The year that was
Outside of the weather and the police blotter, there isn't usually a whole lot of news to write about in the week between Christmas and New Year's. And so an editor, seeing reporters sitting around with nothing to report, usually picks one or more of them to compile a year-in-review article. These pieces usually don't have much of a point, but sometimes they pull together some threads that got missed as the day-to-day news unfolded during the year just past.
Back in our days as a newspaper reporter in New Jersey, we got the call one year to write the county-wide annual wrap-up, which was a bit of an honor for a young guy like ourselves -- the task of summing up everything that had happened in Hudson County in 1973 (or maybe it was '74). We had a lot of help from around the newsroom and the various bureaus that the paper had in those days. But whatever happened wasn't too memorable, because today we couldn't name a single story that we included.
Just for nostalgia's sake, we thought we'd try to replicate that feat for the Portland area in 2011. Combing through our hundreds of blog posts during the year, what were the big stories? Without colleagues and editors to provide additional sets of eyes, we're sure to be missing something obvious, but what the hey -- here are 40-plus stories that occupied us (if you'll pardon the expression) this year:
1. Federal bribery charges at Portland City Hall. Ellis McCoy, the city's parking meter manager, is accused by federal prosecutors of accepting to bribes to influence the awarding of city contracts. These allegations knocked around City Hall and the county district attorney's office for years, but no one did anything meaningful about them until acting U.S. attorney Dwight Holton, in his final days leading the federal prosecutor corps, pulls the trigger.
2. The Sam Rand Twins pack it in. Portland's ditzy (or worse) mayor and the bully city commissioner who pulls his strings both announce that they won't run for re-election in 2012. The mayor's seat is very much up for grabs; the Admiral appears to be successfully bequeathing his chair to Stevie Novick.
3. Water-and-sewer lawsuit. Outraged water and sewer customers haul the City of Portland into court demanding a halt to the illegal spending of water and sewer rates on pet projects that have nothing to do with providing water or sewer service. The city tells bondholders that it thinks "the majority" of the claims are meritless -- but apparently, by the city's implicit admission, not all.
4. Wu flames out. The westside congressman is shown to be a drug-addled nutjob, but he refuses to step aside until allegations of recent impropriety with a young woman become the straw that broke the camel's back.
5. Kroger's finished. The most ambitious politician Oregon has seen in many a year shocks everyone with the announcement that he won't be continuing as Oregon attorney general past the end of his term because of an undisclosed illness. Given that he faced no serious opposition for re-election, he must be quite ill, or else not revealing the real reason for his dropping out.
6. City auditor speaks up. Portland city auditor Lavonne Griffin-Valade shakes up the rest of City Hall with a handful of reports that are none too complimentary of bureaus run by the Sam Rand Twins. Among her valid criticisms are diversion of water and sewer funds for marginal, non-service-related projects; and the city's addiction to borrowing money, with long-term indebtedness now topping $3.2 billion. An outside auditor also finds fault with the bookkeeping in some of the bureaus.
7. Clackistani rebels. Voters in Clackamas County are stirred up by the invasion of Portland-style planning-mania, and they fight back with grit. They defeat at the polls a tax on them for the Sellwood Bridge replacement; they vote to force a countywide vote on future "urban renewal" schemes; and they hang tough against the condo-ization of the east side of Lake Oswego, replete with an utterly delusional streetcar link to Portland.
8. Portland cop indicted in shooting. The first Portland police officer in recent memory charged with a violent crime committed while on duty, is accused of accidentally shooting a fleeing suspect with live ammunition when he thought he was firing a beanbag round. Meanwhile, his colleagues are busted on several off-duty drunk driving raps, and one is charged with brandishing his gun in a road rage incident on I-90 in Idaho.
9. Occupy. The national protest movement takes root in a downtown Portland square, resulting in dozens of arrests, the trashing of a couple of parks, many hours of televised drama, and precious little by way of meaningful social change. A followup protest on the South Park Blocks turns out to be little but a glorified late-night dance party, and then even the hardcore squatters disappear for the holidays.
10. School bond election cheating. After being called out for it on this blog and elsewhere, Portland public school officials are cited and fined by the state for using taxpayer dollars to promote the school district's massive construction bond ballot measure. The measure fails despite the illegal tactics.
11. Gang violence steps up. With their future more hopeless than ever, Portland's young gangsters take to shooting, stabbing, and beating each other in record numbers.
12. Reprieves for a suspect water bureau. The feds back down on their demands that Portland build an ultraviolet water treatment system at Bull Run, and disconnect the open reservoirs in town. City officials seem crushed that they won't get to play with as many giant Tinkertoys as they had hoped, and they're still pushing for a land use change that would allow the UV treatment plant at Bull Run.
13. Portland food composting and plastic bag ban. The state-sponsored "green" religion advances in Portland with a unilateral 50% cutback in landfill garbage service, accompanied by heavy arm-twisting on residential customers to put out all food slop separately for composting at a facility that's stinking up North Plains. The City Hall high priests of "behavior change" also outlaw plastic bags at big retail groceries, but not at Powell's.
14. Failed school bond. It would be the biggest construction bond in state history, and the construction types who have been hovering around the public schools for a decade are watering at the mouth. But despite a heavy "for the children" come-on, including illegal use of school district money for the campaign, the voters wisely say no.
15. Government PR juggernaut. The local mainstream media picks up on our longstanding complaint that government in the Portland area spends far too much money on public relations flacks. The army of flacks shrugs and keeps Tweeting.
16. City Hall honchos leave in droves. One after another, Portland bureau directors are taking the pension and running. Transportation, parks, legal, administration, finance, housing... with Sam Adams in charge, stability is impossible.
17. Wyden exposes himself. The latest exploits of the senior senator "from Oregon" -- teaming with the far right wing to push privatization of Medicare -- awaken people nationwide to what we've been complaining about for years: The guy is a New York Republican. Wrong on health care, wrong on taxes, we wish Ron would step down, sell off the Eastmoreland love nest, and hang with his beautiful people in the Big Apple full-time.
18. SoWhat jail. Overruling a hearings officer who told it like it was, the Portland City Council approves a high-security immigration deportation facility next door to an elementary school. At first a seeming breach of the city's bleeding-heart liberal agenda, on closer inspection the council vote is a return favor for the politicians' developer pals who own the building and stand to make a bundle off the lease to the federal immigration sweethearts.
19. Jeld-Wen Field. The sports stadium that the City Council essentially handed over to Henry Paulson's son reopens for business in its renovated state, without baseball. As usual, soccer is a big hit; as usual, Portland taxpayers are on the hook for eight figures should a league failure or other financial problems cause the Paulson team to turn off the cash flow spigot to the banks. Tens of millions of debt from a prior re-do of the stadium remain unpaid.
20. Brandon Roy reveals glass knees, retires. The Blazers' best player goes from the backbone of the franchise to the junk heap over the course of several months, but not before he turns in a playoff game performance for the ages.
21. Mystery Train to Milwaukie breaks ground. Portland's insolvent mass transit agency starts clearcutting the "urban forest" to make way for its most wasteful and pointless project ever. The money to pay for the thing is not even lined up, but it's full speed ahead.
22. Portlandia. Carrie Brownstein's cable TV comedy series comes across to the nation as an over-the-top send-up of the Rose City, but it's closer to reality than a lot the tales told in the local news broadcasts.
23. Cylviagate fizzles. The investigation into the highly questionable funneling of state money to the governor's live-in girlfriend creates headlines for weeks on end. But of course, nothing becomes of all the noise.
24. Finally, Sellwood Bridge replacement construction starts. Multnomah County finally, begrudgingly gets around to turning some shovels on a new bridge to replace the crumbling Sellwood span. The new connector will apparently have as much space for bikes and walkers as it will for cars; it's a wonder that cars are going to be allowed on it at all.
25. Evraz leaves town. The Russian outfit that bought Oregon Steel Mills pulls its American corporate executives out of Portland and ships them off to Chicago. It keeps some of its steel manufacturing operations here, but the high-paid execs all fly the coop.
26. Green business handouts. Portland and Oregon continue to chase solar-this and wind-that with massive subsidies. Meanwhile, American solar is fading fast, and interest in wind power worldwide has hit a plateau. That's o.k., apparently, because the local developers and construction companies who run Portland are eating up those taxes so well.
27. Two Supremes to retire. Two justices on the Oregon Supreme Court announce that they will retire at the end of their terms, creating two wide open vacancies to be filled by at-large elections at the same time.
28. Cell tower pushback. Portland neighborhoods continue to fight the placement of ugly, noisy, and possibly dangerous cellular antennas on light poles on the streets in front of their homes. Miraculously, some of the neighbors succeed in killing plans for such installations.
29. Au revoir, Lariviere. The president of U.C. Nike, the public university in Eugene, refuses to play ball with the Goldschmidt people on the state's higher ed board, and is sent back to the classroom to teach Sanskrit.
30. Rape of Hayden Island. The pretense that Portland City Hall might stop the Port of Portland from paving over bald eagle habitat for a new shipping facility falls apart. The writing is on the wall, and the eagles will have to fly somewhere else.
31. "Hobo Bellagio." Portland opens a classy new homeless shelter, named after Bud Clark, near Union Station. With no rules against alcohol abuse, it promises to be trashed in no time.
32. Wheeler finally gets it. The Oregon state treasurer belatedly comes to his senses and puts an end to free luxury junkets for his Masters of the Universe investment advisors, paid for by companies that they are supposedly monitoring.
33. Mike Schrunk out. It is not unexpected, but the retirement of the Multnomah County district attorney, the keeper of many secrets, after decades in office is still news. At last report, one of his lieutenants was running more or less unopposed.
34. Mike Burton scandal. A resident of the Politician Retirement Home Wing of the Portland State University administration is busted for allegedly billing the state for a trip to a European conference that didn't actually exist. The former Metro honcho refuses to admit guilt.
35. New U.S. attorney. Gatsby Wyden's nominee to be the chief federal lawyer in Oregon -- a mid-level underling in the state Justice Department -- is finally confirmed and sworn in.
36. Portland 911 computer fiasco. In keeping with a great tradition, the City of Portland buys an inferior computer system for installation in its police cars. Commissioner Nurse Amanda says the new units are practically perfect in every way, but the cops who have to pull over and stop to see where they are going disagree.
37. Jail Ducks. The "student athletes" at U.C. Nike provide countless laughs with their continuing run-ins with police. Quote of the Year: "We smoked it all."
38. Library reversal. The Multnomah County commissioners back off a plan that would have held a public vote creating a new library taxing district, on the dubious ground that it would not pass. Library supporters, who worked hard to pass a ballot measure laying the groundwork for the new district, are shocked and dismayed.
39. Beaverton buys into the Don's spiel. While voters in Clackamas County wise up to the problem of "urban renewal," voters in Washington County blunder deeper into the quagmire. Beaverton signs up for debt galore with The Don Mazziotti, guru of many a failed Portland "urban renewal" scheme, whispering sweet linchpins in the mayor's tin ear.
40. PERS list. After fighting it tooth and nail, the state's public employee pension system finally reveals who is currently receiving benefits, and how much. The information released is sketchy, however, and does not tell the whole story of who's collected how many dollars out of the shaky system. Among the missing data: lump-sum payouts and job titles.
41. Revolving door at local media. Hank Stern, the long-time news editor of Willamette Week, quits for better pay and benefits as a Multnomah County p.r. flack. The quantity of news content at WW drops precipitously. Former WW-er Nick Budnick returns to Portland from Bend, and his friend Beth Slovic joins him, to work for the Oregonian. Slovic takes Stern's old gig at Portland City Hall.
42. Blogger-as-media ruling. A federal judge in Portland turns heads nationwide with a ruling that a blogger is not "media" and therefore is entitled to less First Amendment protection than an established newspaper or broadcast station. The decision is being appealed.
43. Death of Elizabeth Dunham. The victim of slimeball political boss Neil Goldschmidt's long-term statutory rape dies, a singularly tortured soul, at age 49.
Well, that's our whole list. What'd we miss?