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Friday, August 13, 2010

OMG! Tri-Met director actually asking questions!

One of the two newbies on the Tri-Met board of directors -- Steve Clark, president of the Portland Tribune -- has been turning heads in just a few meetings on the transit board. Unlike previous directors, who have gone along with everything the Tri-Met managers wanted to do, no questions asked, Clark is, amazingly, raising some issues. And even foiling some of management's cramdown tactics!

The latest such move came at this week's board meeting, where Clark convinced his fellow board members not to give management a blank check to buy property for the proposed Milwaukie light rail line before they even told the board how much it was going to cost. One of the foes of the new MAX train, who was at the session, tells it this way:

The real news was the... action they took to NOT approve the purchase of a key piece of property needed for Milwaukie... at 2040 SW First Ave. [in Portland]. It was rather comical -- the staff report said that the property was worth more than $500,000, and therefore required board approval; but it didn’t say what the actual price of the transaction would be. I pointed out that the board was being asked to approve a transaction without even knowing how much it would cost, so they couldn’t possibly approve it. Steve Clark brought that up, and no one from the TM brain trust even knew the assessed value; they knew the appraised value but said they couldn’t reveal that in public due to pending negotiations. Of course, this is all on portlandmaps.com anyway; market value is $2.7 million and assessed value is $2.1 million.

I also pointed out that TM has no known financing plan for the entire project at this point, so why buy the property now? Clark made the motion to defer a decision until November and the board approved 5-0. [Tri-Met general manager Neil] McFarlane just about choked on that one and pleaded to be allowed to bring it back earlier "if needed." Their chance of pouring concrete in the river next June for the new bridge is slipping away, and the longer it gets delayed the less likely it will ever get built.

If Clark keeps asking questions and demanding accountability, he'll be making Tri-Met history. Governor Ted, who's previously named one patsy after another to the Tri-Met board, may eventually look back on this particular appointment as his own David Souter. Way to go, Steve Clark.

Comments (10)

He'd better watch out. Ask a few more questions like that, and he's going to wake up in a Welsh resort village with Patrick McGoohan as his next-door neighbor.

As has been pointed out in several articles, MacFarlane is a projects guy with a background in project management, not general management. Without the new line to sink his teeth into, he's going to be out of his element. He is definitely not the right guy to be looking for efficiencies and taking on the transit union.

Asking the voters to fund known and expected operating expenses is a travesty.

Particularly while they pursue their fixed rail wetdreams.

Where does he stand on that?

Robert C. - I would not tar all project managers like that. Some are pragmatic and know how to do operations as well as projects.

The biggest indicator here is that McFarland and/or staff refused to provide any form of value of the property and when asked about it had lied about not knowing any form of the property value.
I was there and the staffer simply repeated a diverting escape phrase,
"I don't have the assessed value with me."
It's my understanding she is the head of acquisitions and was the point on this initial large real estate purchase.
It is inconceivable that she would not have known the price or value off the top of her head.
Also her or McFarland could have simply suggested staff there, or one of the board members punch in the address at portlandmaps.com on their laptops and immediately see real market value etc.
So why did they think asking for approval of a large purchase without giving the price was going to fly?
The long history of rubber stamping by the previous TriMet board members who Clark, Dr. Bethel and Olanrewaju replaced.
Despite Clarks questions and lack of response, Richard Van Beveren, Board President, asked for a motion to approve expecting another rubber stamp vote.
Instead Clark made a motion to delay consideration until the November
and Olanrewaju quickly seconded.
Stunned Van Beveren then said "well I guess we have to vote on the motion then", and very quickly after the call the ayes moved through the entire board with the chair last to grudgingly make it unanimous.
Now is it OK for the GM or staff to operate like that?

Although IMO the chair is trouble, there's something new on the TriMet board and it's good.

Watch out now -- you just know the chair voted to make it unanimous in order to be able to bring a motion for reconsideration, which he couldn't have done if he had been in the minority on the vote. . . .

Oh, no! What's next? Bringing back buses?

TTR - Too funny! Be seeing you.

Finally, someone on the TriMet board with guts.

Of course, this is the same Board that approved sending a bond measure to voters for something they already paid for and asking them to pay for it again, to cover up the misdeeds of the former General Manager and his rubber-stamp Board of Directors........

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