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Friday, March 9, 2012

List of alleged Portland water, sewer abuses keeps growing

The folks who are suing the City of Portland over blatant misspending of water and sewer revenues have been keeping a list of all the expenditures that seem unrelated to provision of water and sewer service. If in fact they are unrelated, they're illegal. As of a few weeks ago, they were up to 32 potential categories of violation in the water bureau, and 19 in the sewer bureau. Here's a letter that lists them all -- it's five pages long, but definitely worth a read by anyone who's been paying the astronomical bills that Portland water and sewer have been sending out.

The obvious ones are in there -- "voter-owned elections," Portland "loos," Rose Festival headquarters, the "water house," "green streets," parks arborists, and the like -- but there are a few that we hadn't thought of before. The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are now raising questions about scholarships; international travel by commissioners, staff, and consultants; concert sponsorships; bike racks; public opinion polls; renovation of a cabin at Bull Run reservoir; nearly $2 million spent to send water bureau employees to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina; "green" fuel purchases; bike safety video production; and time spent helping other city bureaus.

Perhaps most intriguingly, the water critics are now also complaining about transfers of water and sewer funds to something called the "city discrete budget." It sounds like one of those slush funds in which Portland City Hall specializes.

With all these rocks being turned over, one can only imagine what sort of dark, moist, squirmy creatures are going to be exposed to the light of day for the first time. Let's hope that the judge gets as outraged as so many of us already are.

Comments (21)

Once again, we're seeing exactly why Sam isn't running for a second term: he's leaving this mess to his successor. At the rate things are going, though, I'm wondering if he's actually going to finish out his term before being frog-marched in handcuffs into an FBI car.

I don't know. Seems to me our elected officials have been practicing a shock-and-awe corruption policy under the auspices of a friendly White House administration. Unless the DoJ wants to take this on in a serious way, it's possible an investigator might just see it as smarter career move to play blind.

I'd like to be wrong about this.

We thank John DiLorenzo for identifying the actions of council and the water commissioner regarding wasteful spending. Equally concerning are the actions not taken by the water commissioner to save money, debt and lost jobs. One example is to have pursued a waiver from the onerous EPA LT2 regulation, easily achieved through challenging the LT2 deficiencies as they related to the Safe Drinking Water Act. The papers I wrote over the last decade provided the guidance. Council has chosen the unreliable variance instead. What we are seeing now is just the tip of the iceburg.

Mr. Fernandez, PLEASE do everything you possibly can to get your name out there.

You know this is a huge slush fund when we have one of the most efficient and effective water systems in the world- with more than abundant rainfall- and yet we are paying through the nose for it.

The amount of money we pay for engineering "consultants" is shocking, probably illegal, and morally reprehensible.


You can help by sending his website to people you know.

Randy's cabin is the most egregious violation on the list. Where will he go to find solitude and commune with nature once he's gone from office? Perhaps Novick has already agreed not to change the locks.

I think we're too close to this subject to see it for how absurd it really is. These politicians - through endless scams and shenanigans - have managed to sell us water at increasingly high prices like it's a rare thing, when the sh*t literally falls from the sky.

It's infuriating on one level, but it's also comedy gold. The Emperor Has No Umbrella.

Bill McD,

Privatization worked for a while for Bechtel in Bolivia:

"In September 1999, Bechtel signed a contract with Hugo Banzer, the elected president and former dictator of Bolivia, to privatize the water supply in Bolivia's 3rd-largest city, Cochabamba. The contract was officially awarded to a company named Aguas del Tunari, a consortium in which Bechtel held a 27.5 percent interest. Shortly thereafter, claims surfaced that water rates in that city went up an average of about 50 percent and that even collection of rainwater was being made illegal as a result of the privatization contract. Both of these actions resulted in the Cochabamba protests of 2000. Many had to withdraw their children from school and stop using doctors because of higher costs for water. Martial law was declared, and Bolivian police killed at least 6 people and injured over 170 protesters."

Elsewhere, too:

"Australia - In 1998, the water in Sydney, was contaminated with high levels of giardia and cryptosporidium shortly after its water was overtaken by Suez Lyonnaise des Eaux.

Canada - At least seven people died as a result of E. coli bacteria in Walkerton, Ontario, after water testing had been privatized by A&L Labs. The company treated the test results as "confidential intellectual property" and did not make them public.

Morocco - Consumers saw the price of water increase threefold after the water service was privatized in Casablanca.

Argentina - When a Suez Lyonnaise des Eaux subsidiary purchased the state-run water company Obras Sanitarias de la Nacion, water rates doubled but water quality deteriorated. The company was forced to leave the country when residents refused to pay their bills.

Britain - Water and sewage bills increased 67 percent between 1989 and 1995. The rate at which people's services were disconnected rose by 177 percent.

New Zealand - Citizens took to the streets to protest the commercialization of water.

South Africa - Water became inaccessible, unaffordable, and unsafe after the water supply was privatized by Suez Lyonnaise des Eaux in Johannesburg. Cholera infections became widespread and thousands of people were disconnected from their supply of water.

Locally, Mr Shaaf has stated publicly that water is just like any other utility and, by comparison, cheaper. Apparently, his understanding of utilities is focused on high corporate remuneration and expensive gestures subsidized by ratepayers.

Borrowing from Wm Gass ("On Being Blue"), privatization of water is a bumbershoot held up in the absence of all rain.

Most of the bill is related to sewage, though - it's just that they combine water and sewer into one bill - and they play some weird games with that, as well: for a while, there, I was getting hit with a runoff disposal fee. We don't even have curbs and gutters.

True, most is in the sewer bill for now....but once the borrowed $$dollars that are being used (and most likely will be used to build the UV thing), along with the cushions in accounts just to make sure the debt is paid, are used up:

....then the rates will really increase and if debt has caused a default, the politicians won't be on the hook because someone else will have to deal with it that doesn't even care this much about what the public wants/needs!!!!!

My boss is out of town for a couple of months, and one of my jobs is to forward his home mail/bills. Today I forwarded his water/sewer bill from the City of Troutdale. Granted, he's a single guy rather than having 4 kids like my husband and I do, but his total water/sewer bill for the month before he left was under $40! (About $36 was for sewer.)

I was so jealous.

Tip of the iceberg, folks. The unfunded pensions of cops and firefighters are soon going to crush this town. Add to that the unfunded mandate to clean up the harbor, and the pile of debt that's been accumulated to bankroll new development. A day of reckoning is coming, and the rats that caused will soon be scurrying from office. Portland will one day be the text-book case study of what happens when you give "progressives" the municipal checkbook.

Non-sewer and water expenditures by agencies amaze me! I serve on a sewer and water board in SoCal that serves 30,000, and we only spend on sewer and water stuff, or something very closely related. A few years ago, we sponsored 2 workshops on gardening in drought conditions, to bring down water use, and that is it...oh... and sponsoring local high school kids in a solar boat contest, which I did not want to contribute to.

Please keep this on the front page.

The discreet budget works like this.

Say a water main breaks and the Water bureau hires Maintenance to "fix" the street. Water charges taxpayers $120 per hour and maintenance charges Water $75 per hour.

The difference goes somewhere, but is kept off books in a sort of slush fund.

A review of all inter agency invoicing is warranted since this is typical with many bureau to bureau interactions.

Often there are only verbal arrangements for one entity "helping" another, sometimes with hundreds of thousands of dollars in value.

On related note, there is a good reason for the too numerous software changes since tracking these sorts of expenditures becomes even more difficult.

As Scott says this is just the tip and discovery will lead to more...

If Scott Fernandez is a viable candidate, it would be great if everyone on these pages would make an effort to try and get him enough support to get elected. Perhaps it might parallel the unique rise of Bud Clark, who was a pretty good mayor.

"Portland will one day be the text-book case study of what happens when you give "progressives" the municipal checkbook."

That's exactly right. "Progressives" love to play with other people's money. They've never made any -- or anything else. Ever.

Playing with money is one thing.
Playing with the health of a community is another.
We have good drinking water now, has to be the finest in the country and the beauty of our system is that it is sustainable.
Just looks like "some" have hooks in it and eyes on it to turn it into a big money making corporate designed system for "some" at the expense of the people.
The reason I add the health issue is that these who want to profit off of our water don't care if toxic chemicals would be added or if radon comes into our homes and workplaces.
This is all about the money, money trumping all else.

I was at Bud Clark's victory party and as the results were coming in we realized that not only had he won, but he won big winning it all at the primary!
It was an awesome victory, one I would like to see repeated with Scott Fernandez.
Is that too much to ask?

At the risk of being scolded for being off topic, Bud Clark helped himself to victory by doing a lot of campaigning door to door and by taking the race seriously. The establishment media sneered at the "bartender turned wannabe mayor" (at first) but to prove he was serious Clark quit drinking for most if not all of the campaign. He told me he was aware that being a bartender led to a whispering campaign that he was an alcoholic and he didn't want to give The O folks on the editorial page an opening. He took out a 2nd mortgage on his home, hired some whiz bang campaign strategists (two very sharp women whose names escape me) and he caught on with the public. A lot of it was his outgoing, happy personality (hey bartenders are some of our favorite people anyway, right?))) but people also realized he was offering the city a new kind of leadership. Frank Ivanice sat on his butt, raked in the cash (about 300-grand) from his corporate cronies and basically figured billboards and other ads would propel him to office. When the polls shifted in Clark's favor Ivancie and Jerry Pratt tried a goofy smear-job attack ad on Clark. I forget exactly how both men tried to lie their way out of this incident. Think Ivancie claimed he didn't know in advance about the attack ad or some such nonsense. KGW TV News Analyst Floyd McKay was in the KGW building when the attack ad was recorded, saw both men enter and leave together and later exposed the lies. Think the ads said Clark had never amounted to anything successful in business and was an aetheist. Sounds kinda tame by today's standards. Anyway Scott has a chance but the challenge is, doing a lot of door to door campaigning everyday, everywhere, recruiting scores of volunteers to help, and simultaneously trying to raise money...the most humiliating part of our political process for candidates. This is not a fist bump for the goofy way PDX tried public financing of campaigns but fund raising is not easy and it is humiliating. The other advantage Clark had was that basically it was a two person race that Ivancie took for granted. Others who were tempted to run (Bluemenauer, Katz, Charles Jordan to name a few) were scared off by Ivancie's up front cash. Clark saw the opening, took it and the rest is history. Obviously the new twist for campaigns these days is the use of internet/social media etc. but it still seems to me that getting on the doorstep and showing up at all sorts of, if not every community event possible and yes, running ads and putting up lawn signs, can still pay off. In a crowded race Scott faces many challenges, not the least being he has to stand out from the others and capture public attention. That ain't easy and that ain't cheap but he has a good message and that helps a lot.

One of the major problems with monopoly utilities is their ability to "feed back" ratepayer money to politicians to maintain this extraordinary privilege.

That's illegal you say? Direct contributions are illegal but they get around that by laundering the money through third parties and the net result is the same.

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