Stark, with whom I lived for a few months while I was on a special assignment at the Yale Law School, has released Meet the Beatles, published by HarperCollins. Yeah, it's another book about the Fab Four, but it's different in that it mainly tries to delineate the cultural impact of the group, and it looks at the toll that fame took on the group's members as well.
Stark has had an amazing career. Professional journalist, campaign advisor to Jimmy Carter, Harvard law professor, regular on National Public Radio, guest articles in several big-time newspapers, and some other stuff that I've lost track of. He tells me he's been in the U.K. for the past three years, no doubt most of it working on the Beatles book. Stark's an indefatigable researcher; he started the project by reading everything that's ever been written about the Beatles. And I can tell you, his mind is a steel trap, so probably little or nothing of what he took in was lost.
Back in the late '70s when we were running together, there were three big things on Steve's mind: his girlfriend (to whom he is now married); Muhammad Ali (he had covered the famous Zaire fight as a reporter); and Elvis, who at the time was in the final year of his life. I believe we attended my one and only Yale-Harvard football game at the Yale Bowl together. (Steve and I, that is, not Elvis. I believe Elvis went to Dartmouth.) Anyway, it was a truly special time, and Stark was a true gentleman.
I'm looking forward to reading what he has to say about the Beatles and their impact on youth and gender. Did "She Loves You" contribute to the feminist revolution? And how much of the Beatles' identity was a result of John and Paul both losing their moms as boys?
Stark always inspires me. As in, no offense to the blog, but I've got to start thinking bigger.
A short while back, we declared that The Oregonian has the world's lamest website, or words to that effect. This hyperbolic comment was not meant to cast aspersions on the people here in town who produce the local content for that site. I've met some of them, including the Big Velveeta; they're smart people.
The organization for which they work, however, and the restrictions that are placed on their operation are an entirely different story. The mere fact that the news stories completely disappear after a few weeks, for example. That is unforgivable. Blogs without comments -- it's right down there with it. In that kind of environment, one does the best one can.
I didn't miss the editorial in The O on Saturday about the Portland streetcar -- eighth wonder of the world, apparently. Sure, it's waste of money, and sure, you can get there faster on foot, but hey! It just won an award from some east coast design group, and that's more important than making financial sense. The streetcar is "snazzy." It has "sizzle." Everyone involved should be thanked. And the editorial quotes Earl Blumenauer, as told to Randy Gragg, on the all-important topic of who should take credit. Gag!
Looks to me like Randy wrote this one himself.
The award is for $50,000. The City of Portland general fund subsidy of the streetcar was $800,000 a year at last report -- and that was before the expansion to the Empty Retail Canyons at RiverPlace. Now the subsidy is more likely close to $1 million. And so even by the most generous estimates, the lovely award will pay the city's share of running the streetcar for 23 days. Snazzy.
The O cracks me up. When the city raises the rates on parking meters, it's front page news. I suspect that like many reporters, some of the folks at the O are too cheap to buy a legitimate parking space, and so they play feed-the-meter through much of the day. When the city ups the ante, they howl. But when the city blows its transportation dollars on colorful toys that do little more than sell junk condominiums, the front office at the O gushes with praise.
The streetcar looks good to tourists who don't know any better. Kind of like The Oregonian.
Is it just me, or was there absolutely nothing worth reading in today's Sunday Oregonian? The week's thickest paper, and it's worthless.
Meanwhile, The New York Times was truly jamming:
A front page story on torture houses run by the Iraqi insurgents.
A fascinating piece on how corporate CEOs, who are paid like geniuses, try to act dumb when they're caught stealing. And so far, they're not convincing people on juries. Send us a postcard from Attica, Koslowski!
An article on how in women's tennis, short people got no reason to live.
Two articles sparked by New York City's plans to ladle out some serious pork to the Yankees and Mets for new baseball stadiums: (1) a strong piece digging out some of the hidden taxpayer costs, and asking whether the spending of tax dollars for such projects is a "subsidy" or an "investment"; and (2) an architectural review of sports stadiums throughout history, from the Roman Colosseum to the breathtaking new soccer stadium in Braga, Portugal.
A horrifying photo of a 1930 lynching in Marion, Indiana.
A disturbing photo of Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page hoisting his guitar over the New York Stock Exchange. He played "Whole Lotta Love" to celebrate the initial public offering of the stock of Warner Music Group. Alas for Warner, the market had less than a whole lotta enthusiasm for the stock, partly because market analysts are now under less pressure to give the thumbs up even though they think a new offering is overpriced.
If your news dollar isn't being spent on the Times -- if you're not at least checking in on the paper's website -- you're missing out. You may hate the slant, but the coverage is unparallelled.
The Portland neighborhood newspaper The Sellwood Bee has some serious content up on its website. And so up on our blogroll it goes.
A while back, a commenter here pointed out that the Portland Development Commission's $94,000-a-year "organizational development manager" (since suspended while her conduct is being investigated) was also running a side business as some sort of management consultant. The commenter provided a link to the website of the business, known as Inhance, run by the manager, Tracy M. Smith.
The Portland Development Commission's chief financial officer has quit. No reason was given. Perhaps the pending investigations of the PDC's scandalous contracting practices have something to do with it. At least she didn't go with "spend more time with the family."
So let's see. The PDC has turned over its chair, a second commissioner, its CEO, its CFO, and its chief counsel. Its $94,000-a-year "organizational development manager" is on paid administrative leave while her conduct is being investigated. And there are more revelations to come.
No need to change the structure of the PDC, though. No need for any law enforcement to get involved, either. No need to rock the boat.
The Mrs. gets some funny e-mail, just as I do. Here are a few "things that stressed-out people say," as told by her recent correspondent:
1. Okay, okay! I take it back. You're not dumb.
2. You say I'm a bitch, like it's a bad thing.
3. Well, this day was a total waste of make-up.
4. Well, aren't we a damn ray of sunshine?
6. Do I look like a people person?
7. This isn't an office. It's hell with fluorescent lighting.
8. I started out with nothing and I still have most of it left.
11. I'm not crazy. I've been in a very bad mood for 30 years.
12. Sarcasm is just one more service I offer.
14. I'm not your type. I'm not inflatable.
22. Ambivalent? Well, yes and no.
23. You look like hell. Is that the style now?
26. I'm not tense, just terribly, terribly alert.
27. You are depriving some village of an idiot.
28. If a**holes could fly, this place would be an airport.
29. Look in my eyes... Do you see one ounce of gives-a-sh*t?
A front-page story in today's Oregonian about a city commissioner's new blog refers to "bojack.org, which offers a more contrarian view of world events." That's more contrarian than BlueOregon, the doctrinaire "progressive" blog, with which I do tend to disagree more than agree lately.
Anyway, it's an honor to be judged contrary to the political machinery of our fair city and state. Better clip that one out for the scrapbook.
A couple of items related to Portland General Electric are on the wires today. The Portland Business Alliance is against the city's plan to take the utility over -- instead, the chamber of commerce types support having the Enron bankruptcy court distribute PGE's stock out to Enron's creditors. That would make PGE a stand-alone, publicly traded, Portland-based company again.
Between the PBA's stance on PGE and its opposition to the city's public financing of local politicians' campaigns, it's 0 for 2 for the Big Ideas of Commissioner Erik Sten, who's running the city these days.
On another front, PGE has apparently announced that it has filed for state Public Utility Commission approval of the spinoff of its stock to creditors, thus snubbing the city's bid. The press release isn't up on the PGE site yet (at least not where I can find it), but a second-hand version of it is here.
The press release also notes that PGE is looking for new members of its board of directors. They want people with utility, business, and financial expertise. Yo! Peggy! Over here! I'm available!
A Wal-Mart is going in in Sellwood, on McLoughlin Boulevard in southeast Portland, down where the old Goodwill store used to be. The rumors are true: The property owner, Howard Dietrich of Nelson Development, has signed a lease with Wal-Mart. Already Commissioner Sam Adams has said he doesn't want it there, and Metro Councillor Robert Liberty took time off from his busy schedule to say he's against it, too.
I don't like Wal-Mart, but I also don't like Portland's reputation as being inhospitable to business. And since I can't imagine there's any way that the city is actually going to stop this corporate behemoth from locating on McLoughlin -- it's a state highway, for crying out loud -- I'm wondering whether having our public officials posture around about it isn't doing more harm than good. Particularly Commissioner Adams, who's making a name for himself by being so business-friendly -- apparently only certain businesses qualify for his friendship.
I think he and Liberty ought to settle for making them build a bioswale back behind the building. As Mick and Keith will be reminding us in person this fall, you can't always get what you want.
Can anybody tell us what the heck this is?
It's time for me to take a little break from blogging about the local political scene. Focusing on the official dysfunction around here for too long is veddy bad for the soul. In the middle of the night last night, my daughter found me sitting in the living room, alone, watching a budget hearing on cable access with an empty six-pack of O'Doul's at my feet and the tears streaming down my face.
Good thing for me I got an e-mail message yesterday from the author of this fine blog, but warning: It has that black background on account of which, if you read it for too long, YOU COULD GO BLIND! And her sidebar contains links to some other blogaliciousness, like this, and this, and this.
Hey, nothing could be funnier than Erik Sten's to-do list, but if you're like me, you'll appreciate a change of topic. So go, already.
Commissioner Randy Leonard's idea of disbanding the Portland Development Commission in favor of a more accountable urban renewal agency crashed last night, as the rest of the City Council showed no interest in it. The PDC, it seems, must be "independent" to do its job. I still haven't heard why. The original idea of the separate agency was to keep the elected officials from taking graft. Nowadays it seems that there might be less corruption if the urban renewal doings all went through City Hall.
But it ain't going to happen. Tweedle Sten and Tweedle Adams apparently thought back nostalgically on all the fun they've had building luxury suites for minor league baseball and doubling the size of the empty convention center and said, "Man, we can't let this good thing come to an end. Let's keep the curtain." The top secret negotiations where the Goldman Sachs guys show you their platinum money clips are especially sexy.
In a few weeks we'll have David Knowles running the PDC, and the beat goes on, I guess.
Maybe not just yet. The City Council heard from Portland's version of the Donald yesterday -- PDC CEO Mazziotti -- and he actually apologized for some of the contracting shenanigans that have demoralized PDC staffers and Portland taxpayers alike. No apologies for having the public relations savvy of an ant, however. And as b!X will point out in an upcoming post (of which I've had a sneak preview), more contracting scams may be waiting to come to light. From the b!X piece:
But before we get into the more or less chronological rundown, we feel we should point out something said by current PDC executive director Don Mazziotti, but left out of today's Oregonian story.
While that article reports that Mazziotti did admit that mistakes were made, and offered his apologies, the longer form of one of his statements is this: "We've made mistakes [and] I'm sure there will be more that will be reported."
Make of that what you will. Now on to the rest.
Too bad about the Leonard proposal. Like him, I'm not against urban renewal. I am against unelected political bosses taking taxpayers' money and lining their own pockets with little public notice or comment. Unfortunately, the current PDC setup allows, even encourages, the latter.
Thanks to a tip from b!X, we learn that the only outsider among the four finalists for executive director of the Portland Development Commission has dropped out. That eliminates a 24-1 shot, leaving three of the usual suspects to slug it out for the job. No ethnic minorities left in the bunch.
I also note that some brief candidate bio's are now up on the PDC site, hours after we complained here that the agency didn't circulate any. Interesting order they're listed in -- not alphabetical. Tea leaves, anyone?
When the news flashed that Don "the Don" Mazziotti was on his way out as CEO of the Portland Development Commission, it looked like a golden opportunity for much-needed change in the way that agency does business, and even more importantly, in the way the City of Portland approaches "urban renewal." "Maybe Nick Fish will take it over!" some people gushed. But those who got their hopes up, momentarily, can't be too pleased with the list of four finalists who have emerged to replace Mazziotti.
I'm sure they're all nice, bright people, but let's face it, it's two of the usual suspects, a third fairly familiar face, and a fourth guy who might as well be from the moon. For all the thousands that the PDC is paying to the local headhunter outfit Murphy, Symonds and Stowell, they didn't exactly come up with a dynamic roster of change agents.
Here are the finalists, in the order of likelihood of getting the job (Note: These odds were revised after an alert reader pointed out a statistical error in my original analysis):
The PDC hasn't graced us with these folks' resumes. Though they say they want our input at some upcoming public meetings on the search, as usual they don't want us to have any facts beforehand. But of course, in these days of the internet, that doesn't stop anyone from trying to piece the information together on their own. Here's what I've come up with so far, and I invite readers to fill in, in the comments below, the many gaps I'm leaving:
Knowles, who amazingly hasn't got an organized bio or photo posted anywhere that I can find on the internet, is the most likely winner of Mazziotti's position. He was Commissioner Charlie Hales and Mayor Vera Katz's director of planning for more than five years ending in 1999, and he was a Metro councillor from 1986 to 1991. As I recall, he shares the Katz vision of Portland, which in turn matches the Erik Sten vision of Portland, which in turn makes Knowles the natural frontrunner.
Since leaving City Hall, Knowles has worked for Shiels Obletz Johnsen and David Evans and Associates, two prominent construction management firms that doubtlessly have made tons off PDC projects over the years. He's sat on Diane Linn and Katz's school "quality advisory council," or whatever the thing is that's supposedly monitoring the education expenditures being made out of the county income tax. He headed a public advisory board whose recommendations preceded the Portland schools' failed search for a superintendent in 2002. Knowles more recently coordinated the city's Rose Quarter study -- a pet project of Sten's, as I recall. He's all for a publicly subsidized convention center hotel. He endorsed his old City Hall colleague Sam Adams for city commissioner (Metro Councillor Brian Newman too), and he fits right in with the propaganda that the oversized PDC (180 employees, I hear) and the city's bloated planning bureau (I hear something like 200 employees) really need to work together more efficiently, blah blah blah. I'm sure Team Goldschmidt would be delighted with his appointment, and given recent practices, I suspect that Hennessee is already drafting the public announcement of Knowles's anointing.
I had contact with Knowles's planning bureau back when I was a resident of the Buckman neighborhood, and it was then that I witnessed firsthand the insensitive mistreatment that neighborhoods like Buckman receive from bureaucrats like Knowles. The issue du jour was the siting of a commercially operated gangster halfway house across the street from the Buckman Elementary School. The city washed its hands of the matter and let the facility go in, after one of the leading lights in the planning bureau decided (I am not making this up) that the recently sprung gang bangers were in fact "disabled" because they took drugs, and moreover were actually a single "family" because they were all technically in the custody of the state corrections department.
Not only that, but Knowles made a big public to-do about the fact that he was "recusing" himself from the matter because (I am not making this up, either) his wife had strong feelings about the case. If you think a guy like that is going to shake anything up, then you probably voted for Adams.
Moving slightly out from the entrenched inner circle -- but only slightly -- we find a guy named Bruce Warner, who's been running the state transportation department (ODOT) since 2001, when John Kitzhaber appointed him to that post. Warner is apparently from Brightwood, on Mount Hood in Clackamas County, and he's been working down in Salem rather than here in the Rose City for quite some time. (Meaningless aside: My friend's Volkswagen Rabbit, the worst car ever built, died in Brightwood once.) But Warner's resume includes a stint as chief operating officer at Metro, where I'm sure he became well acquainted with the Portland powers that be. Before that he was a regional manager for ODOT.
A couple of interesting stories emerge from Warner's time at Metro. It seems he was a strong supporter of the Opus Northwest development off I-5 in Durham. (I was down there for lunch last week -- pretty dismal. Welcome to the Worst of San Jose.) Warner apparently was also something of a thorn in the side of Sten's proposed regional real estate transfer tax that would have paid for low-income housing. The Opus connection could be a plus with the PDC commissioners, but crossing Opie hasn't helped anybody's career prospects in city government lately.
Oh man, is this going to be fun -- for me at least. I broke down yesterday and bought a decent scanner. And so all sorts of hard-copy documents of mine are now going to make their way onto the blog. Master the possibilities!
Here's my first scan on the new toy -- a photo of me (lower right) as a freshman in high school, at age 12, working on the school's literary magazine. 1966, baby!
Here's where my blogging instincts all come from -- my press card from my days as a cub reporter on a real daily newspaper, in college at age 19:
Don't worry, I'll be over this nostalgia bit in a month or so...
I'm so shocked and dismayed at today's news -- the closing scenes in the latest sideshow from the once-proud world of popular music. Devoted R&B fans will stay faithful, but for the rest of us, there's nothing but deep disappointment. Yes, read it and weep, America.
Read the latest on the Portland Development Commission soap opera here.
In other PDC news, the four finalists for executive director have been named, and it's not an encouraging list for those of us hoping for change over there. The Portland Business Journal has it here. We'll moan about it on this blog later.
Craig over at MT Politics interrupted his retirement from blogging today to announce the birth of his daughter. Very cool.
The victims of this urban-planning syndrome believe, like some Roman emperors, that a leader's prime civic responsibility is to build entertainment palaces for the masses. American mayors haven't yet built anything quite like the Circus Maximus, where a quarter of a million Romans watched chariot races, but their combined output makes it look puny.Tierney's column, from yesterday's paper, is here.
They've endowed downtowns with stadiums, arenas, theaters, concert halls, museums and aquariums. They imagine drawing hordes of out-of-towners to the new convention center, and when the visitors don't materialize, the mayors' solution is to build an even bigger convention center with a subsidized hotel next door.
UPDATE, 7:40 p.m.: Even if you don't normally read blog comments, they're worth checking out on this one. An alert reader who posts in this thread provides one of the most interesting links in Portland blog history. Wonder if her Portland business license tax is up to date -- LOL!
I managed to tune in some baseball on the tube tonight. Just an inning or two toward the end of a game that was utterly meaningless to me. National League teams are playing American League teams this weekend. There's been a lot of discussion of this little experiment lately, but I think Tony summed it up best yesterday:
i really dont like interleague play. its like if people said guys can walk around with their d***s out. you'd say, yeah i guess thats interesting, but after a few years ive had enough.
Read the whole uncensored version here.
What to do on this special Saturday morning?
A. Endure enormous hassles and pay hundreds (or even thousands) to procure tickets to see Rolling Stones nearly five months from now.
B. Endure enormous hassles and attempt to view Grand Floral Parade on street.
C. Watch parade on television.
D. Knock out some work with Jonathan Schwartz on web radio as backdrop.
E. Cruise Hollywood Farmers Market for strawberries, chard, and beets.
F. Feed rose bushes.
G. Catch up on tivo'ed Letterman shows from past week.
H. Start to organize two years' worth of photographs.
I. Call Mom.
J. None of the above.
Among the many questions about the City of Portland's proposed acquisition of Portland General Electric is whether it would be legal. Greg Chaimov, formerly the state legislature's main lawyer, had a piece in The Oregonian the other day raising that question, and so far I haven't heard anything close to an answer.
To understand the potentially deal-killing legal problem, a little corporate merger and acquisition talk is in order. There are two ways to buy a corporate business. You can buy all the stock from the stockholders; or you can buy the assets of the business from the target company (and its stockholders can then liquidate the target company and take out your money). For a lot of reasons, including several relating to taxes, sellers tend to want buyers to buy stock; for their own reasons, buyers often prefer to buy assets. The two deal structures are sometimes known as the "stock deal" and the "asset deal," respectively.
The PGE deal would almost certainly be a stock deal. PGE's sole shareholder is Enron, whose CEO -- essentially working for Enron's bankruptcy trustee, who in turn represents Enron's frustrated creditors -- has said over and over that the sale has to be a stock deal, period. Although it would technically be possible (albeit hideously complicated), an asset deal for PGE has been ruled out. As the O reported on April 20, Enron CEO Stephen Cooper "has made it clear that he's looking for more money this time around and only is interested in selling stock, not assets. Otherwise, he says, Enron is content to give its creditors stock in PGE and let financial markets decide what the company is worth."
So the City of Portland, if it buys PGE, is going to have to buy the stock. And that's where the legal problem comes in. The Oregon Constitution forbids local government from owning stock of a corporation. Article XI, Section 9, added in 1917, reads as follows:
Section 9. Limitations on powers of county or city to assist corporations. No county, city, town or other municipal corporation, by vote of its citizens, or otherwise, shall become a stockholder in any joint company, corporation or association, whatever, or raise money for, or loan its credit to, or in aid of, any such company, corporation or association. Provided, that any municipal corporation designated as a port under any general or special law of the state of Oregon, may be empowered by statute to raise money and expend the same in the form of a bonus to aid in establishing water transportation lines between such port and any other domestic or foreign port or ports, and to aid in establishing water transportation lines on the interior rivers of this state, or on the rivers between Washington and Oregon, or on the rivers of Washington and Idaho reached by navigation from Oregon's rivers; any debts of a municipality to raise money created for the aforesaid purpose shall be incurred only on approval of a majority of those voting on the question, and shall not, either singly or in the aggregate, with previous debts and liabilities incurred for that purpose, exceed one per cent of the assessed valuation of all property in the municipality."No county, city, town or other municipal corporation, by vote of its citizens, or otherwise, shall become a stockholder in any joint company, corporation or association, whatever...." That's pretty absolute language, and according to Chaimov's article, the state's courts and attorney general have interpreted the rule strictly. The city, with Commissioner Erik Sten in charge, apparently thinks the rule is a "technicality" that can be circumvented for purposes of the PGE transaction, but Chaimov's not so sure.
And in order for the deal to go down, the people with the money are going to have to be quite sure.
Back when Sten was still a kid at Fernwood Middle School, there was a little fiasco called the Washington Public Power Supply System (WPPSS, pronounced "whoops"). WPPSS issued a gajillion dollars' worth of public bonds to finance nuclear power plants, and it turned out that, because of a few "technicalities," the bonds weren't enforceable, even though fancy lawyers had originally opined that they would be. Lots of folks got burned, and I doubt Wall Street has forgotten about those worthless public power bonds from out in the Pacific Northwest.
In order to sell the billions of dollars of City of Portland bonds that are being proposed to finance the public takeover of PGE, the city is going to have to come up with a way to make the bond buyers of the world very, very comfortable with the legal aspects of the deal. I'm sure the city's investment banker consultants and out-of-state lawyers, who are all more or less working on commission, are telling the city fathers that they've got a way to get around what the Constitution plainly says. But they haven't convinced Chaimov.
The city has already blown well over $1 million of general fund money on the PGE adventure, by even conservative estimates. Before we get too many more millions down the road, maybe somebody from City Hall ought to get up at a press conference or City Club luncheon with a couple of PowerPoint slides showing exactly how the structure is going to satisfy the constitution.
Through the miracle of eBay, I have acquired a cheap but fine copy of an album I have missed for a long time. It's called Blues Deluxe, and it's a piece of the blues action at the 1980 Chicagofest. Friends from Chicago who spent a few years with us here in Portland turned me on to this thing. It really cooks from start to finish -- Muddy Waters, Son Seals, Mighty Joe Young and others are superb -- but the highlight for me is old Willie Dixon growling out his classic "Wang Dang Doodle" at the end. He's got the crowd eating out of his hand the whole way, and you can feel how happy his band is to be up there with him. They sure did pitch one that night.
A while back, my readers and I bemoaned the loss of Portland oldies radio station KISN-FM and its replacement by a format caled "Charlie," which resembles the shuffle output of an iPod programmed by your tasteless white trash cousin.
Now comes the shocking news that "Charlie's" identical twin "Jack" -- the same Adam Ant/Elton John slop that passes for thoughtful entertainment these days -- has even run New York's legendary oldies god "Cousin Brucie" Morrow off the air. It's particularly sad since oldies were still drawing a good audience on WCBS-FM in New York. But since the world of radio marketing is populated by kids born in the '80s who just don't get it, people who understand the roots of rock and roll are once again shown the door.
I'm sure Cousin Brucie will land on his feet somewhere in New York. He's too big to ever be put out to pasture. He goes all the way back to my childhood, when I listened to him and Scott Muni via 77 WABC on a two-transistor radio under my pillow every night. Friday night was date night on Cousin Brucie's show; Saturday night was party night. "Take my hand, it's gonna be grand." Live interviews with the Beatles. Heck, he even MC'd the Beatles show at Shea. In many ways, he was for a time the East Coast equivalent of Wolfman Jack.
Little-known fact: Bruce Springsteen strongly dislikes being called "Brucie," but he often was (including once by my buddies and me, who were screaming for an encore at a show) due to the popularity of the radio "cousin," whom the Boss also wasn't fond of.
Even-littler-known: On my old radio shows, I called myself "Cousin Jack," in honor of Morrow.
Even-littler-than-that known: I know a lesbian with a radio show who changed her name from Linda to Jack.
Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah. If you compare Cousin Brucie with the robot-driven junk on "Jack," where the best they can do is set up a computer playlist of some Grade B stuff off early MTV, the profound sadness of our times becomes apparent.
The New York Times had a good story yesterday on the collapse of the United Airlines pension plan. At the root of the problem was the weakness of the federal pension law known as ERISA (named after the ancient Greek goddess of actuaries). ERISA, which tells companies how much they have to contribute to employees' pensions, is scandalously lax in its accounting standards. Under the ERISA accounting rules, everything in the United pension world looked peachy -- so much so that the company was allowed to skip a year's worh of contributions a few years back. In contrast, if you looked at the books that United showed its investors and filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the fact that the pension plan was doomed would have been apparent much earlier.
It may have been perfectly legal, but the United pension failure shows that whenever someone keeps two sets of books, one is closer to telling the truth than the other. The tax laws are another area in which the multiple-books practice leads to endless hanky-panky. When corporations fill out their income tax returns, they make themselves look as poor as possible -- the lower the taxable income, the lower the tax. But on the financial statements they show their investors and bankers, and file with the SEC, they paint the rosiest possible picture -- as much profit as possible, to boost stock prices and executive compensation.
Here's a revolutionary idea: Why not require just one set of books? Why don't we get the accounting rules as fair and accurate as possible, and then every year, require presentation of one conclusive set of numbers that are the company's income (profit) for all purposes? Corporations would pay taxes based on the profits that are driving their stock prices and their CEOs' scandalous bonuses. Pension contributions would be gauged to the more realistic accounting rules that the SEC requires, rather than the goofball pretend games that ERISA has evolved to allow.
Just one bottom line for all purposes. What a crazy concept.
On my occasional jog around the Rose Quarter last evening, I ran into my impeccable source within the Portland Trail Blazer organization, and he handed me a real news scoop. The Blazers have picked their new head coach, and they're finalizing his contract this week. It's a brilliant move -- a familiar face from the heyday of Blazermania, who showed many flashes of hoop genius, and who, despite his age and gray hair, will relate well to the players on whom the Blazers are banking their future.
For the first time in many years, I'm starting to feel a glimmer of hope for this once-proud team. Just wait 'til this guy takes the reins.
Interesting story in today's Oregonian about Anthony Harris, the-four-time-bankrupt consultant who made $131,641 working for the Portland Development Commission as a "management coach" to its deputy director and a guru behind its laughable "world-class city" campaign.
One of the assistants to outgoing CEO Don "the Don" Mazziotti wrote a memo a while back wondering what the heck the PDC was getting from Harris under his no-bid contract. As O reporter Ryan Frank tells it:
An assistant to executive director Don Mazziotti raised concerns about Harris' work on the world-class project, according to an undated memo written earlier this year and obtained through a public records request. Harris billed $200 an hour for his work.You tell' em, Tracey! Of course, she is now refusing to discuss the matter in public, no doubt fearing for her future on the municipal government flak-job merry-go-round.
"I must convey the continued negative remarks I receive relative to Anthony Harris," Tracey Gemma wrote. "The majority of these comments relate to the amount of money he receives and does not deliver quality goods/services.
" . . . I tend to agree with the feedback, as he is paid extremely well to come unprepared and to be utilizing our staff's time to complete his work."
Also revealed in the article is that Harris ran out and hired a graphics design firm as a subcontractor:
Gemma's memo also raised concerns that Harris asked commission staff to make changes and print color copies at $1 each. Handwritten and unsigned notes in Harris' file at the commission show employees spent 29 hours working on the project and made 800 color copies.Sweet. I'm afraid to ask who the subcontractor was.
Tim Liszt, the commission's Web content coordinator, said he was asked to build a PowerPoint presentation for the commission based on Harris' work.
Winston said Liszt's job was to make the presentation compatible with the agency's design styles. Yet, Harris had billed the agency thousands of dollars for a graphic design firm he hired as a subcontractor.
As commenters on this blog have suggested, do the math, folks -- $131,000 divided by $200 an hour is 655 hours -- the equivalent of more than 16 weeks (nearly four months) of full-time work. Did the PDC get that from Mr. Harris?
Am I the only one in town who thinks a criminal investigation of the PDC is in order? Lars, could you give the Republican U.S. attorney a shout out for me on this one? Ask her to do a Kenneth Starr on the PDC.
We sit down here in Portland and cluck our tongues at what the mayor of Spokane was doing in his office. But what often happens in public agency offices in the Rose City is also self-abuse.
Now heaven forgive me, but this is funny.
UPDATE, 2:00 a.m. 6/19: This post originally linked to a Luckovich cartoon showing Prince Charles and Lady Camilla in bed. Charles is holding a newspaper whose headline reads "Viagra Causes Blindness." And he's thinking, "It's a two-fer!"
As previewed here last week, Pacific Power did its thing outside our house on Friday, and the old transformer (left or top picture, left pole) has been replaced by Big Bertha (right or bottom picture, right pole). The street light was also transplanted (or is that trans-poled?). Then, surprise surprise, the power crew sawed off the top of the old pole!
All that's left to be moved now are digital cable and phone lines. I'm assuming they will be affixed to the new pole, and the old pole will be removed, in due course. In the meantime, we did run the heat pump a bit over the weekend (Rose Festival weather always involves nighttime temperatures in the 40s and some good hard showers), and lo and behold, the lights didn't blink any more. Huzzah. The true test will come, of course, when the air conditioners at our place and the neghbors' are both going full tilt in mid- and late summer.
Anyway, thanks to the men and women of Pacific Power for their splendid efforts to date. For anyone else with blinking lights, I suggest you get your repair request in before the City of Portland takes over the power business in these parts. Once they're running things, you'll be required to build a windmill on your roof, and drink out of the downspouts. Save the planet!
Great sports column (sorry, you'll have to register, the Times had a major server crash) by Howard Beck in today's New York Times about the excellent management of pro basketball's Western Conference champions, the San Antonio Spurs. Makes you fully realize what losers -- on all levels -- we have in our NBA organization here in the Rose City, with little or no improvement in sight.
The revelation that his marriage of 30 years had disintegrated because of his wife's infidelity came as a rude shock, like a surcharge at a formerly surcharge-free ATM.Cousin James has lots more here.
Retirement-lust and big jackpots have led me to pay the stupidity tax again this week -- I bought a couple of lottery tickets. I didn't win squat, but these days the tickets come with some offbeat humor printed on them, so that the joke wasn't just on me. A couple of samples:
Win the Megabucks Jackpot and open a new checking account. You can order the checks with the kitties on them.Good stuff. Bad habit.
[This one for Cousin James:] Do clowns scare you? Win Powerball, buy a circus and fire all the clowns. After all you don't like clowns.
I see that W. has nominated Chris Cox, the conservative Southern California congressman, to be chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission. You talk about your six degrees of separation -- Cox and I are at the first degree, having been fellow summer clerks at a big bucks L.A. law firm in 1976.
We both got offers -- he bit, I didn't. Chris was an Orange County right-wing true believer even then, but it was a much softer time, and he was a good colleague. No doubt he was in on some of our all-clerk treks to Chavez Ravine to catch Garvey, Cey and the Dodgers. At the end of the summer, the clerks decided to spoof the firm in a musical revue, whose parody lyrics are somewhat memorable to this day:
Cox, a Harvard JD-MBA, went on to clerk for Judge Choy on the Ninth Circuit in Honolulu -- a great gig -- and proceeded on to work in the Reagan White House. By the late '80s he was in Congress. Been there ever since. He's a liberal's nightmare, and I doubt I'll agree with much he does over at the SEC. But he's championed the tax-free internet, among other worthwhile things, and from what I remember he's a decent guy.
As longtime readers of this blog may recall, some time back we had a new electrical service installed in our home. Despite this, our lights kept blinking, not only when our own air conditioning came on, but also when our next door neighbors' a.c. came on. It certainly seemed that the problem was out on the power pole, across the street, which services both our houses.
We called the friendly folks at Pacific Power, and much to our surprise, they're supplying a new transformer. Not only that, we get a new pole, and who knows what all else. The new pole (far right) was erected yesterday, and they've already moved the main power supply wires atop the pole (now attached to the new one). The new transformer will replace the old one (on left pole) tomorrow. Presumably the street light and other wires (cable and phone) will migrate soon as well. And with that, I hope, the blinking will cease, and we can stay on good terms with the power company in its new Buffett (Warren, not Jimmy) era.
So far, the folks at Pacific have been super. It's taken a long while for them to get to this, but it hasn't exactly been an emergency, and now it looks as though (knock wood) a solution to our annoying little problem is near.
A few weeks back, Willamette Week named Portland Teachers Credt Union its Rogue of the Week for the credit union's conduct in dealing with two of its members. The members had reportedly been complaining about a number of features of credit union policy, including, according to WW, "increasing credit rates and the $1.6 million salary of CEO Cliff Dias."
As a PTCU member, I get form letters over Cliff's signature all the time. Your money's safe with us, great rates on car loans, certificates of deposit, we're your credit union, we're there to help the little guy, etc. For a while, the letters told of the upcoming merger of PTCU with another credit union, out of Eugene, which would have meant a name change but which Dias promised would lead to wonderful, wonderful improvements. After several of these missives, one day a letter came along telling us that merger had suddenly been dropped like a hot potato. We were never told why.
Little did I suspect, until the WW story, that Dias was another one of the many members of the Grossly Overpaid Executive class here in town. Many a time have I stood in interminable lines at the sparsely located PTCU branches, wondering why the organization couldn't provide better service. Oh well, I told myself, it's a frugal organization, keeping expenses low, not wasting money, passing the benefits on to members. "Wait patiently," I told myself. "It's all for the common good."
If Dias is really making $1.6 million a year, obviously I was quite wrong.
A week after the Willamette Week outed the Portland Development Commission's expensive "management coach" as a deadbeat, The Oregonian ran essentially the same story on its front page this morning, as if it were news. Although the piece was of questionable weight, given the staleness of it, there was a line toward the end that I think summed up the PDC's reality-detach perfectly.
Here's a typical PDC setup. They hire a deputy director, Wyman Winston (left), for around $130,000 a year. But the guy has some "areas in need of improvement," and so they hire another in-house staffer, an "organizational development manager," at who knows what salary, to "help employees work together more efficiently." Then she, the "organizational development manager," runs out and finds them an outside consultant to "coach" the no. 2 guy, at another $132,000 or so for the contract.
So now it turns out that the consultant, Anthony Harris (right), has a trail of unpaid personal bills, including some serious delinquent taxes at federal, state, and county levels. Big embarrassment for the agency. So what's its reaction? Swear off "management coaches"? Vow to hire better people, so that it isn't necessary to pay two additional people to get the job done? Take a look into streamlining the bureaucracy?
Of course not. Here -- here's the reform that the negative publicity is bringing about:
After receiving questions from The Oregonian [*cough*], [Tracy] Smith [the "organizational development manager"] said she will propose tighter controls on coaching work. She will recommend all future coaching contracts go through the documented process she created.
Mayor Potter, please, please, please. Enough of this. If this is the best we can do, then it really is time to disband the PDC.
UPDATE, 6/12, 11:20 p.m.: The Tracy Smith part of the story gets more interesting. Read more here.