Weekly rags don't get it
Sometimes Portland's "alternative" weekly newspapers are like the "alternative" to the truth. They send out youngsters with no background to cover things like government finance. And when the kids come back to the office, they've pretty much bought what the politicians and bureaucrats have told them, because they don't know any better.
One of these moments occurred yesterday. A member of the tattooed and pierced scribe corps at the Merc summed up the City of Portland's finances this way:
While the city is handling its debt well—we’re not putting our grocery bills on our credit card, if you will, and we've stayed in the good graces of the bond market—things like debt from urban renewal projects are still pulling the city’s numbers to the red....
But hey, in the short term at least—current budget woes aside—the city's finances are looking solid enough.
No mention of the 2011 city auditor's report expressing alarm at the city's bleak long-term debt picture, which amounts to more than $11,000 of long-term debt per city resident. We're buying flat screen TVs when we can't afford our rent. "Solid enough"? Hardly.
Meanwhile, over at Willy Weed, Pulitzer Nigel, who ought to know better, passed off as nothing much a city ombudsman's report that recounted several significant incidents of malfeasance in the city's bureaus:
The absence of serious waste, fraud and abuse from the 2012 report released today (PDF) should make citizens glad but will likely not convince close observers of the City That Works.
Really? We printed some of the findings verbatim yesterday, but for those too lazy to read the actual report, here's a summary of some of the "not serious" items included therein:
1. Someone complained that the city's contracting bureau's "sheltered market program... paid a former city contractor thousands of dollars for consulting services it never rendered." The ombudsman found that the allegations were correct and "referred the matter to law enforcement for possible prosecution."
2. A water bureau employee ratted out a colleague on the water payroll for "outside business subcontracting" with the city on a water bureau project. When the ombudsman started asking questions, the employee resigned.
3. A vendor reported that he or she had been cheated out of a city transportation bureau contract because of questionable "scoring" of bid proposals. The ombudsman "found the PBOT employee's scoring of the proposals to be unsupportable" and forced the city to re-do the evaluation of the proposals with a different committee.
4. Residents complained that fire bureau personnel were illegally conducting political activity during an election, and the ombudsman concluded that the city's rules on the subject "lack... clarity and consistency."
Of course, there was also the federal bribery indictment of the city's parking meter manager. But hey -- nothing serious is wrong at Portland City Hall. Everything's fine. And now, here are the 10 best places to go when you're stoned.
UPDATE, 10:37 a.m.: This morning the O provides further details on incident no. 3 just listed, here. The hanky-panky happened in the awarding of a contract relating to -- surprise! -- the city's parking meters. Apparently it had to do with the stupid little slips of paper you have to deal with to park a car in Portlandia.