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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Where to go to find sneaky City of Portland loan deals

We complained last Wednesday that the City of Portland had gone out and borrowed $15 million against future gas tax revenues without any mention of the bonds anywhere on its web site. The sales pitch for the IOUs, known as the preliminary official statement, never appeared on the city's site, nor was it posted on the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board's EMMA website -- although EMMA did show last Tuesday night that the bonds were already sold as of earlier that day.

We wrote the city finance office and asked to see a copy of the sales document. They have now sent it to us, and we have posted it here. The borrowing is actually a little heftier than it appears -- the bonds were sold at a premium, which means that the city actually borrowed $16.7 million, not the $15.4 million on the cover.

We asked the city's debt office why the document hadn't been posted anywhere before the bonds were sold. Here's the response we got last Thursday afternoon:

The Preliminary Official Statement for the City's Gas Tax Revenue Bonds, 2011 Series A was published and made available to prospective investors on November 1, 2011, via the Ipreo iProspectus electronic document delivery system. The Ipreo publication system also provides bond sale information for immediate publication via Bloomberg, Thomson Reuters, The Bond Buyer and other municipal bond information distribution systems.

The Final Official Statement was published via the Ipreo system yesterday afternoon and is attached to this email per your request. The Final OS is also available on the MSRB's EMMA website at (link to the main page) or (link directly to the Final OS).

Kelly M. Ball
Principal Management Analyst
Communications Manager
OMF Business Operations Division

We have taken the bait and opened an account at Ipreo, which is a private company. We signed up for something called I-Deal Prospectus, which was free. But we shouldn't have to have done that. The city's website has a page that's specifically labeled "Debt Management > Official Disclosure > Primary Market Disclosure > Current Offerings," and the documents for the gas tax bond deal were never disclosed, and still are not disclosed, there. Indeed, until we complained on Wednesday, that page had expressly stated for weeks that there were no bonds currently being offered by the city. That statement was clearly false, as the gas tax bonds were being sold the week of November 1 through 7.

If residents of Portland have to open an account at I-Deal Prospectus to find out about the city's current borrowings, then the city ought to take down its "official disclosure" pages. That's the kind of page that one either keeps current or doesn't have at all.

Comments (11)

Everyone's on Twitter now, Jack.

Maybe the mayor twatted something about it after the fact, or maybe his mind was preoccupied.

What is wrong with this website, practicing real journalism?

Nice Work, Jack...

You should be hearing from the Fire Bureau about your quadrennial fire safety inspection any day now.

Yep, now you've done it. Randy's goons will be over wanting to inspect your stovepipe before too long. And your leaf tax audit is being scheduled as we speak.

Could leaving an issue off the website be considered a material omission of fact?

Maybe, but only if someone actually had the authority and the guts to take on the City of Lies about it.

Posted below is the Friends of the Reservoirs press release from October 2003 on the City's illegal issuing of Revenue bonds. It appears that nothing much has changed. In 2004 Judge Litzenberger ruled in our favor, but the bottom line is that the City wants to avoid affording citizens an opportunity to refer bonds for a vote, thus the City intentionally keeps information hidden from the citizenry until the referral time has passed.

Local Citizens’ Court Action Reveals City Bonding Boondoggle

PORTLAND – Court documents filed by the City of Portland, on Monday, October 20, 2003, show that the City is in flagrant disregard of the intent of the Oregon State Legislature with regard to the issuance of Revenue Bonds. The City is responding to a suit brought by the Friends of the Reservoirs and other complainants meant to stop the sale of revenue bonds partially intended for the destruction of the historic reservoirs at Mt. Tabor and Washington Parks. In a sworn statement, City Debt Administrator Eric Johansen revealed that since 1/01/2001, the City has authorized the issuance of $1.5 Billion of Revenue Bonds, for unspecified “Public Purposes”. A full $1 Billion of that debt has been authorized in just the last 15 months.

Irresponsible financing of public projects by many cities early in the last century contributed to several public bankruptcies, and caused the State of Oregon to limit bonding authority of cities. With the 1992 implementation of URBA (Uniform Revenue Bond Act) the Legislature once again allowed cities to issue Revenue bonds, where the funding source that will repay the bonds is specifically identified prior to their being authorized. An example would be ticket sales and rentals of the Oregon Arena Project being used to repay the $34,000,000 in Revenue Bonds issued to fund that project. The requirement for specifically identifying the purpose of the bonds and the funding source intended to repay them is to allow citizens the right to refer the project to the electorate for a public vote.

When funding for General Obligation Bonds dried up, after the passage of the ‘Double Majority’ rule (which required a majority of registered voters to approve new bonding, regardless of voter turnout) the City switched to issuing Revenue Bonds. Since 1/1/2001, however, the City has failed to detail both the purpose of the Revenue Bonds, and the revenue source for the repayment of these bonds at the time the authorizing ordinances are passed. Only after the 60-day window for citizens to raise an objection through the use of the referendum petition has closed, have those details been added. This is in complete disregard of Legislative intent.

Citizen representatives have carefully researched and questioned every aspect of the plan to bury the reservoirs at Washington and Mt. Tabor Parks, and have repeatedly questioned the financial soundness of the decision as well as the sources of funding. It was not revealed at any time that water revenue bonds were to be the source of funding for the demolition of the existing reservoirs and their replacement with underground storage tanks.

The amended complaint filed by the Friends of the Reservoirs, Citizens for Safe Affordable Water, and 12 named individuals contends that correct procedures were not followed December 18, 2002 and April 23, 2003 when $200 million and $500 million respectively, in revenue bonds were authorized by the City Council. Although acutely aware of the intense concern of the community in regard to the City’s decision to demolish the reservoirs at Mt. Tabor, the City passed Ordinance 177129 on December 18, 2002 without identifying the purpose of those bonds such that a reasonable person could have known that their purpose was related to the water system. The electorate was therefore deprived of its right to consider the question of whether to refer these revenue bonds to a vote of the people.

In the October 20th court filings Eric Johansen reveals that the City now views Revenue Bonds as an unlimited “Blank Check”, which the City may use for any purpose it pleases, so long as it is identified as a “Public Purpose.”

I think these guys are getting their terms confused. When they think Bond, they are thinking secret agent- so no wonder they try to keep it all hush, hush.

Jack, about every two weeks you discover or report illegal shenanigans that could be gold mines for your and others idea of a legal fund to go after our foundering local governments. I and many others would support the cause to take one or more of these and build a fund. I'm in, again.

"That statement was clearly false"

That approach is now widespread standard operating procedure.

I'd like to see the city's respinse to this.

"The city's website has a page that's specifically labeled "Debt Management > Official Disclosure > Primary Market Disclosure > Current Offerings," and the documents for the gas tax bond deal were never disclosed, and still are not disclosed, there"

Yeah, better hide that jerry-rigged bbq grill, Jack!

We wouldn't want sump'in' to 'appen to yer blog....t'ings burn ya know, Perfesser...Oops, i'm sorry -- did my brother commissioner break that campaign promise? He's awf'ly clumsy, ya know, Perfesser. -- Scene from "Monty SamRand's Lying Circus"


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