The Oregonian has declared that the price tag on the City of Portland's quixotic attempt to buy PGE was $1.5 million. But if you read the story carefully, you see that there's plenty more that was spent, but that isn't included in this tidy figure.
The O reaches the $1.5 million by adding up $663,800, which it identifies as the cost of "its failed, four-month bid to buy Portland General Electric" (emphasis added); and "a 2002-03 go-around [which] cost the city $832,000." But wait! Even if those two figures cover all of 2002 and 2003, and the months of April, May, June and July of 2005, what about the period January 2004 through March 2005? Are you telling me the city didn't spend money on the PGE deal during that period? Hogwash.
Not to mention the fact that the figures appear to omit the cost of those salaried city staffers who spent major hours on the project. Commissioner Sten's time alone, at, say, one-third of his $89,000 salary, would be on the order of $30,000 a year, for something like three and a half years.
You pundits out there, please don't use the $1.5 million figure as authoritative. It's the product of bureaucratic obfuscation, lazy journalism, or both.
Another interesting wrinkle in the story was its mention of the concern, which I blogged about here, that the city could not have purchased the PGE stock without violating the state constitutional ban on state or local government's owning stock in for-profit corporations. Apparently the city's latest $663K worth of lawyers bought some sort of structure that the bureaucrats were convinced would "work" as an end-run around that law:
"We found the nature of the transaction to be very complicated because of the lack of clear legal authority to own stock," [city finance director Ken] Rust said. "It was a threshold question."
After extensive legal discussions, "we believed we had a structure that could work," he said.
Boy, for upwards of a half million bucks, you would hope Mr. Rust might be able to share that ingenious structure with us taxpayers, who paid for it. Do you think The O even asked him for it?
Maybe someone in city government who reads this blog can fill us in. Barring that form of enlightenment, we could try a public records disclosure request, but I wouldn't expect too much from that route.
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» Who to buy PGE (first of a series) from Isaac Laquedem
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